A short history of international education in Thailand

Catholic college in Thailand Assumption

Thailand has a long and distinguished history of international education. It’s generally understood that international schooling in Thailand began in the aftermath of the Second World War but in fact international education in Thailand has a much longer history than this, with the first foreign school having opened in the 17th Century.

In 1665 a group of French missionaries led by Bishop Lambert de la Mottle received permission from King Narai to establish a school in Ayutthaya. The first Catholic college in Thailand, Seminary of Saint Joseph (later known as General College) was opened that year. Then in 1674 the first Catholic school in Bangkok was established by another group of French missionaries at the Church of Immaculate Conception in Samsen. These colleges taught their own curriculum using French as the primary medium of instruction.

Neither of these colleges remain at their original locations. The General College in Ayutthaya was forced to close down in 1765 as a result of the Burmese invasion. It eventually reopened in Penang in 1808 where it still operates.

During the reign of King Rama V, the Brothers of St. Gabriel, Catholic missionaries from France, opened the doors to one of Thailand’s best known Catholic schools, Assumption College ( http://www.assumption.ac.th ), which began operations on 16 February 1885. At Assumption College lessons were originally taught in French and Thai. The school is still in operation today although the primary languages of instruction have changes to Thai and English. At the turn of the 20th Century there were increasing numbers of Catholic schools opening across Thailand, all of which taught students in French or English and used their own curricula.

King Rama V was himself a proponent of international education, sending numerous members of the royal family to Europe’s top schools and universities. During his reign, King Rama V also established an English language immersion programme at Suan Gulab.

Unfortunately, this diverse range of educational programmes at private schools in Thailand began to wane during the early decades of the 20th Century. This came about as the Thai Ministry of Education’s began exerting greater control over the curriculum provided in Thailand’s schools. By the time Thailand transitioned to a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the Thai Ministry of Education effectively had control over the content of study in all schools across Thailand, requiring foreign schools to all teach the Thai national curriculum in Thai.

It wasn’t then until the end of the Second World War that licensed international schools finally began to open in Thailand. Thailand’s first international school, the International School Bangkok (ISB) http://www.isb.ac.th opened in 1951. Six years later two more international schools, Ruam Rudee International School http://www.rism.ac.th and Bangkok Pattana School http://www.patana.ac.th , also opened in Bangkok. In Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai Children’s Centre which later became Chiang Mai International School (CMIS) opened in 1954. http://www.cmis.ac.th/about/history

From the late 1950s to the early 1990s there were just five international schools in Thailand. The reason for this being that international schools in Thailand during this period were strictly licensed and exclusively for the children of foreign nationals. Thai law required Thai students to receive a Thai education

All this changed in the 1990s when the Thai government, under Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, introduced the 1991 Education Act which allowed Thai children to enroll in international schools.

Since then the increase in schools offering international education has been astonishing, the situation is best summarized by Dr. V. Techavijit’s in his paper ‘The International Schools Phenomenon in Thailand and the Implementation of the International Baccalaureate’

‘The growth in the number of international schools in Thailand has been nothing short of phenomenal after the government legalised Thai students attending international school in 1992. According to the Office of Private Education Commission of Thailand the first international school was approved in 1959, then four more were approved to cater children of expatriates and Thai diplomats who served abroad. Other Thai children were prohibited to attend these international schools. Then in 1992 Thai Government finally gave the freedom to local parents in choosing schools for their children. Thus the number grew to 10 that year, then 38 schools in 1997, five years later in 2002 there were 67 international schools, and by the end of 2006, the number soared up to 109′

According to the International School Consultancy Group http://www.iscresearch.com the number of international schools has now risen to 173 schools which cater for 60,000 students. International schools in Thailand provide a wide range of international curricula but by far the most popular international education systems are the British system, the American system and International Baccalaureate (IB) system.

Institutions of higher education have also embraced the opportunities to provide international education. The first international university in Thailand was Assumption Business Administation College (ABAC) which was granted university status by the Ministry of University Affairs in 1990. The number of universities offering international programmes has grown rapidly since the 1990s and there are now 344 international bachelor degree courses available in Thailand.

The growth of international education in Thailand shows little sign of slowing down and most predict this sector to continue growing but it’s important to remember that the growth of international school in Thailand poses both benefits and challenges for Thailand’s society. With more students gaining a world class education, the knowledge and skills these individuals acquire will ultimately support Thailand’s development. On the other hand if a quality education is only available to those that can afford it, the gap between rich and poor will deepen further, with the increased prospect of civil unrest.

So while the rapid growth of international education is welcomed it is hoped that Thailand’s national education system will also develop to ensure all children have access to an education that adequately prepare them to succeed in the 21st century society.

modern international school


  1. Dear, Daniel,
    I stumbled upon this website on the College of the Assumption in Bangkok I am excited as I’ve been doing research for my book entitled ‘My Maternal Roots 2nd Edition’.

    My great grandfather, Paul Lee Kheng Guan, was educated in this school in the late 19th century, when he was 15 years old. His father, Joseph Lee Gek Hong brought his three sons there while he started a business. Eventually they moved to Singapore in the early 20th century.

    As such, may I request for your permission use the photo of the college with the numerous students in front of it? I will duly acknowledge the source in my book

    Best Regards,
    Cyprian Lim


    1. Dear Cyprian, the picture I used was just a scan from an old postcard. As far as I am aware you can use it.
      By the way your book sounds very interesting, please forward a link when it is published.
      Kind regards


  2. Dear Daniel,
    Thank you for the kind permission 🙂
    ‘My Maternal Roots 2nd edition’ chronicles the family history of the Lee descent since the 1800s. It details the fleeing of the Catholic refugees from Swatow to Singapore in 1928, due to the civil war. Thereafter, we take a look at my Gt grandfather’s contributions to housing the refugees, the development of the Chinese Catholic community and the founding of the Catholic High School in Singapore.

    It will be in print and hopefully published by early next year. I’ll consider an online version too. Will inform you when the book is out

    Best Regards,


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