Classes in Chiang Mai

Why Thai schools have seen a big increase in students sent from China


A student in Chiang Mai

Less homework and rote learning for their kids and fewer stressful phone calls from teachers – these are just a few of the things that Chinese parents like about sending their children to international schools in Thailand.

They add to that list: classes in English, a more pleasant climate and lots of opportunity for the kids to play outside.

With Beijing tightening its oversight of schooling in China – including over international and private schools – some mainland parents are sending their children to study abroad at an earlier age than they might otherwise have done.

International schools in Japan and Singapore are popular choices, as are private schools in the UK. But Thailand is also gaining in popularity among those with smaller budgets and who don’t want to send their children too far away from China.

Figures on how many families have chosen this route are sparse but the South China Morning Post estimates there were about 20,000 children from China making the trip before the pandemic.

A recent article in also detailed how one mother relocated to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand in 2021 with her seven year-old in order for the child to attend one of the growing number of international schools there.

The decision, she said, has its plusses and minuses. But her mind was made up when she enrolled her daughter in a primary school at home in China and the pressure was so intense that they decided she should leave after a year.

“The child was only in first grade and had to memorise traditional poems that she could not understand,” quoted the mother as saying.

Other aspects of school life that she disliked were the regular calls from teachers complaining about minor things such as her daughter daydreaming in class, or the constant reminders to check her child’s homework.

Another thing she likes about the international school in Thailand is how there is less focus on exams; and that her daughter’s grades aren’t made public as they were in China. Back there she would often cry because of the pressure she felt her daughter was under, she says.

She considered moving her daughter to an international school in China but the fees were much higher than the Rmb100,000 ($14,467) she pays in Thailand.

At the time, the Chinese government was also preparing a major review of private schools that requires them to bring their curricula more in line with that of the state-funded sector. Since then, many of the parents who had enrolled their children at international schools in China have begun to look for alternatives abroad.

The main brake on that process is that China’s borders are largely closed, due to its ‘zero-Covid’ policy, which demands quarantines for anyone returning to China. Plane tickets are also expensive, due to a shortage of flights to many destinations overseas.

For the parents of Chinese kids in Chiang Mai who have opted for the international route, coming back to the Chinese state system gets more problematic the longer they leave it, however. Every year they fall further behind their peers in subjects like Chinese literature and maths.

But it’s a trade-off that the parents make knowingly, hoping instead that their children will benefit from tuition that gives greater priority to creativity and critical thinking.

They still worry that their kids might not feel at home in China – even on holidays. And worse, that they won’t be as respected in later life in the Chinese job market.

“It’s unlikely that she could get a job where she has to write in Chinese because her Chinese is not good enough. Also she might not be able to fit in because she cannot understand the way of thinking created by a highly competitive environment,” the mother of the girl in Chiang Mai worries.

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