Most schools throughout Thailand are much the same. Even though they may be public or private, they all have the same guidelines under which they have to operate. The average day in these schools is also much the same. At Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan, the students start to arrive as early as 5.45 a.m. If their parents are working in Bangkok then they might drop them off early. At this time it is still dark. The students are not allowed to go up to the classrooms but have to wait for their classroom teacher to arrive. The teachers have to take turns to be on duty once a week. This means that they have to come to school before the first students and also to be the last to leave. This often means a 12 hour day for them.
Most students don’t arrive until about 7.15 a.m. They come to school alone by school bus or on foot or with their parents by car or public taxi. In Thailand, we have different forms of local taxis which are very cheap. For example the three wheeled motorized rickshaw called a “tuk tuk” and the pedal version called a “samlor”. In Thai this means simply “three wheels”. The name “tuk tuk” comes from the sound that the motor makes. Another form of local taxi is the motorcycle taxi. These guys wear coloured numbered jackets and wait for people at the top of lanes. Other students come by “songtaew” which means “two rows”. This is basically two rows of seats on a converted pick-up truck.
When the students arrive at the school, they will often first pay respects to their parents. They do this by making a “wai” which is a prayer like gesture made by bringing their hands together at chest level and then bowing their head down to their hands. They do this as a way to say “thank you” to their parents for bringing them to school but also to say “goodbye”. They would also do this if their parents gave them some pocket money to spend in the snack shop at school. Some parents are stricter than others. You will sometimes see them holding onto the money until the child remembers to “wai” them as a “thank you”. Other students don’t seem to “wai” their parents even though they are taught to do this at school. However, they must “wai” the duty teacher otherwise they will get told off.
As they come into the school they pass a number of different shrines: a spirit house, a Brahman shrine and a Buddha shrine. The students are taught by their parents and teachers to always be respectful of these images other wise there might be consequences. The students and teachers often stop to give a “wai” on their arrival. Some do this to pay respect while others do it to gain some form of good luck for the day. Maybe they have an exam that day so they may make a wish to have good grades. If their wish later comes true, then they need to return to the shrine to make an offering. For example, some fruit or drinks. The school owners make an offering to the guardian spirit of the land daily in order to appease the spirits and to beg them not to cause mischief at the school.
Students are not allowed to wear shoes in the buildings. So, when they arrive at the steps they have to pause to take them off and then carry them up to their classroom. If they pass a teacher on the way up, they should stop to let the teacher pass first. As they are carrying shoes, they should first put these down and then give the teacher a “wai”. In Thai culture, it is impolite to point your feet at anyone. The feet and lower parts of the body are considered unclean. While the head is seen as being almost sacred. It would be considered very rude to give a “wai” while still holding your shoes. However, some students do this by mistake and we have to correct them. Teachers never initiate a “wai” to a student. This is considered by many as bringing them bad luck. Most teachers do not return the “wai” but will smile and nod instead. However, they could give the “receiving wai” which is where you hold your hands at chest level and do not bow down to them.
On arrival in the classroom, the students will put their shoes on the shoe rack and then make their way to their desk. If their classroom teacher is there, then they need to pay respect to them first. If their teacher is not so strict, then they will probably chat with their friends or read a cartoon book. However, if the students are more diligent, then they might read a school book or revise for an exam. The school bell rings at 7.45 a.m. which means that they should all go down to the playground for assembly. They leave their bags in the classroom, pick up their shoes and head downstairs. Strictly speaking, students should always walk on the righthand side of the stairs. You sometimes see adults doing this at a shopping mall. They have been trained well at school.
In the playground they will line up in rows according to their class and grade. They also do one row for boys and one row for girls with the tallest at the front. Everyone faces towards the flagpole and the Buddhist shrine at one end of the playground. At exactly 8 a.m., the school band starts playing the national anthem. Everyone quickly stops what they are doing, stands to attention and then sings the anthem. Students who might still be arriving also have to stop and stand still. If there is any parent sitting in the waiting area reading a newspaper, they should also stop what they are doing and stand to attention. All of the radio and television stations broadcast the national anthem at this time. They also play it on loudspeakers outside police stations, at hospitals and also places like train stations.
School assembly has the same formula every day. It usually lasts about 15-20 minutes. Our playground isn’t quite big enough for all 1,700 students, so the kindergarten students line up outside their classrooms for assembly. This is what the rest of the students also do on rainy days. After the national anthem has finished and the Thai flag has been raised to the top, the students next do Buddhist chanting. The majority of the students are Buddhists, though we do have a handful of Muslims and Christians. Although they have to be in the assembly, they don’t need to chant. This only lasts a few minutes. Next comes the reciting of the student oath, the school creed and finally the school motto. Once these formalities are over then one of the duty teachers goes to the front of the assembly to give a small speech on ethics. Sometimes students will also take turns to read something from a newspaper.
Before the first lesson starts, the students will have a homeroom period with their classroom teachers. She might also give them an ethics talk or she will prepare them for an exam by getting them all to read aloud from their school book. We mainly have primary students so they stay in the same classroom for much of the day. However, at High schools, the students will often move from class to class during the day. Our junior students are taught for most of the day by their classroom teacher. However, the older students have specialist teachers who take turns to come to their classroom. The only time the students have to move class is for subjects like Computer and P.E.
When the teacher arrives in a classroom to teach, there is always a small routine that the students have to perform. This starts by the class captain calling out “students stand to attention”. The students then greet their teacher by saying “sawatdee”, which is Thai for “hello”, and giving them a “wai”. The teacher will then say “sawatdee” in reply and then tells the students to sit down. The students then chorus “thank you”. For their English lessons, they do all of this in English. It goes something like this: “Please stand up. Good morning teacher.” We then reply “Good morning, how are you?”. They reply “I am fine thank you and you?”. We reply “I am fine, thank you. Please sit down.” They then say “thank you” and sit down.
I will post the conclusion of this average day in a Thai school at www.thai-blogs.com tomorrow. In the meantime, I have posted many articles and pictures of Life in a Thai School over at www.thaischoollife.com.