Why is Literacy in Thailand so Poor? Thailand’s Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) recently completed a literacy test of Thailand’s third-grade children and found that out of 600,000 3rd grade students, 35,000 – 5 percent – can’t read or write at all. 200,000 others – 1 in every 3 – struggle to read or write well. There are several explanations for this sorry state of affairs.

The first reason that literacy in Thailand so poor is that Thailand is a highly stratified society and the elite has always been afraid of allowing the lower classes to read and write, lest they become infected by foreign ideas like democracy and socialism. So Thailand has never really developed as a literate culture. 90 percent of Thais never read a book and most do not read more than a few paragraphs in a year unless it’s work-related. Thais are intensely social and their first priority is always ‘fun’ – s’nuk. For most, reading is not s’nuk.

Another reason is that literacy is so poor in Thailand is that 30-40% of children do not live with fathers in the home. Thai men abandon their families at an alarming rate and rarely contribute anything to their children’s support. So working mothers leave their offspring with grandparents – usually back in their native village – who themselves never learned to read or write. Though child support is required by law it is almost impossible for working mothers to afford the costs of court orders and, even if the court issues a support order, most men will ignore it and police will not enforce it.

2 Responses

  1. As a former English teacher in Bangkok, I witnessed my students’ disinterest in reading. That the general population lacks interest is evidenced by what’s available in the Thai book stores. Apart from a few books about money that have been translated from English into Thai, the book stores are mainly shelved with comic books. I agree with all the reasons in this article outlining why Thai people don’t read, and I’d like to add one further – the Thai script. Written Thai just doesn’t seem to be suitable for creative prose like English. As far as I know, there are few famous Thai authors.

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