Stacy L. Carter
Mississippi State University
The government of Thailand has historically provided a limited number of educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities but has recently demonstrated movement toward a more comprehensive educational system. The educational policy has not only begun to expand the incorporation of services for children with disabilities but has also introduced efforts to include children with disabilities in regular education classrooms. This paper examines the development of the education system in Thailand with an emphasis on the development of special education programs.
Thailand is a Southeast Asian country bordering the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and the northern tip of Malaysia. Until 1939, the country was known as Siam, with the current formal name being the Kingdom of Thailand. Thailand is comprised of 76 provinces that are ruled by a constitutional monarchy. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been overtaken by a European power. The economy of Thailand has demonstrated a slow but full recovery from the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis, although the economy has been negatively impacted by a tsunami which occurred in December 2004. The tsunami resulted in approximately 8,500 deaths and substantial property destruction in the southern provinces.
The existence of special education services within the country has been evident for several years but is currently still expanding and attempting to train qualified individuals to provide educational services. The culture of Thailand has historically promoted mixed feelings regarding children with disabilities. The Buddhist religion in Thailand considers good and bad fortune in a current life to be based upon the attainment of merit through actions considered good in a previous life. This traditionally promotes a belief that knowledge is associated with age, position and current status which is bestowed because of actions in a previous life.
Attitudes toward children with disabilities may range from some Chinese-Thai considering a child with Down Syndrome to a be a sign of good luck to parents of a child with a disability considering themselves to be punished for their actions in a previous life (Fulk, Swerdlik, Kosuwan, 2002). Other factors that have impacted attitude toward disability are level of education, socioeconomic status, and rural versus urban geographic location. In addition, because Asian culture typically does not value individualization, education in Thailand was not designed to produce independent thinkers or support for student-centered learning. (MOE, 1996; ONEC, 1997a, 1998a). Educational reform in Thailand has struggled to keep pace with rapidly changing demands that may sometimes require changing cultural paradigms regarding perceptions of children with disabilities (Fullan, 1993; Hallinger, 1998a, 1998b).
Over the past ten years, the educational policy within Thailand has addressed issues regarding children with disabilities. The educational policy in Thailand appears to have rather quickly moved to a more inclusive practice toward individuals with disabilities. The rather rapid pace at which these policies have been implemented appear to have resulted in some difficulties associated with the provision of qualified educators, provision of appropriate services, and overcoming outdated practices. The purpose of this paper is to examine the development of special education practices in Thailand along with the barriers to progress experienced with the development of appropriate services for children with disabilities.
Demographics of Thailand
The population of Thailand is estimated at over 64 million with approximately 5 million at or between 10 and 14 years of age and approximately 5 million at or between 15 and 19 years of age (Institute for Population and Social