International Education in Chiang Mai

 | Mon 4 Nov 2013 14:26 ICT

The demand for international education across Thailand is growing and Chiang Mai was recently earmarked as an International Education Hub. Now, I know the ‘hub’ tag is one that has been thrown about rather carelessly over the past few years. We’ve seen politicians and policy makers announcing that Thailand is the next big Travel Hub, Tourist Hub, Healthcare Hub and ASEAN Hub. Some of these ideas have been a little farfetched (Dental Hygiene Hub?) but I feel that Chiang Mai does merit the title of International Education Hub and I believe that this reputation is set to grow over the coming years.

In this month’s blog I’m taking a look at the rise of international education in Chiang Mai and considering what the future may hold.

To put the growth of international schools in Chiang Mai into perspective it is worth taking a quick look at the history of international schools in Thailand.

A Brief History of International Schools in Thailand

International schooling in Thailand had its birth in post WW2 Thailand. The International School Bangkok (ISB) opened in 1951 and was Thailand’s first international school.  Just 6 years later two more international schools, Ruam Rudee International School and Bangkok Pattana School, opened in Bangkok.

International education in Chiang Mai also began in the 1950s with the Chiang Mai Children’s Centre which later evolved into CMIS.

From the late 1950s to the early 1990s there were just a handful of international schools in Thailand. This is primarily because at that time international education in Thailand was ‘exclusively’ for the children of foreign nationals. Thai law required Thai students to receive a Thai education. I say ‘exclusively’ because if you are extremely rich and well connected, you are always able to bend the rules, so there were some Thai students at these international schools.

In 1990 the Thai government, under Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, changed its policy and allowed Thai children to enroll in international schools. This decision was made law under the Education Act of 1991.

Since the early 1990s the increase in schools offering international education has been astonishing, the situation is best summarized by Dr. V. Techavijit

‘The growth in the number of international schools in Thailand has been nothing short of phenomenal after the government legalised Thai students attending international school in 1992.     According to the Office of Private Education Commission of Thailand the first international school was approved in 1959, then four more were approved to cater children of expatriates and Thai diplomats who served abroad.  Other Thai children were prohibited to attend these international schools.  Then in 1992 Thai Government finally gave the freedom to local parents in choosing schools for their children.  Thus  the number grew to 10 that year, then 38  schools in 1997,  five years later in 2002 there were 67 international schools,  and by the end of 2006,  the number soared up to 109’

Dr. Virachai Techavijit ‘The International Schools Phenomenon in Thailand and
the Implementation of the International Baccalaureate’

The growth of international schools in Chiang Mai may not have been quiet as phenomenal as in Bangkok but it mirrors similar trends.

The Growth of International Education in Chiang Mai

Currently there are eight schools in Chiang Mai offering international education; APIS, CDSC, CMIS, Grace, LIST, NIS, Prem & Varee. These cater for over 2,000 students in total and offer a range of curricula including, American, British, German and IB. They also cater for a range of budgets with school fees ranging from about 150,000baht up to around half a million baht per year.

But international schooling in Chiang Mai hasn’t always been so glamorous, it actually grew from humble begins, with one teacher and a hand full of foreign children.

Chiang Mai International School CMIS
Curriculum – American

500 students
CMIS was one of the very first international schools in Thailand and it has a really interesting history. It began life with a handful of students in 1954. At that time it was known as the Chiang Mai Children’s Centre. Then in 1985 it established itself as a formal international school under the new name, Chiang Mai International School (CMIS), offering education for students from Kindergarten to Grade 8. The school expanded to add High School grades in the 1990s.

Nakornping International School NIS
Founded 1993
Curriculum – American
400 students
NIS was among the first schools to acknowledge the opportunities created by the 1991 Education Act. It opened its doors in 1993 with 10 teachers and 39 Students. The school was originally located on Chang Klan Road. The school was a success and before long a larger premises was needed. It moved to its current site on the Mae Rim side of Chiang Mai in 2003.. The school follows an American curriculum. The school has grown to around 400 students.

Lanna International School Thailand (LIST)
Founded 1993
Curriculum – British (Cambridge International Examinations)
250 students
LIST was another school to recognize the opportunities of the 1991 Education Act and it opened in the same year as NIS (1993). LIST provided a UK based curriculum to cater for the British expat population in Chiang Mai and until recently they were the only school in Northern Thailand offering the English National Curriculum. The school has remained on its original premises and has grown to around 250 students.

Christian German School Chiangmai (CDSC)

Founded 1994
Curriculum – German
The third school to open in the early 1990s was CDSC. This school was opened to cater for the growing German expat population. The curriculum is based upon the federal state of Hesse and supplemented with educational content from various other German federal states.

American Pacific International School (APIS)

Founded 1997
Curriculum – American & IB
The main campus of APIS is about 25kms from Chiang Mai city centre. It offers a mix of IB and  American curricula. The school is in a picturesque location along the road to Samoeng. It is quite a distance from the city centre but provides boarding facilities. APIS was the first internationally accredited boarding school in Northern Thailand.

Grace International School
Founded 1999
American Curriculum
Students – 500
GIS started life as a home school operation for the children of American missionaries working in Northern Thailand.  The school opened in 1999 and has grown to 500 students. A large percentage of the students are from missionary families but the school does accept some Thai students.

It is currently located on the Hang Dong Road however having lost a lengthy legal battle the school will soon be moving to a new site further from the city centre.

Prem Trimsular International School (PTIS)
Founded 2001
IB Curriculum
Students 400+
This school began life as a private Thai school running an English Programme in the late 1990s but closed down during the ‘Tom Yam Kung’ financial crisis of 1997. It eventually opened as an international school offering a full IB curriculum in 2001.

PTIS is located in Mae Rim and has excellent sporting facilities. The school was named in honour of General Prem Tinsulanonda, a former Prime Minister of Thailand and the President of the Privy Council.

Varee International 2010
Varee Chiangmai School opened a secondary school international programme following the English National Curriculum in 2010. It certainly is the ‘new kid on the block’ but with some very impressive IGCSE results this year they have shown that they are serious players in Chiang Mai’s international education community.

The school is located near the centre of Chang Mai and there are 100 students in the International Programme.

Satit Rangsit Chiang Mai 2014

Rangsit University opened a demonstration school in Bangkok in 2003. The school was a success and they are now ready to open a campus in Chiang Mai. The school will offer both an English Programme and an International Programme.
Rangsit are the first of Bangkok’s established education organisations to move up to Chiang Mai and they are likely to be followed by others.

There are always plenty of rumors about international schools doing the rounds. These rumours usually need to be taken with a pinch of salt but here are some rumours which indicate international schools in Chiang Mai anticipate increased demand in the years to come.

– Grace International School will be moving to a large new site in the very near future

– CMIS have expanded as much as they can on their present site and have a new site away from the city centre which they will use for future expansion.

– Varee Chiangmai School has purchased numerous plots of land beside the current campus for future expansion.

– One of Bangkok’s ‘big’ international schools has bought a large plot of land in Chiang Mai for a Northern Campus.

– And finally, the Thai MoE plan for a handful of leading government schools to open international programmes. Yupparaj Wittayalai School in Chiang Mai has been earmarked as the school in Northern Thailand to deliver this programme.

The Future…
The future for international schooling in Chiang Mai looks bright.

Chiang Mai is experiencing a construction boom with hotels, condominiums and shopping malls springing up all over the city. The population looks set to continue increasing and most of Chiang Mai’s traditional schools (Montfort, PRC etc..) are already at maximum capacity so more families will be looking for modern alternatives which offer an international perspective. 

Considering that in just 25 years the number of international schools has grown from one school to nine schools, I predict there to be many more international education options for students in coming years. 

And hopefully, this increase in international education will have positive repercussions for the city of Chiang Mai.

Who knows? perhaps the next generation of students will be able to solve the problems that have eluded Chiang Mai’s previous leaders e.g. public transportation, summer smog, corruption and of course poor education…