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.


Jamie Monk in Phuket said...

Damn, Jim. Your comments here alost totally 100% reflect my own feelings especially with regards to that horrible "going back to England" question... and the long hours and the learning by rote etc.. Our kids are at Kajonkiet - started in the Thai program, moved to English after a couple of years. I am happy with it, but the standard of education seems to depend a lot on what teacher they get. I know a teacher at Darasamut at she says the new English program there is very good.

PS we really should have a beer sometime!

Phuketian said...

Hi Jamie. Kajonkiet and Darasamut seem to be the two most popular choices for ex-pat parents. I think they are both decent schools. The English program at Darasamut is something I am considering for Ben for the next school year.

We really must make a definite plan to meet up for a beer sometime. I would suggest a beachside restaurant where the kids can have a play, but the way the weather is at the moment, it might not work out so good.

Jamie Monk in Phuket said...

Hi Jim, that last comment is a spammer who tries leaving comments on my blog weekly.

Phuketian said...

They are a pain. Comment removed.

Anonymous said...

I would like information on both of these schools if you two can give to me at your leisure. We will be returning to thailand in December 09 from US and need to find a decent school for our 3 children-3rd grade, 1st grade and preschool ages.

THey would need an EP b/c thier thai is only basic conversation. They are Thai/American-dad is Thai.

Any information on schooling, etc. would be appreciated.
THank you

Phuketian said...

Hi Anon,

Darasamut and Kajonkiet both have similar set ups. They have a Thai program which follows the Thai curriculum with classes taught in Thai. English is taught as a foreign language. The Thai program is about 20,000-baht a year.

Both schools also have an English language program, still following the Thai curriculum but the majority of classes are taught in English by native English speaking teachers. The cost is 80,000 – 100,000 baht a year.

Don’t ask me for a recommendation as to which one is best. I don’t think there is much in it (unless you are a teacher as I hear the teachers do not enjoy working at Kajonkiet and they do have a high turnover of staff).

One other option you could consider is a new international school recently opened that is reasonably priced. Headstart International School is opposite Makro. They are charging around 150,000-baht a year for mostly English language classes and using the British school curriculum. It is too early to for them to have any kind of reputation to report but the set up looks good and the price is very reasonable for an international school.

I am sure I will be giving that school serious consideration for my two little ones in future years.

Best of luck with your move and I hope you find a good school. Let us know how you get on.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your response. This move is very big for us all and especially with kids, but we are very excited. We want to visit the schools and see what is right for us.

Seeing that you have been in the area for several years, can you provide any advice on how well you have seen other children that have not grown up emersed in Thai adapt to learning the thai language? Our kids are literate in English-even 4 year old is beginning to read, but obviously we are wondering how long it will take them to be comfortable at least speaking Thai and then obviously reading and writing it with their peers.

Do you have any insight on this from hearing other people talk about it? My husband does speak some Thai with them, as do I, but our first language in the home is English. THus their conversation is basic with phrases/vocabulary right now.

Also, are there any ways to meet other mixed families when we get there-in order to help the children acclimate to their new home, culture, schools, etc.?

Hope you don't mind the questions.
Thanks for your time.

Phuketian said...

Hi Kate,

Sorry I’m a bit slow responding. I don’t personally know any children who have moved here from outside of Thailand, although there are certainly quite a few around. My feeling is that children under the age of 10 are very good at adapting to new surroundings and picking up new languages. It will be tough for them to begin with but given the right environment they will pick it up quickly enough.

To help them pick up Thai, it is probably best to choose one of the bi-lingual schools rather than the internationals where they will mostly hear English.

There are a lot of mixed families in Phuket, I mean really a lot. However most of them have always lived in Thailand so the children have always had a Thai environment. Wherever you are, I do not think you will have a problem meeting other mixed families.

Take your time and have a good look around the island. Find a location and school that suits you, there are plenty of options. If you ever want to meet up for a chat then drop us a line.


ClaireR said...

Hi Kate, I am now in the position you were in 4 years ago. My husband is Thai and we have 2 daughters both uk born both speak English only. We are moving to Phuket this November and am worried about how my girls will adapt especially my 7 year old who is quite head strong. Which school did your choose in the end and how did your kids adapt tonThai language , school and culture. ? Any advice would be much appreciated. Kind regards Claire