Life in a Thai school in some ways is quite similar to other schools around the world. However, the fascinating Thai culture helps contribute to some intriguing differences. These range from simple things such as shoes not being allowed to be worn in the school buildings to the annual Wai Kru Ceremony where all of the students bow down low in obeisance towards their teachers.
Sriwittayapaknam School, or Srinai as it is more commonly known, is in Samut Prakan City about 35 kms south of Bangkok. The part of the city where we live is called Paknam which means “river mouth”. From the 6th floor of the school buildings we can often see big container ships heading up the Chao Phraya River to the port in Bangkok. Just south of us is the estuary which opens up into the Gulf of Thailand. There are no beaches near us so we can’t go swimming in the sea. Most of the coastal area is covered by mudflats and mangrove forests. Samut Prakan is an industrial city and very densely populated. Many of the local people either work in factories or the fishing industry.
For most schools in Thailand, there are only two semesters with no mid-term breaks. We have between 180 and 200 teaching days per year. Term one usually starts in the first week of May. This then continues until about the first week of October. This month marks the height of the rainy season and is when we get the most floods. The second term then starts around the first week of November. As most Thai people are Buddhists, we don’t get a break for Christmas. However, we do get a 3-4 day break for the New Year. Term two finishes either at the end of February or first week in March. There is then a two month long summer break. April is the hottest time of the year. Our school has summer school for one month during the holidays. It is not compulsory and about 70% of the students attend.
For many students and teachers, a school day is very long. Some arrive at school when it is still dark before 6 a.m. If their parents work in Bangkok, then they might be dropped off early. Most students don’t start to arrive until 7 a.m. Most are at school by 7.30 a.m. Everyone has to be present for the national anthem at 8 a.m. and the raising of the Thai flag in the playground. There are three lessons in the morning and they are 50 minutes each. Kindergarten stop for lunch first at 10.15 a.m. and then have a nap for two hours. Junior students stop for lunch at 11 a.m. Senior students stop for lunch at 11.30 a.m. We don’t have room for a canteen so everyone eats in the classroom. Lunch break finishes at 12.25 p.m. In the afternoon, there are three more lessons finishing at 3.15 p.m. Our school has a compulsory “homework” lesson after school and so most students don’t go home until after 4.45 p.m. The last students are usually picked up by their parents by about 6 p.m.