Thais are smart people
They’ve created one of the best cultures on earth, which they love and treasure. But book learning is not greatly valued, Thailand’s education system is questionable, and it shows in international survey results. The Thai Ministry of Public Health just announced that the IQ of Grade 1 students has dropped from 94 in 2011 to 93 (the international median is 100).
It’s possible that Thailand’s education system is actually harming students’ IQs: the IQ of pre-school students is acceptable, but IQ drops as primary schooling begins, suggesting that the schools are doing more harm than good. Having been a school principal and superintendent, I’m quite sure that Thai schools are destructive. Their establishment was part of Thailand’s attempt to present a ‘civilized’ (i.e., Western) appearance to the colonial powers in the 19th century. Like most of that (successful) campaign, it was done for show. So there never was a cultural buy-in to the importance of education. Today, in almost every classroom across Thailand, teachers merely pretend to teach – and children pretend to learn. Because of the way this came about, there are no real standards. Every child passes every exam.
The sobering news gets worse: the IQ of students in rural areas is just 89. While studies have found the IQ of Bangkok university students averages 115, the IQ of provincial university students is 5-8 points lower. The low IQs also confirm continuing high levels of intellectual disability — IQ below 70 — “mildly impaired or delayed”. The average global percentage of such students is 2%. The 2011 survey found 6.5% of Thai students in this range. This year’s results suggest intellectual disability in some rural areas up to 10%. That level of disability imposes heavy costs on a modern society.
The regional disparities in IQ and intellectual disability are further reinforced by results from the Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa). The 2009 Pisa results showed Lower Northeast Thailand lowest for reading, mathematics and science, while Bangkok scored highest. Thailand’s rural Pisa scores are shocking enough, but compared to international averages they are atrocious: Thailand was 50th among 65 nations in the 2009 Mathematics assessment, far behind the emerging Asean tiger, Vietnam (17th).
The Ministry of Public Health report did note that students’ Emotional Quotient (EQ) results reached international standards. That will not surprise anyone who knows Thais: they are extremely sensitive to others and flexible and intelligent when dealing with interpersonal affairs.