Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sharing the experience of choosing an International School for my child in Bangkok

Throughout the entire research process for Noah's school, my wife was the one doing all the work. I only made visits to a selected few and took part in final discussions before making the decision together. This piece represents my personal view only, sharing my after-thoughts after the whole exercise.

Of the many obstacles we have to overcome being a foreign family in Thailand, our children's education proved to be one of the trickiest ones. Unlike in Singapore, where parents have their hearts in their mouths while waiting to see whether their children have been given a place in their preferred primary school, Thailand presents a set of completely different challenges.

Firstly, the public education system is simply not a choice. It's largely monolingual in a language we do not understand, so we have to look to international schools.

Secondly, once it comes to international education, we have to decide which curriculum to go for. Established ones will naturally be the American, British, and yes, you guessed it, Singapore curriculums. We ended up opting for the Singapore curriculum not because we feel it's the best one, but because Singapore international schools here focus on both English AND Mandarin, while most British and American schools only conduct classes in English, with limited emphasis on other languages or offer them as out-of-curriculum options.

Thirdly, Bangkok is not a place blessed with good traffic, especially during peak hours. As much as we would love to send our kids to the best school possible, it is more important not to end up spending half the day on the road. It is logical to choose the most suitable school out of the ones near our residence.

Lastly, international schools are expensive. No matter how much financial mileage I get from living in a "cheaper city", it will eventually be used up in my children's education. International schools hire foreign teachers (all foreigners have a high minimum salary which varies with country) and all language teachers are native speakers. On top of that, the student-teacher ratio is kept very low, so we could easily look to spend between 650-2500SGD per month in school fees for our child, depending on the school and the kid's age. We need to start spending this amount per month from age 2.5-18 before spending another bomb for University education. Take this, consider inflation and rise in school fees over 2 decades multiplied by the number of kids I have, my children's education fees can LITERALLY BANKRUPT me.

Having considered all the factors above, we visited every school that offered the Singapore curriculum around our apartment.

School A:

We were greeted by a huge moving water display, a sign of good 风水 (especially for the school after seeing their fees). It was followed by a rather impressive visit of the facility, with particular emphasis on their "Wall of Fame" showcasing the usual suspects' proud academic achievements in international competitions. It was really a 'back-to-Singapore' experience, which was what I was NOT looking for since we were already out of the island. I personally grew up in a similar atmosphere, with a relentless emphasis on academic performance. Ultimately, even though I benefited from my results to a certain extent, I am sure I would be better served in an atmosphere that focused more on actual learning than results.

School B:

The closest to our house, which would make the most sense for us if it proved to be fitting to our requirements as well. It is relatively new, so the campus is pretty small, not a big issue for me if other things fell into place. However, everything started to fall apart after sitting down with the principal.

A brief boast about the academic achievements of her children was followed by an extended interview on whether my company will be paying for my children's education expenses. When I told her it would be unlikely, she started discussing with me a whole range of reasons why I should be reimbursed and even sounded a bit impolite towards my bosses who have given me everything I have since I moved to Thailand. My head hurt a little when I left the office, as it was more of a HR meeting than a meeting with my son's potential school principal.

School C:

The furthest of the 3, but still within reasonable driving distance. A humble but rapidly-expanding school campus. I do not remember hearing of any wall of fame nor any HR lecture, but something about them keeping their fees reasonable by not spending any fees on marketing and re-investing their earnings into more facilities for their students. Music to my ears indeed. It also helped when we already had 2 friends who put their kids there and did not have bad things to say.

In the end, our choice was pretty clear. That said, Noah will not formally start class with them until next week, so it is a bit too early to pass judgement. Let's just hope for the best.


  1. Ooh this is such an interesting post! Our daughter is still quite young but since we stay quite far away at Ratchapreuk and there are not too many international schools around here we have started to slowly look for schools for her (Just in case we have to relocate but that is really the last resort). And yes the international school fees here are just crazy!

    We have also narrowed down to the Singaporean curriculum but my husband, like you does not want the daughter to go through the stress that he did when he was in Singapore.

    We went to one that the moment you stepped in they were boasting about how they give quizzes and homework and exams to the kindergarten kids and it totally pissed us off big time!

    We finally managed to find one very near our place, with very good teaching staff but just that the facilities are a bit old. and they do not have a lot of students yet for primary school so we are still considering.

    Would you mind sharing what school that you found that was good for Noah? Would love to explore more options for my daughter if its possible!


    Li Lian

    1. Thanks Li Lian for your sharing

      Seems like our thinking is on the same page as well regarding the stress. Our kids are just babies, it's more important for them to enjoy themselves in a place with a lot of heart.

      Regarding the school fees, I guess the fees are internationally at the same high level if we compare apple to apple, it's just unfortunate that the public school system isn't suitable for consideration.

      We have to work harder then!


  2. Great read, away from the usual Primary enrolment that has been floating in the cyberspace. Hope Noah will settle well.

    I didnt expect that the school fees start at S$650, i thought it would be S$1k.

    1. Hello Jenn

      Thanks for your comment and yes, hope Noah will start to enjoy school soon. He's just still a little boy so we understand how tough it is for him to spend so many hours away from us everyday.

      In a way, because of the sheer number of foreign families and the weakness of the public school system, there are many more international schools being set up here as the market is much bigger. In a way there are more choices in all aspects including price but we have to do our duty to choose the most suitable one for our children. It's important to note that the most expensive one does not mean it's the best for us. I just hope that we made the right choice.



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