Currently, numerous parents are in search of institutions that can raise student competency in the English language as well as engross them in Thai culture. If international schools are not to their liking, they may well find that the Lertlah schools (LS), which have won much praise from Thailand's Ministry of Education for being a model English-programme school consortium, is an attractive option.
Kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Murphy leads her students in pre-lesson activities every morning at Lertlah School Phetkasem Road.
Mr Seri Parndejpong, director of Lert-lah School Phetkasem Road (LSPR), exclusively unveiled to "Education" how the schools stay on top and what the schools contribute to Thai society.
Located in western Bangkok, LS has three campuses: LSPR, Lertlah School Kanchanaphisek Road and Lertlah School Kaset-Navamin Road. The schools operate classes from kindergarten to Mathayom 3 (Grade 9), except for LSPR, which teaches students up to Prathom 6 (Grade 6). The three campuses, which are under the Office of the Private Education Commission, host 3,000 students, 330 Thai and 100 foreign teachers, and offer English and international programmes.
Their integration of the education system used by the central Canadian Manitoba Department of Education (Manitoba Education) with the Thai national standard basic education curriculum places them at the forefront of many private schools in Thailand.
Apart from being accredited by Thai agencies, the schools are also certified by Manitoba Education, the University of Manitoba (UOM), The University of Winnipeg (UOW) and Nova Scotia Department of Education, all in Canada.
"The students here get both Canadian and Thai curricula. I think that by just studying in an international school, they won't get much Thai curriculum. In my opinion, as Thai people, it is important for them, and they will have the advantage of having a curriculum of their own country," said Ken Horton, PhD, an inspector from Manitoba Education who comes to inspect LS yearly.
As part of the relationships with the UOW and the UOM, teachers from these two institutions come to Thailand to practise teaching for three months to a year under an arrangement called the "Lertlah International Teacher Programme" (LITP). Last year, 35 graduate teachers joined the programme.
"This is a win-win situation," said Mr Seri. "The new graduates gain experience as international teachers. Upon their return to Canada, they are able to deliver lessons in classrooms that usually have a multicultural component."
Members of one of the earliest groups of such intern teachers were recently awarded their certifications in the presence of Ron Hoffmann, the Canadian ambassador to Thailand.
Last year, the LS signed the same agreement with the University of Maine at Presque Isle (Umpi), in the US. Next semester, approximately 40 new graduate teachers from Umpi will teach at LS.
Mr Seri, who has been collaborating with Canadian institutions for more than 10 years, explained that the schools actually follow the Canadian French Immersion Methodology (FIM).
LS tries to emulate this approach, except that the target language is English instead of French. However, the percentage of the time allocated for teaching in English is not exactly the same as that devoted to French in the FIM. The percentage has been adjusted to match the requirements of the Thai national standard basic education curriculum and to suit Thailand's learning environment.
At LS, kindergarten students learn lessons taught in English for half a day; the lessons in the second half are in Thai. At the first elementary level to Mathayom 3 (Grades 1 to 9), 60 percent of the time allocated to teaching mathematics uses English as the medium of instruction, and 40 percent is in Thai. For science, the ratio is 70 percent to 30 percent. To learn English, students spend 85 percent of the classroom hours with a foreign teacher and 15 percent with a Thai teacher. On the other hand, physical education and information technology are taught solely in English.
A key strategy is that students are not taught to memorise grammatical rules or vocabulary, said Mr Seri, instead they are encouraged to achieve language competency by learning from the environment around them - from teachers and activities.
'Cash' for conversation
Each of the three Lertlah schools devises its own instruments to enhance student skills. In Mr Seri's school, one of the most successful schemes to spur students into practising speaking in English is called "Let's Talk". The activity rewards students for speaking in English.
Each term, students are provided with a loyalty card. Students can initiate a conversation in English with teachers and the teachers will affix points to the loyalty card. They can gain 10, 50 or 100 points each time, depending on the teachers' evaluation of their ability to converse in English.
At the end of the semester, an auction of gifts is held. At the auction, which is conducted in English, students use their points, instead of cash, to bid for their preferred objects.
"Giving rewards is not always good and students shouldn't participate solely because of the prizes. To encourage children to talk and express themselves freely, students shouldn't be forced to do something; they must talk and express themselves voluntarily," explained Mr Seri.
Commendable activities should teach lessons to students without their realising that they are being taught. This particular activity not only allows students to polish their speaking skills, but also teaches them patience, the virtues of saving up for something, and the importance of adhering to the rules.
Love to Read
Another reward scheme avoids giving away freebies, and instead offers fun activities as incentives. The "Love to Read" activity is 10 years old. In this scheme, students get not only certificates and gifts, but they will be able also to win the chance to take part in a recreational activity as a prize.
Students are given a target number of stories that they have to read within prescribed time limits ranging from a week to a semester. If the goal is met, they are rewarded.
"In the early years that we carried out this activity, one of the reward activities had teachers standing in a field and the winning students attacking the teachers with water guns, while the teachers were given only teaspoons to defend themselves by splashing water on the students," the director explained, adding that rewards that are selected are inspired by Canadian schools. The most-recent activity was a masked party for students and teachers.
After unveiling some of the schools' strategies, Mr Seri talked about some of the plans in the next five years on how the schools are planning to give back to society.
As an extension of the collaborative agreement with the UOW, in addition to the LITP, whereby graduates from the UOW come to train at LS, LS and the UOW have an arrangement with Buri Ram Rachabhat University (BRU) in Buri Ram province under which BRU graduate teachers do an internship at LS.
And arising from the joint efforts of the three establishments, the UOW plans to open a satellite campus at the International Education Centre, which is expected to be on a Lertlah campus by May next year.
The campus will offer Canadian bachelor's and master's degrees in education as well as a master's degree in business. It will welcome both Thai and international applicants. Lessons are expected to be delivered by experienced faculty members from the UOW and BRU, coupled with distance learning. The degrees will be offered by the UOW.
"We want to upgrade the quality of Thai teachers not only at the local level, but also to be comparable to international standards, which will enable graduate teachers [from the satellite campus] to teach anywhere worldwide," the director said.
Mr Seri said that some prospective Canadian students have already expressed an interest in coming to study at the upcoming campus in Thailand.
"That means that we will be bringing in revenue for the country," Mr Seri said.
'Por Peang' School
Another project, which is a result of cooperation among LS, the UOW and BRU, is "Por Peang" School (PPS), which will be set up under the Lertlah Foundation. The school will be established in Buri Ram province to provide free English programmes to underprivileged students. The project is in the final stage.
According to Mr Seri, the school's curriculum will be the integration of local wisdom and the national basic education curriculum and will be in tune with the local community. Faculty members are expected to come from the UOW, BRU and LS.
"The students enrolled in PPS will be groomed to be global-thinking professionals who are also knowledgeable in Thai traditions. As a result, they will not only be proud of their own communities, but they can also look beyond to the modern world," said the director.
More overseas entrepreneurs are investing in the education industry, and some of them have bought Thai schools that had become financially challenged in this thrashing economy.
Mr Seri expressed concern that in the future, many Thai schools might fall into the hands of overseas investors, and he questioned whether these schools, governed by overseas management, can provide a suitable education that will cater to the needs of Thai children, who will be the persons to direct Thailand's future when they are grown up.
To prevent Thai schools from being dominated by overseas investors, LS plans to provide franchises to interested education entrepreneurs.
"Many local schools have closed down because their managements could not cope with today's challenges. But if we provide our know-how to them - management, systems, procedures, teachers and curriculums - they do not have to start from nothing. They will have our tested Lertlah model and expertise.
"Schools can then continue to operate. We will be representing a choice and a helping tool for private schools that are ready in terms of budget and venue but do not have sufficient competence to fight against big schools or schools that want to take them over," the director commented.
For more information on LS, visit
For more information on LS, visithttp://www.lertlah.com.