Local Schools in Thailand: A Personal Account

By Liz Perelstein, president of School Choice International

“I was delighted to see caring teachers,

motivated and happy students.”





In early January I had the extraordinary opportunity to take a cycling trip in Northern Thailand and Laos. Although I travel whenever I can, this experience was unforgettable for me. We rode alongside people working in rice paddies, tackled dirt roads (with only one set of broken ribs) that lead to remote villages consisting of a handful of shacks, and stopped our bikes at factories where manufacturing took place laboriously, by hand.

The poverty we encountered among hill tribes in both Thailand and Laos was eye opening. We observed people who still live without electricity, cook over an open fire and brush their teeth and wash their hair in the Mekong River. Children as young as three years old knew enough English to beg for money, reminiscent of Fagin’s gang in Oliver.


Girls dancing at a local school

For those of you who read Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, we visited Hmong villages and found the Hmong tribe to be extremely entrepreneurial and pragmatic. The women, who customarily marry around age 14 and have as many children, are responsible for making and selling their exquisite handicrafts. Sadly, too often men spend the days in their huts without windows, smoking Opium while young children parent those even younger than themselves.


“Of greatest concern was the absence of

uniform guidelines for safety or sanitation.”


I visited many local schools and found them surprisingly similar to local Western schools in certain respects, although they were as different as can be imagined in others. Of greatest concern was the absence of uniform guidelines for safety or sanitation. But I observed many lovely practices such as children growing their own vegetables and taking them to market. We had the good fortune to come upon children preparing for a dance contest between schools and were treated to a demonstration of local dances and tribal costumes. I was delighted to see caring teachers, motivated and happy students, and classrooms equipped with desks, books, musical instruments, and at times a computer, revealing that education is valued even in relatively poor communities.


3 Responses to Local Schools in Thailand: A Personal Account

  1. Richard says:


    What a lovely and sensitive piece. Perfection becomes more poignant when it is contrasted with the clumsiness of a broken rib that was a metaphor for the state of their education system – aiming for the joy and excitement gained through experience and knowledge only to have a surprise mishap from the ‘ruts in the road’. Keep up the great dialogue

  2. Kathy says:

    I love this description…though I admit the classroom picture is not one I remember. I was struck by the engagement of students in their work ( except when we were distracting them!), even though they had so much less stuff than our American students. Perhaps “hunger” for life and learning presents itself differently in different circumstances.

  3. findingschools says:

    Each year at North American private schools, the frenzied application process takes place – a stressfull time for parents, potential students and school administrators. This time of year, the process is winding down as the acceptance letters have been sent out – to the delight of those who received a letter and to the disappointment of those who did not. As we concentrate on the process of filling out forms, meeting deadlines, taking tests and talking to the right people we sometimes tend to forget the underlying importance of schools.

    Your article was timely. It was a gift to read about the joy you saw in schools in Thailand. We all need to remember that around the world, children love to go to school and learn. It is part of their identity and a place where they belong. It is important to be able to look past school ratings and the list of schools where the students attend college and be reminded of the core elements of a good school. The children are welcomed. They learn from their teacher and their peers and they have so much to share – including dance.
    Judy C

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