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PHUKET: Construction of the new international school with a Chinese-language curriculum is good news for Phuket. [See front page story, current issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers click here to download the full newspaper.]

The school will provide an important new option for parents who want to position their children to tap the potential of the world’s most-populous nation and its robust economy.

Educational options in Phuket have grown in leaps and bounds over the past two decades with the introduction of four international schools using English-language curricula, and a fifth under construction in Kathu.

The desire of Phuket parents to provide international-standard education for their children, one with strong emphasis on learning a foreign language, comes as little surprise given the rank failure of the Thai government education system in this regard.

Despite the obvious need for English-speaking staff to meet the needs of Phuket’s large and fast-growing tourism economy, management at most state-run schools continues to labor under a bureaucratic mindset that promotes rote learning and parrot-like regurgitation over independent thought, crowd control over creativity.

Despite the talk of “brain-based learning” – is there any other kind? – during the Thaksin years, and similar buzz-speak by successive governments, little has changed at the Ministry of Education, the nation’s largest and most unsuccessful employer.

Fortunately for Phuket, the private sector has been able to step up and fill much of the vacuum in educational opportunities in the rest of the nation outside of Bangkok.

Like most segments of the Phuket economy where free market forces are allowed to prevail, private education has flourished over the years to the point where the province now offers the widest range of educational options in the South, including bilingual programs, tutorial schools, TEFL training schools and more.

Given Phuket’s growing population, infrastructure development and increasingly international outlook, it comes as little surprise that the island is developing into an education hub, assisted by the pollution and traffic in Bangkok, Thailand’s traditional seat of higher learning.

The trend is not restricted to Phuket proper, but also extends to nearby parts of surrounding provinces. One notable development came in October when Chulalongkorn University announced that its prestigious Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration would open a satellite center in Phang Nga, just over the bridge, for Thai and international executives.

Not to be overlooked is vocational training, where Phuket is lucky to have no fewer than six colleges that attract students from around the nation.

The vocational sector of education is important if Thailand is to avoid the current ‘brain drain’ confronting so many western countries. In the United States and Europe, for example, there are legions of unemployed people holding advanced degrees – but no one knows how to fix a broken toilet.