Education in Thailand can be said to have begun in the 13th century when Sukhothai was Thailand's capital. In 1283, one of Sukhothai's kings, Ramkamhaeng the Great created the first Thai alphabet, using as its basis the Mon and Khmer scripts which had, in turn, been derived from a South Indian script. He employed for the first time the new alphabet in his stone inscription of 1292 at Sukhothai. Although undergone extensive changes, parts of the original alphabet are still in use. The Sukhothai stone inscriptions recorded aspects of education in moral, intellectual and cultural terms. Throughout the Kingdom of Sukhothai, two levels of education existed :- Education provided by the Royal Institution of Instruction (Rajabundit) to princes and sons of nobles. Education provided by the Buddhist monks to commoners.
The Ayutthaya PeriodThe basic structure of education for the princes, boys of noble birth, and commoners was adopted by the court and people of Ayutthaya and still prevailed in the early reigns of the Bangkok period. If is worth mentioning that during the reign of King Narai the Great, a book for the study of the Thai language entitled Chindamani was written and became a popular text book in duetime. It continued to be in use up to H.M.King Chulalongkorn's reign (1868-1910). It is generally accepted as the first textbook of the Thai language. However, it should also be noted that such education was of an academic type as it did not provide for occupational training which was generally handed down within the family or acquired through an apprenticeship.
Reform and Modernization
The Bangkok Period (1782 onwards)After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, and following a brief Thonburi Period, the capital city of Bangkok was founded in 1728 by King Rama I (1782-1809), the first King of the present Chakri Dynasty. He made an impact on the development of public education by reforming the Buddhist Church. Modern technology in the form of the printing press entered Thailand with the coming of Western missionaried and merchants in the mid 1800's. For the first time, printed books were available in the Thai language. In 1858, King Rama IV (1851-1865) commanded the government to establish a printing press for its own use and began to print the Royal Gazette or Rajkitchanubeksa which has continued till the present day. During the early Bangkok period, a number of treaties were concluded with foreign powers, mostly in the form of a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce. Since English became the lingua franca of the Far East, King Rama IV realized that the kind of education provided by the monastery and the court was not adequate for future government officials. For this reason, he commanded that measures be taken to modernize the education of the country and a good knowledge of English would form a part of the new educational requirements, as it had become a necessary key to further knowledge as well as a medium of communication with foreigners. The policy of educational modernization was further pursued by King Rama V (1868-1910). Recognizing the need for better-trained personnel in royal and governmental services, he opened a school in the palace to educate young princes and the sons of nobles in 1871. This was the first Thai school in the modern sense as it had its own school building, lay teachers and a time-table. In 1871, immediately after the setting-up of the first school, the Command Declaration on Schooling was issued for this purpose. Although, it is interesting to note that the Command Declaration on Schooling signifies the advent of a formal education in the reign of King Rama V, the fact remains that the education system at that time was essentially for the elite.
Soon afterwards, King Rama V set up an English school in the palace to prepare princes and court children for further studies abroad as well as a number of schools outside the palace for the education of commoners'children. In 1887, King Rama V established the Department of Education to oversee the Kingdom's education and religious affairs. At the time of its inception, the Department had under its jurisdiction, 34 schools in the metropolitan and provincial areas, 81 teachers and 1,994 students, including 4 other advanced schools in the metropolis. It is worth noting that the implicit significance of the establishment of the Department of Education lies not in the scope of its responsibilities but in the fact that education in Thailand was on its way to being a planned enterprise, more systematic than ever before, and that education also had its own spokesman to speak for its worthy cause.
The Emergence of the Ministry of EducationThe Department of Education became a full-fledged Ministry of Education on April 1, 1892, as a result of King Rama V's experimental measures in administrative and political reform with a view to establishing 13 ministries. By virtue of the 1892 Declaration, the control of private schools, in their rudimentary form, was introduced. A development in this respect reflected that the private sector had come in to share the educational responsibilities with the Government. Queen Sribajarindra had the Saowabha School for girls established in 1897. From the beginning of the twentieth century onwards, women's educational development in Thailand went from strength to strength. In 1901, the first government school for girls, the Bamrung Wijasatri, was set up in Bangkok. In 1913, the first women teacher training school was set up at the Benchama Rajalai School for girls. In 1898, the first Education Plan was launched. It was divided into 2 parts : the first concerned with education in the Bangkok area while the second with education in the provinces. The most significant feature of this Education Plan was that the educational organization had covered all levels namely ; pre-primary, primary, secondary and technical education up to higher education. The 1902 the National System of Education in Siam retained all the education levels of the 1898 Plan and reshaped them into 2 categories;namely, general education and professional or technical education. Another feature of this plan was that a variety of age limits for admission was imposed to motivate graduation within a scheduled duration. In 1913, the School of Arts and Crafts (Poh Chang) was set up in Bangkok. In 1916, higher education emerged in Thailand as Chulalongkorn University was founded with 4 faculties : Medicine, Law and Political Science, Engineering, and Literature and Science. In 1921, the Compulsory Primary Education Act was proclaimed. The Year 1932 heralded a period of historical change in Thailand as a constitutional monarchy system replaced the traditional system of absolute monarchy. The first National Education Scheme was thus devised whereby individual educational ability regardless of sex, social background or physical conditions would be formally recognized. In 1960, compulsory education was extended to 7 years. In addition, special provisions were, for the first time, made for disabled children, who were originally exempted from compulsory education, so that they might be given some form of basic education, regardless of their handicaps. In 1977, Thailand's educational system was changed from a 4-3-3-2 structure to a 6-3-3 system wherein six years of compulsory primary education is followed by three years of lower secondary school and by another three years of upper secondary schooling, which is still in use nowadays. From the year 1977 right through to the present day, it can accurately be said that all of the efforts made by the Ministry of Education have been geared towards one direction, which is to provide educational services as a means for a better quality of life and society.
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