I started as a teacher in 1987. I began as a high school Maths teacher in Jamaica, then worked as an EFL instructor to teenagers and adults in Poland, South Korea and Thailand. I trained as a primary class teacher in the UK and France, taught primary from Year 4-6 in the UK, France, Thailand and China, and then home-schooled my own children through IGCSEs and A-Levels.
Gary John Ilines
BA Honours, CTEFLA, PGCE Modern Languages, MA International Education
After eleven years of schooling in Thailand, England and China, I finally plucked up the courage to take my children out of school and do it myself at our home in Thailand. I am not a religious person; I only mention that because this is the usual assumption about home-schoolers. I did it because I thought I could do it better than any school and because I wanted to take it into my own hands rather than waiting hopefully for report cards and five-minute parent conferences. I have found it to be one of those things in life that you start off thinking 'it can't be done', then with some research you realise 'it can be done' and finally you think 'why the heck didn't I do it sooner?'
Since then, I have become a bit of bore to my friends and family by tirelessly challenging their decisions to continue to 'school-school' their children. Perhaps it is because I am insecure in my own choice, but I think that I am engaging others in the discussion because a) I wish someone had done that for me and b) because I have found it to be the best decision I ever made as a father. So, here I go trying to persuade a larger audience.
Honestly, in all the discussions I have had with friends and family on the subject of home-education, no one has given me a good reason why they send their kids to school. On close inspection, I don't believe there are any. One good friend back in the UK, a former primary class teacher with four children, has not been able to explain why she doesn't follow my lead. I think mostly it is fear of the unknown and it always takes a little courage to break from the herd, but I would like to convince you in this article that the hardest part is taking the first step and after that it soon becomes the most natural thing to do as a parent and, like me, you might begin to wonder why anyone would send their children to be educated by total strangers. One friend who sent his two boys through one of the top Chiang Mai schools said this to me: "I don't blame you for home-schooling your children. Thai schools are very expensive and all they produce is kids who know nothing with a burn-out."
Sending your children to school is very expensive, for one thing. In the UK, the government spends on average ?10,500 per child per year on what is bravely referred to as 'education'. I asked the same friend if she would choose to home-school her four children if she was paid 4 x ?10,500 x 14 = ?588,000. I never got an answer to that one! To send two children from kindergarten/reception through to the end of high school at one international school in Chiang Mai, which is not the most expensive, will cost you THB 3,458,000. And that doesn't include uniforms, lunches, transportation to and from school, your PTA contribution and all the other financial pressures which come from being part of a school community. So if you are thinking of home-educating your children instead of sending them to an international school in Chiang Mai, you are starting the journey with four million baht in your pocket. That's a good start.
So what about the legality of home-schooling in Thailand?
Some countries, for example Germany and China, prohibit home-schooling. Others, for example New Zealand and the U.S., make it hard and try to restrict and control what the parent does - the U.S insists on the child taking psychological tests (I know that would put me off). In the UK right now, the Department of Education is trying to implement new regulations which would allow the government greater interference in what home-schooling parents do - all in the name of fighting 'extremism'.
We may have all that to look forward to in this country. Thailand, however, at least up until now, has had an extremely enlightened attitude towards home-schooling. We live in uncertain times but there are three documents in Thai law which not only protect but also promote the rights of parents in Thailand to home-school. The last full constitution states:
"The education and training provided by professional or private organisations, alternative education of the public, self-directed learning and life-long learning shall get appropriate promotion and protection from the state."
Under The Promotion of Non-Formal and Informal Education Act, B.E. 2551 (2008), home-schooling falls into the category of 'non-formal education' and the parent as the 'acting network party' has the right to provide an education which is 'flexible and diverse according to the needs and aptitudes' of your children on the condition that the provider is motivated and of sound mind. Thirdly, the Education Act of 1999, amended in 2002, states that families and communities have the equal right (equal to the state) to provide basic education.
So, if you are a parent in Thailand and you are still reading, you have four million baht and the legal right to teach your child however you would like provided you are motivated (of course you are, it's your kid) and of sound mind. The next step, to play it by the book, is to inform your local Thai education department. According to the law, you do not need to get permission but they do need to be informed. I did this eight months ago. Firstly, my wife who is Thai paid them a visit. She returned to tell me that they wanted to interview me. Oh, dear! Thinking that they were going to be difficult, I armed myself with copies of the legal documents I have mentioned above and details on curriculum and method and all my own educational certificates. It turned out that I could not have been more wrong. They did not read my carefully worded letter which demanded my rights or even look at my documents, nor did we discuss the law. They were just genuinely concerned about the welfare of my children. Their concern was how my children would be able to fit back into society. Once I explained to them that they would be taking exams at an external examination centre when the time comes, then they were happy and very supportive. I have not been visited and no one has been anything but supportive. I think they were also worried that I would expect them to provide support according to the law. Once they were convinced that my children would be fine and I was asking nothing of them, everyone was happy. I can't guarantee you will have the same experience, and how you are be treated will no doubt depend on your own approach to them, but that at least was my very encouraging experience.
Like the lovely people I met at the Thai Education Department, many parents will be concerned that home-schooling will make it more difficult for their children to 'get on' in mainstream life. Research suggests that home-schooled children actually do better on average academically than children in schools and my own experience would confirm that. I don't recommend that my children get into debt to get a degree that may not be useful and then spend their life doing a job they may not like to pay back all the additional loans they will need in order to have a home and a car. However, that is their choice and I don't want to block off that avenue should that be what they choose to do. To that end, we are following internationally recognized courses and in time my children will take external exams which will give them internationally recognized qualifications. So they will have a choice - more choice, actually, since we are not constrained by nonsense like academic years, ridiculously long vacations and arbitrary decisions based on their age. In Chiang Mai, the English Institute at Chiang Mai University and The British Council provide an examination service for qualifications which will get a student into a university in the UK, Australia, the U.S.A. and also Thai universities. Bangkok also has a number of external examination centres. Five Cambridge IGCSE subjects grade C or above is currently considered equivalent to Thai high school graduation by universities in Thailand and there are an increasing number of English language courses appearing at Thai universities.
So that is what I know and the experience is one I would recommend. Home-schooling in Thailand is supported by law, you save a huge amount of money on schools, and your children can still compete in mainstream life if that is what they choose to do. If you know of a convincing reason why children should go to school, I am still waiting to hear one.
Parenting and education should be personal choices, in my opinion, so please don't think I am trying to tell anyone what to do or that I think you are wrong to send your children to school, if that is your choice. Many children thrive in school - though many don't. I just want parents to know that home-schooling in Thailand is a very viable option. Only the parent is in the best position to decide what is best for the child because the parent is the person who cares most about the child, who has the most knowledge about the child and who is the most motivated to see that child succeed.
But then again, that is also why home-education tends to be more successful than school.© Copyright Gary John Ilines.