Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Raising Kids in Phuket

Last week was the kids’ birthdays. Ben was 6 and Jenny was 4. Their birthdays are on the same day, two years apart. That is rather fortunate, only one party and no petty jealousies as they both get presents on the same day.

Raising kids in Phuket has its challenges and I often find myself wondering whether it will give them the best opportunities in life. Would they be better off if I took them home to England for their education?

It is an important question. I love my life in Thailand but I also want to give our kids the best chance in life. There are definite pros and cons to raising children in Phuket. It is a balancing act but one which for the moment I am happy to tilt in Phuket’s favour.

The thing is despite my concerns about the Thai education system and environment, I look at my two little kids and they are thriving. In fact, I try to remember myself when I was 6 years old and Ben is way more advanced than I was. He is already bi-lingual. He even knows two alphabets. He can swim (I was 9 or 10 when I learned to swim), he rides a bike and a skateboard. He has lots of local friends and loves going out to play. He is friendly, confident and outgoing. He even likes school.

If we moved them to England, they would miss out on their bi-lingual skills. They would learn more about English culture but lose their Thai culture. I think it is easier to pick up some English culture while in Phuket than vice-versa. They get so many great experiences in Thailand. It is not that there aren’t plenty of good things to do in England, but somehow the environment in Thailand is more conducive to fun.

There are some things I think the Thais do very well with children. There are others that we definitely do better in the west.

Thais are wonderful at showering children with affection. Any children, anywhere in Thailand will get attention. Complete strangers will stop to say hello to children. Thai people genuinely adore children. I think this is a major factor in why Thais grow up to be so open and friendly.

On the other hand, I don’t think Thai parents are so good at involving their children in organised activities. There are not so many Thai parents that will sit down with their children for a bit of colouring or reading. In our household, reading bedtime stories is a duty that always falls on my shoulders.

When it comes to the education system, there are also strong differences. Thais do more hours and get more homework. There is a strong emphasis on manners and discipline. The major complaint everybody makes about the Thai education system - they learn by rote. There is not much time spent on creativity or analysing problems.

I can’t afford to send my little ones to one of the international schools on the island. Even if I could afford it, I’m not sure I would want to. You see some of the kids from the international school out and about and I wouldn’t want my kids strutting around with such a cocky attitude. Perhaps that is not fair on the school and is more a trait of the privileged background of some of these children.

Anyway, my little ones go to Darasamut School in Phuket Town. It is a private Thai school and on the whole, I am happy with it. I think they get most things about right. I would prefer it if the hours were less, Ben does 8am until 4pm which seems a bit much for a six year old. I really don’t think they need homework at their age. I also think the morning parade where they sing the national anthem and raise the flag is hard work for such youngsters. Still it is an important part of Thai culture and the kids all line up and sing the song with great enthusiasm.

On the whole, I am happy with the school. They do plenty of playing, drawing, singing and the other things I think kids should be doing at that age. They have a swimming pool. The kids all seem remarkably happy and well-behaved. They are already learning their alphabets and numbers but I think they are teaching at the right sort of level. The kids are encouraged to eat good food and they get milk. They are taught about hygiene, mosquitoes, etc, they brush their teeth and all the 6 and unders take an afternoon nap

I am also impressed that they don’t charge any extras. The schools fees are a little more than a Thai public school but they cover everything. I have a friend who send his kids to a Thai public school and he is always being charged extras, which probably actually makes the school more expensive.

So for the moment I am more than happy with the upbringing our kids are getting in Phuket. In fact, I think at the early education stages, learning by rote is not such a bad thing. It lays the foundation skills such as alphabets, times tables, etc. My worry will be about when the kids get older and their education needs become more challenging. Will the Thai secondary education be good enough? We will see. We also have the option of moving the kids into the English Program at Darasamut, which is not too expensive.

I guess the challenge is to try to give them the best of both worlds. If they can take the best parts of a Thai upbringing and mix in the best parts of a western upbringing, then they have a good chance of growing up happy and successful.