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BANGKOK 23 May 2019 11:00
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chiangmaiexpat

Wichai Wittaya Bilingual School

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There appears to be little information about the Wichai Wittaya bilingual school on Thai Visa, which is probably due to it being a relatively small school. So I thought, I'll fill in some info for parents who are currently looking for a school for their kids. Our two daughters have visited Wichai school for a year now and are currently at level K2 and P1.

Wichai school is a private school offering bilingual (Thai and English) education from kindergarten through primary and secondary levels up to Mathayom 6. Tuition fee currently ranges between 30k and 40k per semester. There are additional fees for books, meals, etc. The curriculum is based on the requirements of the Thai ministry of education. In addition, Singaporean textbooks are used for the English syllabus. Instruction is 40% English, 60% Thai and mostly provided by native speakers. Many subjects, such as maths and science are taught in both English and Thai.

The school is located in a somewhat nondescript multi-storage building on Changkhlan road close to Chiang Mai Land. It offers school bus service for pick-up locations in the city; car parking for drop-off/pick-up by parents is adequate. Facilities include a concrete basketball field, playground, conference hall, labs, music room, and smart boards inside classrooms.

Many Chiang Mai locals seem to think that Wichai school is a Muslim school, but I have to discredit this idea. Although the school is founded and run by Turkish people, and although it has quite a few Muslim teachers and students, it is certainly not a religious school. There are some rules in place, such as not offering pork meat in the canteen, but the curriculum and teaching style is unaffected by religious ideas and totally secular. In fact, we welcome the cultural diversity at Wichai school, because it teaches kids to get to know and respect other cultures.

Our impression of the teachers and the staff at Wichai school was very good. All the teachers we met seemed qualified, experienced, and eager to assist us. The management of the school welcomes visitors; they showed us around and answered all of our questions. Our kids are quite fond of their teachers -most of them anyway- and they have performed quite well. Our impression of the administration was slightly less positive, as they -although friendly- did not seem to do much about the safety hazard from vehicles passing through the small driveway onto the schoolyard, which we mentioned to them.

If I had to describe the school's philosophy in a nutshell, I would say that it is mostly about academic performance. This became especially clear in the parent teacher conference, which was all about O-NET and A-NET scores, performance tests, student's achievements, and how to prepare students for various academic levels. This aspect is also emphasized by the fact that there are support and incentive programmes for gifted students and above-average performers. For example, student's academic achievements are regularly read out loud on the schoolyard where all students assemble in the morning. Top performer students enjoy special privileges.

Wichai school sets a relatively high standard for academic requirements at an early age. Children learn basic reading writing and math already at kindergarten and most of them master the Thai and English alphabets, phonics, and simple arithmetics before they enter P1. We found that the English and Thai syllabus are not always well integrated, which means that students are confronted with a great quantity of material (22 books for P1!), which cannot be coped with adequately unless you are willing to put in a lot of hours into homework and tutoring.

For this reason, we have recently decided to continue our kids' education at another school. We feel that the school is just a little too competitive and too focused on academic performance, although this is certainly nothing unusual for Thai private schools. We would prefer a broader approach including social and life skills, less homework, and more emphasis on learning how to learn, rather than on learning how to produce top scores. Of course, we also want our kids to have fun at school. Though they did well so far, I worry that this teaching style might lead to them becoming tired of learning a few years down the road. On the other hand, if you have kids who can easily get absorbed in study, can concentrate for long periods of time, and enjoy a challenge, Wichai is probably a very good choice.

Cheers, CMExpat

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They can go there until Mathayom 6, so any university afterwards.

We looked into the place for our kids, and I appreciate they renamed the place to make it sound less Muslim, but when under Turkish ownership and with Muslim teachers, this contributed to passing on the place. (not the only reason though) It used to be named Fatih High School.

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I don't have a school aged child here (though I do have a 27 yr old studying in uni in the US) so I can't speak to the particulars of the parents with children here looking for schools.

The OP's review seemed very even-handed and fair; nothing for the mentioned school to be concerned about IMO.

Thanks for this well written and carefully worded post, chiangmaiexpat.

Please be aware that TV has caught a lot of grief in the past from hyper-sensitive school administrators/owners. The Thai libel laws seem to favor the business owner, over the consumer/citizen, so all please be careful about what you say, and who you are saying it about in future comments about this establishment, or any other one. And thanks for your understanding on this issue.

wink.png

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Thanks for your comments. After Wichai, our kids will start at Napa school this year. Like Wichai, Napa offers a bilingual programme. The school and kindergarten are located in its own building on the compound of Nakorn Payap International school in San Phi Suea. Currently our kids attend summer class and seem to enjoy it.

Cheers, CMExpat

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I don't have a school aged child here (though I do have a 27 yr old studying in uni in the US) so I can't speak to the particulars of the parents with children here looking for schools.

The OP's review seemed very even-handed and fair; nothing for the mentioned school to be concerned about IMO.

Thanks for this well written and carefully worded post, chiangmaiexpat.

Please be aware that TV has caught a lot of grief in the past from hyper-sensitive school administrators/owners. The Thai libel laws seem to favor the business owner, over the consumer/citizen, so all please be careful about what you say, and who you are saying it about in future comments about this establishment, or any other one. And thanks for your understanding on this issue.

wink.png

This business model of balancing "information" and "libel" has to be tough - I hope a Thai doesnt come around and start ThaiVisa2

Edited by PlanetX

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OP's post is quite thorough, and McGriffith's post very interesting.

Expectations of students don't seem to be inconsistent with the Thai school model. "Passing the test" is very, very important in Thai academic culture.

When considering any school, a fair question to ask is about administrative and teacher credentials and experience. More and more schools are doing this. There do not appear to be any such specifics on the school web site. Check out schools like Varee, which has an "international program" as well as providing bilingual instruction and international schools.

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I prefer a school that promotes and guides good humans rather than test / academic results only. Hence us choosing Panyaden school for it's "holistic" approach. Been a great move for us, truly blessed to be able to have our kids there.

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"...unaffected by religious ideas and totally secular..."

I remember the mattayom science books in the astronomy section had the following statement...

"Space is very big and we understand little about it because it was made by God."

I believe the books were Malaysian. Maybe they've changed them and are including real scientific theories, such as Big Bang and Evolution, as explanations for big questions.

Then again they might also be serving up flying-pork too.

Edited by squirrelboy

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The price would put me off 30-40k a semester for prek. Most places that offer bilingual are more like 20k a semester.

I have taught some of the graduates from there and they do alright. I wouldn't call it top tier but it is a viable option for parents.

My problem with bilingual programs is their inefficiency. For example the concept of CBI content based instruction is that the student has prior knowledge of the subject in their native language and then studies the subject in a foreign language that will allow for a cognitive connection between prior knowledge and language acquisition. However in the Thai model because students have to study 12-14 subjects a week, students will have a lesson for science in Thai talking about plant cells, then the NES will give a lesson the next day on animal cells. It isn't like the students are learning the vocabulary and the concepts in both languages.

Personally, I would never send my bilingual daughter to a bilingual school. Our daughter studies in a Thai program. She is one of the top students in Thai. She is also the best in English because we focus on her English studies at home. I am not saying that my way is the only way but after years of research into second language acquisition, we made our decision. The Thai model of bilingual programs and even international schools is more about marketing rather than based on effective linguistics or academics.

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My problem with bilingual programs is their inefficiency. For example the concept of CBI content based instruction is that the student has prior knowledge of the subject in their native language and then studies the subject in a foreign language that will allow for a cognitive connection between prior knowledge and language acquisition. However in the Thai model because students have to study 12-14 subjects a week, students will have a lesson for science in Thai talking about plant cells, then the NES will give a lesson the next day on animal cells.

That's not what's happening at the Varee English Programme, for example. They teach everything in English, except (obviously) classes in Thai language, history and culture. But all science, biology, math and so on is done in English. (by a Western teacher)

Personally, I would never send my bilingual daughter to a bilingual school. Our daughter studies in a Thai program. She is one of the top students in Thai. She is also the best in English because we focus on her English studies at home. I am not saying that my way is the only way but after years of research into second language acquisition, we made our decision.

I don't disagree with that; makes a lot of sense. A contributing factor for us in going with the English Programme was that our kid was actually a lot more confident in English than in Thai coming out of kindergarten (which was whiter than most kindergartens in my home town. :) ), so it made for an easier switch to Pathom education. Funny enough her Thai started improving incredibly right from the get-go (lots of full Thai class mates) and she ended the year with a top score for Thai language, too.

Edited by WinnieTheKhwai

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For example, student's academic achievements are regularly read out loud on the schoolyard where all students assemble in the morning. ~ OP

As a motivational device, the success of such a scheme (for all the kids) would depend upon whether those students with lower "achievements" were read out loud as well, I would have thought? However, we all pays our money and makes our choice.

(Naturally, my own children would have done extremely well with special privileges, and this school would have been in the running had they been raised here.)

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However in the Thai model because students have to study 12-14 subjects a week, students will have a lesson for science in Thai talking about plant cells, then the NES will give a lesson the next day on animal cells. It isn't like the students are learning the vocabulary and the concepts in both languages.

It varies in my experience. For example, I found that English maths and Thai maths are almost the same with regards to contents and teaching methods. The content of the science books -on the other hand- diverged slightly. Teaching identical subjects in both languages also has its inefficiencies, because although the vocab is acquired in both Thai and English, it just takes longer to chew through the same topic in two languages. Wichai school uses mostly Singaporean books. The main reason for us for choosing a bilingual school is cultural exposure. We want our kids not just to be fluent in English, but also expose them to Western thinking and Western pedagogics. A bilingual school seems to be the best compromise. It is perhaps not well known, but Wichai Wittayalai was the first school to offer a full bilingual program in Chiang Mai, so they have gained some experience with this type of programme.

I remember the mattayom science books in the astronomy section had the following statement... "Space is very big and we understand little about it because it was made by God."

Hehe. I believe this is a thing of the past. I had a chat with the director of the school about this topic prior to enrollment. My question in particular was whether they teach evolution in biology or whether there were any other "guidelines". He firmly denied the latter and stated that the only guidelines were scientific in nature. From briefly reviewing the science books used in higher classes I could verify this.

I have visited Panyaden school earlier this year with my wife and we were impressed by the facilities and their approach. Unfortunately, it is just too far away from our house.

Cheers, CMExpat

Edited by chiangmaiexpat
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Winnie: "That's not what's happening at the Varee English Programme, for example. They teach everything in English, except (obviously) classes in Thai language, history and culture. But all science, biology, math and so on is done in English. (by a Western teacher)"

That is because it is EP and not Bilingual.

CM expat: "We want our kids not just to be fluent in English, but also expose them to Western thinking and Western pedagogics."

That will not ever happen when the curriculum is based on the Thai MOE. The only way for that to happen is to use a western curriculum.

Thai MOE requires so many different classes and topics and many are repeated year after year. They start sexual education in Health in P1. Students will take an average of 12-14 subjects a week and with 40-50 students in the class there is absolutely no way that a teacher can create lessons that utilize critical thinking skills and focus on outcomes rather than testing.

Being the first doesn't make something the best however. I have taught a lot of students in the University that came from Bilingual programs and to be frank their English was subpar on average. EP students excelled but often had some difficulty with their Thai. International programs are often no better because their student body are not international students they are locals. Most of the international schools that I have worked at in other countries make it a requirement that the students need to hold a foreign passport. Thailand has always had its own way of taking an educational model and butchering.

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That is because it is EP and not Bilingual.

It's actually the same with bilingual schools, since these subjects (science, maths, etc.) are also taught in English at bilingual schools. The number of English vs. Thai hours of instruction varies with the school and I found that the line between English programmes and bilingual programmes is blurry.

That will not ever happen when the curriculum is based on the Thai MOE. The only way for that to happen is to use a western curriculum.

I am a bit more optimistic, since I believe that it doesn't entirely depend on the curriculum, but also on the teaching style. It is my impression that the Thai curriculum required by the MOE is quite densely packed and some of the books are outright awful. Teachers and students occasionally seem to struggle with it. However, whether you learn critical thinking, analytical skills, etc. depends very much on how the instruction is performed in class and that in turn depends on the school's and the teacher's approach. I would not accept classes of 40-50 students, though I know this is reality at some Thai schools; it would definitely be a show-stopper.

What concerns English fluency, I think that depends more on social context. Those Thai kids who never hear or speak a word of English outside school certainly won't reach fluency in school, but they do OK if thrown into a situation where they have to communicate in English. Even I reached a comfortable level of familiarity with English only several years after graduating from high school.

Cheers, CMExpat

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