“We need to put schools under the spotlight”

Photo: Jerry Wang on Unsplash

More and more international schools are opening in Thailand, but despite the fact we live in the information age, it is surprisingly difficult to find independent news or facts about what is happening in these schools.
TIS Monitor wants to change that – and is launching today as Thailand’s first news service focusing on the country’s international schools.

Thailand is becoming increasingly well known as an educational nation among parents looking for an international school for their children. As TIS Monitor can report today, February 2, 2021, our first day as an active news service, the number of international schools in Thailand is increasing fast. More and more schools are being established, and new opportunities are opening up with them; at the time of writing, there are 220 international schools in the kingdom.

Despite the fact that we live in the information age, it is surprisingly difficult to get accurate and independent information and news from this sector. For those who want to learn more about what is happening, online searches take readers to the schools’ own websites, which are full of advertising, or to the advertising sections of daily and online newspapers. You can also find different types of lists ranking schools, but it is very unclear who makes these and if there is something substantial forming the basis for the ranking.

Everywhere we go we hear the same message: everything is fantastic. But is this the reality? I have been an expat in Thailand for almost 20 years and my own children attend international schools here. Almost everyone I know, whether neighbors, friends, or colleagues, has at some point chosen to move their children between schools because they were dissatisfied with a school. It could be due to the quality of education, school fees or something else. I myself have on one occasion chosen to change my daughter’s school. In this case, it was because her class had become totally dominated by one nationality (not Thais!), and the international character we were looking for had disappeared.

The quality of schooling is something that is rarely discussed in public. That families feel compelled to change school is something you instead hear about at various social functions, at parties, or at events, where conversations between parents very often turn to the topic of which schools they have chosen. Or, it is conveyed in closed Line groups where people air their dissatisfaction anonymously.

What makes this all the more remarkable is the huge amounts of money circulating in this sector. Educating a child from preschool to graduation at one of Thailand’s leading international schools can cost around 10 million baht.

These are huge amounts of money that many families often struggle to pay. Putting two children through an international education in Thailand can cost more than both a house and a car – combined. However if we compare the availability of information between the international school and the real estate/automotive sectors, the difference in availability is striking.

There are numerous news services that analyse and monitor the real estate/automotive sectors. A new car model released on the market will be tested and critiqued by various Thai media outlets. We will of course be informed about all the improvements that have been made since the latest model, but crucially any problems or negatives will also be scrutinised. If a defect or a fault in the car is discovered the manufacturer will be held liable and will issue an apology. The car may even be recalled and the fault fixed before it is relaunched.

A real estate project selling apartments or houses with leaky roofs, structural faults or other problems would likely be exposed in the media and buyers would publicly demand money back, maybe even protesting outside the sales office until those responsible are held accountable.

But when parents feel that the education for which they have paid dearly does not reach the standards they expect, the generally accepted solution seems to be exchanging a few angry emails with the headmaster, and when realizing that it is fruitless, quietly and discreetly change schools and accept the accompanying loss of enrollment fees. This allows other families to make the same mistake and enroll in the same school. There is nowhere for us, the parents, to find out about this, or the reason the parents felt the move was necessary. Although Thailand’s international schools are a multi-billion baht industry, they seem to be operating completely under the radar, in some kind of information blackout vis-à-vis the clients – us the parents.

At first glance, it may seem convenient for school owners and headmasters that the outside world does not know what is happening in their schools. This idea is completely wrong however, as the lack of information cuts both ways, and affects both parties. School representatives also face challenges because of this. Do parents have unreasonable expectations? How do you get the message out that you are a good school, or that you are great employer when you are recruiting new staff? I have had interesting discussions with school representatives, who spoke about the difficulties of reaching the public with information about what is happening at their schools, as they want to share all the good news, and everything great and fun that is going on. Obviously they can put the news on their own website, where almost no one will find it, or they can spend money on expensive sponsored posts on Facebook, or on advertising space in newspapers, but this money would be better spent hiring great teachers.

Local Thai media rarely report what is happening in this sector. “Editors don’t care, because it is considered a topic that only affects the wealthy,” someone wrote in a closed Line group. But is this true? I do not think so. I have worked professionally as a journalist and editor for a leading news outlet in Sweden, many years of which I spent as a foreign correspondent.
I am convinced that there are thousands of worthwhile stories to tell from these schools, stories which many will find interesting – and which will also form a basis to help families seeking a school for their children make the right decision.

These stories might be about schools recruiting new, great teachers, or developing their campuses, about students who perform well academically and are admitted to top universities, who win medals in sporting events or become inspired to get involved in social issues. At the same time, we will not shy away from the harsher subjects: unreasonable fee increases, school canteen prices, bullying or drugs.

I have created TIS Monitor together with my fellow Swede, Dr Anders Engvall, who has a background as a diplomat and a researcher. He has a doctorate in economics, and a very long history of working in Thailand. He too has children attending an international school here.

It is our hope that TIS Monitor will become the leading news service covering the international schools sector in Thailand, and we will strive our hardest to achieve this. We want to become a source of impartial information for those seeking news about this sector, and for those looking to find the right school for their children. The first step will be to shine a spotlight on this industry, and hopefully lift it out of the information blackout it currently seems to be in.

By sharing what is happening at these schools, we can all learn from each other, and together develop this sector into something better. If we create more buzz, the interest in great schools will increase, while at the same time schools which are facing challenges will have a reason to improve.

I hope that TIS Monitor can help with this.

We start today.

Michael Töpffer



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