Much ado about education

One of the biggest worries for parents, and trust me there are many, is which school their child will end up in. When I was not yet a mother, a lot of people said, and I assumed it was a joke, that you have to start thinking about your child's school the moment you know you're pregnant. How ridiculous is that? Six or seven years ahead of time?

In Thailand, schools are not just where people are educated, but they are status symbols, sort of like what car a person drives or what phone a person uses. Being in a more expensive, more popular school would mean your child is guaranteed to have richer, better connected friends, which would be of great help in the future.

My neighbour told me the woes of trying to get her son into a famous school. Her son had to be sent to the right kindergarten, at which she registered the day he was born, as this kindergarten is invisibly connected to a certain big-name school. Then, she had to join the said school's activities for two whole years. To top it all off, she had to fork out a million baht.

My jaw would have dropped to the ground if such a thing was physically possible. I don't have a million baht. I certainly can't afford to ditch work to go on rallies or bowling tournaments with other parents for two whole years. Silently, I crossed that school off my list of possible places for my son. To be honest, I doubt other popular schools on the list would be that much different.

Don't forget that apart from devoting time and money to the schools, these young children also have to sit ridiculously difficult exams. I have flipped through a few books that show examples of the questions the kids are asked, and some are even too difficult for me.

I once talked to a child expert about this matter, and she said that the idea of a primary school entrance exam is crazy. The right students, in her opinion, are those who are ready, confident and happy. These overachieving schools want children who are good at memorising, which on a second thought might be appropriate considering our education system focuses largely on memorising instead of understanding. Attitude, she said, is more important, but not many schools care about that. Children with high EQ (emotional intelligence) fare much better in the long run, but they probably don't bring as many trophies or as much fame to the school. And their parents can't help the school build shiny new state-of-the-art buildings.

Tea money is an openly tolerated unfairness in Thailand. I have even heard some (rich) people say that they actually like the system because at least they know for sure their kids will have a place at the school of their choice. The schools also like it. Who wants smart and happy kids when they can have rich ones?

The craziness of education doesn't stop there. Recently, while sitting in front of a tutoring school, I saw a family ganging up on a poor receptionist, demanding a one-on-one class with one of the busiest teachers.

"I don't want a group class. I am smarter than them. I want a private class! Those stupid classmates are so behind me and I don't want to waste my time!" screamed the young girl, who looked about 10 years old. The parents agreed: "My girl is too smart for this group class. We want a one-on-one session! She shouldn't mingle with those slow kids!"

Despite all these shenanigans, and the time, effort and money parents have spent on their kids, Thailand still ranks poorly in terms of education. Just a month ago, the Ministry of Education was freaking out over Thailand's latest rank, 50th in the world, and the number seems to continue slipping further and further down.

It makes me wonder, what are we doing wrong? More to the point, why are we so obsessed with academic achievements and schools?

Albert Einstein even said: "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." I have to agree on that, seeing how many of my friends who did poorly in school are now very successful and happy with their lives. It is good to study, but it is also important to find happiness in life. Children should not be taught that they always have to be the best and have the best things available, because that kind of life is just depressingly competitive.

But if you could get my son into a good school without me having to spend a million baht, I would also appreciate that.


Napamon Roongwitoo is a feature writer for the Bangkok Post.

About the author

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Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Life Writer