Thai education fails the test while Singapore and Vietnam excel. Why?

Thai education fails the test while Singapore and Vietnam excel. Why?

Special Report: Vietnam sparks surprise after moving up sharply in PISA test rankings

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading, sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (Main photo Creative Commons)
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading, sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (Main photo Creative Commons)

Thai students' poor performance in the recent international student assessment report is sparking curiosity over the education systems of Singapore and Vietnam which appear to be producing some of the best students in the world.

Please join us on our Facebook page

Much of the basic information in the original version of this story was covered by the same writer in a story earlier this month (pisa test rankings). Thus, we will focus here especially on the comparison of the Thai educational system and those of Vietnam and Singapore

Thai education system fails to deliver

Dumrongkiat Mala

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) recent international student assessment report has triggered concerns over the quality and capabilities of Thai students, while sparking curiosity over the education systems of Singapore and Vietnam.

The results of 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA 2015, released recently show a fall in scores among students in Thailand while Singapore beat China to rank top out the 70 countries analysed.

One big surprise was the scores of Vietnamese students, who improved considerably on their last ranking, moving up to 8th place from 17th in the previous assessment in 2012, and beating the scores of several developed countries.

Thailand came 54th, with scores dropping in all subjects since the 2012 assessment. Classified by subject, Thailand ranked 54th for maths, 57th for reading, and 54th for sciences.

Thailand first participated in the PISA test in 2000. The test is a triennial survey conducted by the OECD to assess the ability of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science.

So what are the reasons for Singapore and Vietnam's success?

In a piece written for the BBC, OECD education director Andreas Schleicher said that a key factor had been the standard of teaching. Singapore managed to achieve excellence without wide differences between children from wealthy and disadvantaged families.

"Singapore invested heavily in a quality teaching force – to raise the prestige and status of teaching and to attract the best graduates," wrote Mr Schleicher, adding that the country recruits its teachers from the top 5% of university graduates.

In the case of Vietnam, Mr Schleicher attributed the country's success to forward-thinking government officials, a focused curriculum and higher social standing and investment in teachers.

He also drew attention to Vietnam's curriculum, which has been designed to allow students to gain a deep understanding of core concepts and master core skills as opposed to the "mile-wide but inch-deep curriculums" of Europe and North America.

"Almost 17% of Vietnam's poorest 15-year-old students are among the 25% top-performing students across all countries and economies that participate in the PISA tests. In comparison, the average across OECD countries is that only 6% of disadvantaged students are considered resilient by this measure," the BBC article states.

Thailand's Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology said the PISA results reflect a breaking of the trend: that performance in education is linked to a country's level of GDP and state expenditure on education.

The institute said the work ethic of the Vietnamese has ensured that teachers work hard, are responsible and are disciplined – and they rarely take time off.

Vietnamese students are also keen to learn. The study shows that unlike Thai students, Vietnamese students do not fear mathematics.

Vietnamese students spend on average 227 minutes a week learning mathematics while Thai students spend 206 minutes, despite the fact that Vietnamese students study a total of 31 hours per week, lower than that of Thai students who study 36 hours per week.

So what's going on in Thailand?

Athapol Anunthavorasakul, an academic from Chulalongkorn University's faculty of education, said the PISA results reflect serious disparities between students in well-known schools and students in rural areas.

"It indicates that Thailand is failing to improve equity in educational resource allocation," he said.

Mr Athapol said the Education Ministry, in the past two to three years, has invested money trying to get better results in the PISA test, training teachers and students for the PISA assessment, but the performance is still poor.

"I think the ministry has made a wrong turn. Instead of spending money on training teachers and students in some schools for the PISA test, it should focus on narrowing the gap between students in elite schools and those studying in underprivileged schools," he said.

Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin admitted he was also disappointed with the performance of Thai students. The results, he said, reflected a huge gap in ability between students in elite schools and those in underprivileged schools.

Mr Teerakiat noted that the performances in science, reading and mathematics of students at certain schools such as Mahidol Wittthayanusorn and Chulabhorn Wittayalai is at the same level as schools in countries which were placed at higher rankings in the PISA results.

But, the PISA results show the collective performance of students of all schools and, hence, the results are a letdown, said the minister.


  • academic: someone who teaches at a college, or who studies as part of their job - นักวิชาการ
  • admitted (verb): agreed that something is true, especially when you are unhappy, sorry or surprised about it - ยอมรับ
  • allocation: an amount or share of something that is given to someone - การแบ่งส่วน
  • analyse: to examine the nature or structure of something, especially by separating it into its parts, in order to understand or explain it - วิเคราะห์, ศึกษา, ตรวจสอบ
  • as opposed to: different from - แตกต่างจาก
  • assess (verb): to carefully consider a situation, person, or problem in order to make a judgment - ประเมิณ, ประเมิณสถานการณ์
  • assessment: the process of making a judgment or forming an opinion, after considering something or someone carefully - การประเมิณสถานการณ์
  • attribute to: to believe that something is the result of a particular situation, event, or person’s actions - ถือว่าเป็นของ
  • average: an amount calculated by adding several amounts together, finding a total, and dividing the total by the number of amounts - เฉลี่ย, ค่าเฉลี่ย
  • capabilities (noun): the various skills and abilities needed to do something - ความสามารถ
  • classify: to divide things into groups according to their type - จัดประเภท
  • collective: involving all the members of a group - โดยรวม ทั้งคณะ (การตัดสินชี้ขาดจากศาล)
  • comparison: the process of comparing two or more people or things - การเปรียบเทียบ
  • concept: a principle or idea - ความคิด
  • concerns: worries - ความกังวล
  • consider: to regard as; to think of as - ถือว่า
  • considerably: much; a lot - มากมาย
  • cooperation: working together to achieve a result that will benefit all sides - ความร่วมมือ, การทำงานร่วมกัน
  • core: the most important or most basic part of something - ที่สำคัญที่สุด
  • curiosity: a strong desire to know about something - ความอยากรู้
  • curriculum: the group of subjects studied in a school, college, etc - หลักสูตร
  • developed country (noun): a rich industrialized country - ประเทศพัฒนา
  • development: the gradual growth of something so that it becomes more advanced, stronger, etc - การพัฒนา
  • disadvantaged: not having the things, such as education, or enough money, that people need in order to succeed in life - ด้อยโอกาส, ผู้เสียเปรียบในสังคม
  • disappointed: unhappy because someone or something was not as good as you hoped or expected, or because something did not happen - ผิดหวัง
  • disciplined: controlled - มีวินัย  (ในการใช้จ่าย)
  • disparity (adj): a difference between things, especially reflecting something negative or unfair - ความไม่เหมือนกัน, ความต่าง,ความไม่เสมอกัน
  • drew attention: caused people to notice something - สร้างความสนใจ
  • elite: (1) of a highly trained group, powerful or influential group - ซึ่งดีที่สุด, ยอดเยี่ยมที่สุด (2) the richest, most powerful, most influential group (in this case, in Thai society) อำมาตย คนที่มีอภิสิทธิ์ที่สุด
  • ensure: to make certain that something happens or is done - ให้การยืนยัน, รับรอง, ให้ความมั่นใจ
  • equity (noun): a situation in which everyone is treated equally - ความยุติธรรม, ความเที่ยงตรง
  • excellence: the quality of being extremely good - ความเป็นเลิศ
  • expenditure: money spent by a government, organization, or person - การใช้จ่าย (เงิน)
  • factor: a fact or situation which influences the result of something - ปัจจัย
  • faculty: a group of departments in a college or university which specialise in a particular subject or group of subjects - คณะ
  • focus: to give attention, effort, etc. to one particular subject, situation or person rather than another - เพ่งความสนใจ
  • focused: alert; with your attention directed to what you want to do; with very clear aims - เพ่งความคิด, ตื่นตัว
  • force (noun): a group of people who have been organised for a particular purpose - กอง
  • forward-thinking (adj): planning for the future; willing to consider modern ideas and methods -
  • gap (noun): a difference between people or groups - ช่องว่าง
  • GDP: gross domestic product, the total value of all goods and services produced in a country in a year, except for income received from money invested in other countries ผลิตภัณฑ์มวลรวมภายในประเทศ -
  • graduate: a person who has a university degree - ผู้รับปริญญา, ผู้สำเร็จการศึกษา
  • hence: for this reason - ดังนั้น, เพราะฉะนั้น
  • improve: to get better - ดีขึ้น
  • indicate: to show that something is true, exists or will happen - แสดง, ทำให้รู้
  • institute (noun): an organization that has a particular purpose, especially one that is connected with education or a particular profession; the building used by this organisation - สถาบัน,องค์การ,วิทยาลัย,สถาบันหนึ่งของมหาวิทยาลัย
  • invest: to spend money on something in order to make it better or more successful - ลงทุน
  • investment (noun): the act of investing money in something - การลงทุน
  • keen: very interested, eager or wanting (to do) something very much - สนใจ, ใจจดใจจ่อ
  • key: very important - ที่สำคัญ
  • letdown (noun): something that is disappointing because it is not as good as you expected it to be - ความผิดหวัง
  • level: a position or rank in a scale of size or importance - ระดับ
  • linked: connected - เชื่อมต่อ เชื่อมโยง
  • master: to learn or understand something completely - เข้าใจถ่องแท้, รู้อย่างละเอียด
  • narrow: to make less wide - ทำให้แคบลง
  • participate: to take part in something - เข้าร่วม
  • prestige (noun): the respect and admiration that somebody/something has because of their social position, or what they have done - ความเคารพนบนอบ, ชื่อเสียง, เกียรติยศ
  • promotion: the act of encouraging or supporting something - การสนับสนุน
  • quality: the standard of something when it is compared to other things like it; how good or bad something is - คุณภาพ
  • rank: to put someone or something into a position according to their success, importance, size etc - จัดลำดับ
  • ranking: the position of somebody/something on a scale that shows how good or important they are in relation to other similar people or things, especially in sport - อันดับ
  • rarely: not happening often - นานๆ ครั้ง, ไม่บ่อย
  • recruit: to persuade someone to join in something - จัดหาคนใหม่
  • reflect: to show - สะท้อน แสดงถึง
  • resilient: able to quickly become strong, healthy or happy again after a problem, disappointment or illness - คืนสู่สภาพเดิม
  • resource: a supply of something that a country, an organization or a person has and can use - ทรัพยากร
  • responsible: sensible, reliable, and able to be trusted to do the right thing - มีความรับผิดชอบ
  • rural: connected with the countryside outside big towns and cities  - ในชนบท, บ้านนอก
  • skills (noun): the ability to do certain things well, usually as a result of experience and training - ฝีมือ, ทักษะ
  • spark: to make something happen - ก่อให้เกิด
  • standard: a (high) level of quality - มาตรฐาน
  • status: social position - สถานะทางสังคม
  • survey: the act of examining and recording available information - การสำรวจ, การหาข้อมูล
  • system (noun): a particular way of doing something; an organised set of ideas or theories - ระบบ, หลักการ
  • trend: a gradual change or development that produces a particular result   - ทิศทาง แนวโน้ม
  • triennial (adj): happening every three years - ซึ่งมีขึ้นทุกสามปี
  • trigger: to cause - ก่อให้เกิด กระตุ้น
  • underprivileged: not having as many advantages or opportunities as most other people - ด้อยโอกาส
  • wealthy: having a large amount of money, land, and other valuable things   - ที่มั่งคั่ง ร่ำรวย
  • work ethic: someone’s attitude towards work, especially one which takes work seriously -
Do you like the content of this article?