‘International Schools in Isaan’: it may seem like a surprising title, but there are perhaps more options than you might think for those who wish to send their children to an international school in or near the Isaan region. But before we look at specific schools, exactly what is an international school, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of such institutions?
As defined by the Ministry of Education (MoE), “an international school is an institution providing an international curriculum or self-organised curriculum which is not the MoE’s. A foreign language is used as the medium of teaching and learning.” English is almost always the language used; the schools will usually follow an American or British curriculum and almost all teachers will be foreign. The schools will also follow American semesters or British terms. Therefore the main school holiday will be during June, July and August instead of March and April. Despite the emphasis on internationalism, Thai language and Thai culture are core subjects at all international schools. The students will be a mixture of Thais, Westerners and other Asians in varying ratios depending on each school.
The advantages that international schools have over government schools and normal private schools are numerous. Class sizes are much smaller: ten to twenty students per class is the norm. Students will be fluent in English, as well as Thai, and will learn another language such as Chinese too. The facilities and amenities will be very modern with the latest technology used to assist learning. The multi-cultural, international learning environment will better prepare students for education beyond school at one of the top universities in Thailand or overseas. But perhaps the most important difference is the student-centered teaching methodology as opposed to the teacher-centric rote style favoured in many Thai schools. This Western style of teaching enables students to develop critical thinking and improves problem-solving skills. Again, this will be of particular benefit to the student if he or she continues his or her education overseas.
The main disadvantage is cost. There is no hiding from the fact that international schools are hugely expensive in comparison with normal private schools. As a parent you have to balance the advantages an international school offers with the damage it will undoubtedly do to your bank account! That said, there is quite a lot of variation in fees at different schools. But if your child receives all of his or her primary and secondary education at an international school, and is a boarder too, then your total outlay will be several million baht over a typical twelve year period. Only you can decide if it’s worth it, but most parents who can afford it have little hesitation in sending their children to an international school.
So what are options for those in the north-east who are thinking of sending their children to an international school? Of course, you could choose from one of the many in Bangkok, but there are a few such institutions closer to home: in Korat and Saraburi to be precise.
In Isaan itself is St. Stephens International School: Khao Yai Campus near Pak Chong in Nakhon Ratchasima province. The school uses the National Curriculum of England and Wales and all lessons, except for foreign languages, are delivered in English by native speakers. As an acknowledgement to the growing importance of China in the business world, Mandarin Chinese is a compulsory subject up to age fourteen. Annual tuition fees are between 310,000 and 390,000 baht depending on age, and boarding fees are 247,200 baht per year. There are few Western students at the school: most are Thais or are from other Asian countries.
The Adventist International Mission School (AIMS) has two campuses: one in Muaklek, Saraburi and one in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima. Fees are approximately half of those at St. Stephen’s. This is mainly because there is no boarding option and many of the teachers aren’t native speakers. The school follows a North American Seventh-day Adventist curriculum. If you haven’t heard of the Seventh-day Adventists then it is strongly recommended that you do some research into this Christian denomination before considering sending your child to AIMS. The school is deeply Christian, and God and Christianity are central to the school’s philosophy and curriculum; Religious Studies is a core subject from Kindergarten right through to the final year.
Also in Saraburi is St. John Mary International School (SJMIS). The school follows an American – State of California – curriculum and is recognized and accredited by the MoE and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, as are AIMS and St. Stephens. The school is closer in spirit to St. Stephens than AIMS and its fees and philosophy reflect this. Boarding is available at SJMIS, and tuition fees range from 84,000 to 160,000 baht per year whilst boarding fees are 114,000 baht annually. The school has about 800 students and up to twenty-five students may be in a class. As at AIMS, not all teachers are native English speakers.
International schools undoubtedly offer something radically different from mainstream Thai schools. The facilities, curricula, teaching quality and teaching methodology are all of a very high standard, and a student’s further education and career prospects are both immeasurably improved by attending an international school. The fees will of course be the sticking point for many parents. Of the three schools we have reviewed here, St. Stephens certainly seems to be of the highest quality. Its location is stunning, facilities are first-class and ultra-modern, and class sizes are very small. Of course, these qualities are reflected in the high fees.
An international school education for our children is an unobtainable dream for many of us. But if you can afford it you should make the dream real.