With the surge in COVID-19 cases, international schools in Thailand will continue with online learning. Some families are running out of patience, turning their backs on the schools and simply leaving the country.
”Online learning isn’t that great, and safety for my family comes first. We are out,” one mother tells TIS Monitor.
With the COVID-19 virus continuing to cause havoc around the world and disrupting daily lives, Thailand is now facing its worst crisis since the pandemic began in early 2020.
As TIS Monitor has previously reported, most international schools have charged full, or almost full, tuition fees despite being ordered by authorities to switch to online learning for extended periods of time.
While most parents initially seemed to accept online learning as the only viable solution for the duration of the pandemic, some have been unhappy with the lack of constructive dialogue with their schools on how to find a balance between safety, ensuring effective learning and how much to pay in fees for a service that is vastly different from what they expected when first enrolling their children.
Despite this, many have chosen to keep their children in international schools in hopes of the pandemic soon reaching an end. However, a shift could be coming, as the COVID-19 crisis seems to deepen – with online learning continuing for an unforeseeable time.
Tired of waiting for school to re-open
Many expat parents are now giving up on Thailand and returning to their home countries in Europe and North America where the pandemic is more under control and schools are open.
Daniel Nadj has two children, the oldest being 8 years old and enrolled in a well known mid-sized International school in Bangkok. The family has now temporarily relocated to Serbia.
”My kids are staying in our country until the situation is better in Thailand. To pay huge fees for online school and keep kids locked up makes no sense,” he writes in a message.
He says that during the online schooling the teachers ”really did their best” but that a social component is obviously missing.
”We are not able to provide them with more friends or activities to make up for it,” he says.
One mother, who does not want her name to appear in this article, says that she and her son left Bangkok in June and have now relocated to Barcelona while her husband remains in Bangkok.
”We won’t be paying for a full school year to have the kid stuck at home in front of a useless Zoom class,” she says.
If her son settles well into his new school in Barcelona, she says she doubts they will return to Thailand.
Out of Thailand – but planning to come back
One father, who wishes to remain anonymous, has three children enrolled in a large and well known international school in Bangkok and says the whole family has temporarily returned to the US.
”We left in June after agonizing a while, but we had a choice and used it. Safety trumps anything and looking back for the past month it is clear we made the right choice,” he says.
The family now hopes to be able to return to Thailand in January 2022.
”We didn’t give up our condo, we are still paying our maid, and hope to return for Term 2, but we don’t see a value in paying for online schooling and will try to make some other arrangements in the US to keep kids learning in the US during Term 1,” he says.
Jennifer Ayling has had her children enrolled in Hua Hin International School. She is now exploring the possibility to return to her native UK for the first and maybe second term of the coming school year if the school doesn’t open for on-campus learning.
”The quality of the education that my children have received during the lockdowns has been amazing and I have no qualms about the homeschooling. It is the complete educational experience they are missing out on. The disruption to the children’s education over the last two years cannot continue,” she says.
Schools’ decisions come into question
With many foreign parents now giving up on Thailand and returning to their home countries, questions are raised on whether international schools in Thailand could have focused their resources on developing more effective online learning curriculums and, more importantly, done this in dialogue with parents who now in reality often function as assistant teachers to their children. Also, if this could have been done at a fee that more clearly reflects this shift in workload from teachers to parents.
Many families too face financial difficulties and have suffered from pay cuts. They might find it a hard pill to swallow when being told by their schools that there will be no cuts in fees as the school doesn’t want to cut salaries for their teachers.
For this article, TIS Monitor has been speaking with more than a dozen foreign families in Thailand. Taking into account all voices heard since the outbreak of the pandemic, one observation is very clear: At some international schools in Thailand, there has been a total breakdown in communication and trust between parents and school management.
One parent, with a 12 year old son enrolled in an international school in Ko Samui, says:
”I’m fed up with paying 100% but getting 50% service and then being denied a refund. I’ve heard every excuse under the sun”.
He now claims that half of the children in his son’s class will leave this particular school and either change to a different school on the island or do private homeschooling.
”This is all because of our school’s short sightedness on fees and greed. We are all suffering,” he says, and that the act of leaving school now amounts to a ”rebellion” by the parents.
”The school has let us all down,” he concludes.
For international schools, Ko Samui is unique in Thailand in one aspect: Most schools there have no or very low enrollment fees, making a transfer easy and cheap, forcing schools to better compete with each other. In other parts of Thailand, enrollment fees can reach hundreds of thousands of baht, creating a barrier for departure and thus stifling competition among schools.
”Better dialoge needed”
Dr Anders Engvall is a senior analyst and commentator at TIS Monitor.
”It is no doubt that many parents feel let down by their schools during this difficult time. Had the schools taken a softer approach and focused on managing the impact of COVID-19, by developing well functioning online learning at reasonable fees in dialogue with parents, we might have seen less discontent now and fewer families leaving. These schools now not only face a loss in revenue but also a dent in their reputation,” he says.
But parents who have their children’s school fees fully or partly paid by an employer are also looking at leaving Thailand. TIS Monitor has spoken with two senior UN officials, who among them have seven children in three well known international schools in Bangkok. One family is relocating to Europe for medical reasons, fearing that the Thai health care system will not be able to meet the special needs of the family should something occur during the current COVID-19 crisis. The other family is trying to relocate to Switzerland as their oldest son is in a critical year before graduation.
”We don’t want him to have to do online learning during this important period,” this UN official says.
As the current crisis has a major financial impact on society, TIS Monitor has several reports of both foreign and Thai families, who might not be able to leave Thailand, instead shifting to cheaper international schools for their children, further cutting student numbers at the more expensive schools.
Fewer nationalities on campus
Another aspect of fewer foreign students at international schools in Thailand is the diminishing multiculturalism on campus. Having many nationalities among students is something international schools normally strive for. Some schools even have quotas to make sure no nationality gets too dominant and promote their schools as being ”truly international”.
Thai families who have been actively trying to expose their children to an international environment by enrolling them in international schools might now prefer other options, like schooling abroad.
Dr Anders Engvall again:
“Families and schools will have to find ways to go through the challenges brought about by the current uptick in COVID-19 cases in Bangkok and surrounding provinces. This is likely to remain a challenge for the coming months and there is a risk of further spread to other parts of the country. Schools might not be back to operating normal on-campus teaching until late this year or early the next,” he says, before concluding:
“It will be important for families to consider their options for handling the disruption brought about for this situation. For some this might include reconsidering the choice of having their children attending international schools in Thailand, either permanently or until COVID-19 has come under control. But for most families the focus will be on finding ways to ensuring that their children continue to develop, while attending school online.”