Special Education Referral Process in Thailand

Special Education Referral Process in Thailand

Three interviews were conducted with a Thai teacher, the school principal, the school counsellor and a foreign teacher with myself. The aim of these interviews was to learn about the processes of referrals for students who may need special education within my school and compare it to how America or other countries perform.  My objective was to find out how they identify the students who may require aid. Some immediate questions came to mind. With our school being Bilingual, can they identify whether it’s a language difficulty or primarily a learning based disability? What actions are taking place and do they feel it worked?

Thai – Home room English Teacher (Grade 6-10) Perspective
Thai Teachers Perspective – Interview 1

Firstly, I asked how he would identify if a student needs special education.  He said initially he would identify them by monitoring their scores.  If they have a continuing low score in each test then he would intervene and have a conversation with the chosen student (either pull-out method or at the end of the class). The assessed tests are based on reading, writing and speaking.  He further stated he would work out a solution with the student with the purpose to move forward and he would record this in a report book along a mutually agreed upon evaluation plan for the student.  This report is then given to the student counsellor so they can have another meeting with them to discuss the current evaluation plan.  After this the student counsellor and the Thai teacher will follow the students’ progress to see if any improves are made.  He also said if he is aware the student is struggling, he would provide extra support for that student during class as well as outside of class.  This type of support can range from giving advice or requesting the student to see him during the lunch break or after-school if he feels the student needs more time to understand the topic.

I then asked what the next step would be if the student was still struggling?  He then said that’s when he would contact their parents.  In response to this I questioned “how do you think the students feel about this?”  My concern at this moment was perhaps throughout this process, students may feel they are being punished or stigmatized because they haven’t been performing well and scoring poorly on tests.  As a result, I wondered if he acknowledged this too.  He replied by saying “I feel like the students believe they were given a punishment, but for the teachers it’s not a punishment.  It’s the way to help the students to improve themselves”.

He then further explained how the meeting with the parents would go.  Most parents support their children by either saying they will help provide support for the student or get their own special education service.  However, he says there are some parents who don’t accept that their child is struggling in school.    The parents argue it’s not a serious problem and that this is just a phase their child is going through.  This reminded me of something I read previously before the interview.
In my prior research Swerdlik (2014) declares in his article that around 94% of the Thais are followers of Buddhism and he feels this has a “tremendous influence” on how some Thai people may view Special needs or disabilities. “Disabilities are believed to be a result of sins that parents or persons with disabilities themselves committed in previous lives or as part of their own past.” (Kosuwan, Vriryangkura, & Swerdlik, 2014) He elicits further by stating “Thai people still believe that parents of individuals with disabilities or those individuals themselves are “paying back” to whomever they owed. This is because parents were ashamed of “their sins,”’ (Kosuwan, Vriryangkura, & Swerdlik, 2014).
In light of this, I did ask how the Thai teacher felt about this and if this would influence the parents.  He specified that although he can see how it could be applied, he disagreed and stated he doesn’t believe the religion effects parents in that way.  He expressed that it’s more about the parent’s feelings and possibly scared to admit their child needs help.

School Counsellor, Principal and a Thai Co-ordinator Perspective
School Counsellor, Principal and a Thai Co-ordinator Perspective – Interview 2

I began by asking similar questions I had previously asked the Thai teacher beforeTo my surprise I found the process to be the same.  I say this because in my experience of working in Thai schools, generally information gets lost as it gets past on and as a result it causes a breakdown of communication.   Quite often, Thai staff as well as foreign staff are usually informed of certain activities/events or procedures generally last minute.  Nevertheless, in terms of identifying if a student needs special education/support, they are aware of their roles and what steps needs to be taken in order to provide a service for supporting the students.
The counsellor pointed out she had been doing this position in other schools for approximately 20 years and has the qualifications for it.  They later admitted to not having a school psychologist/therapist, but the other schools associated with my private schools have at least one in every school.  However, the Principal and the student counsellor expressed they have been in schools before with no psychologists using this similar referral process and have seen it work for their students.  The Principal shared her experience with a student who struggled with learning Thai and English but she provided him the same support with other teachers and now this student is currently working in Germany and communicating in English and German within a business setting.  They later confirmed that they are not too worried about the academic scores as such but more about the students succeeding and becoming independent within the community and fulfilling what they want to achieve in their futures.

Overall, based on this interview I believe the referral process ends with the parent’s involvement.  They seem to have a referral system in place for students with learning disabilities or behavioral conditions.  However, due to the school not having a student psychologist/therapist, I imagine that it would be hard for the school to diagnose if the student had a special disability such as autism.

I.E.P (Individualized Education Program)
In comparison to other schools in America for example, I’ve learned that having a person in such a field is important for verifying the identification on whether the student would need a special service like the I.E.P (Individualized Education Program).  “The official referral begins the formal process of determining eligibility for special education services. Once a referral is provided, the school must obtain consent from the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) to begin the evaluation phase of the referral process” (Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, 2013).   
By using the model from the Texas Council for Development Disabilities (2013), I discovered the components of what an I.E.P team should be composed of, they are here as follows:

  • Parent(s) or legal guardian
  • One general education teacher
  • One special education teacher
  • A representative of the local educational agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluations
  • The student (when appropriate)
  • Other individuals asked to attend at the discretion of the school or the parent.

For the most part, it would seem my private school has something similar set up, but I believe with the concern of not having a dedicated position for a Special education teacher or school psychologist/therapist.  I think it’s fair to state that realistically, my school cannot diagnose a student and declare they have a disability, but possibly only state what they have observed from both foreign and Thai classes.

This is a scene too often repeated all over Thailand, foreign teachers …are confronted with LD [learning disability] students in the classroom and little to no support in teaching them. They ask what measures the school is taking to bolster their educations, and more likely than not the answer is, “Nothing.”” (Curoe, 2015)

In 1999 the Thai National Education Act (N.E.A) only specifies nine types of special needs in comparison to America’s 14 types in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  The nine types are as follows: “visually impaired, hearing impaired, intellectually limited, physical limited, learning disabilities, speech impaired, behavioral or emotional disorders, autistic and multiple handicapped children” (Narot, 2010).  It further states the schools must “recruit all children into their classes without any discrimination. So schools need to adjust greatly in order to accommodate children with diverse needs” (Narot, 2010).  Narot (2010) continues to elaborate on how Special education or needs are handled within Thailand, “unfortunately, the inclusive school is still not an accepted concept. Teachers still emphasize greatly [on] academic achievement. Some schools still view students with special needs as a burden”.  This seems evidently apparent within my private school, especially from some foreign teacher’s perspective.

Foreign English Teacher’s (Grade 1) Perspective
Foreign Teacher’s Perspective – Interview 3

Again I repeated the same questions that I asked the Thai staff in previous interviews.  It was interesting to find the foreign teachers have a form to evaluate and write whether there is a student who is struggling within a certain topic or class by the end of the week.  His experience is mainly based with Grade 1 students and stated he identifies students by their classwork from their notebooks and or textbooks.  In response to if the school needed a dedicated special education teacher, he agreed the school needs one and believes it could help. “Does it help? I don’t know, the Finnish people are doing alright,” he replied. I thought this statement was interesting, as I had only recently discovered how the Finnish process special education.  I expressed how in Finland “most of [the students] have been in special education throughout their schooling, which means that special education actually is nothing special.  You are a special child or student if you haven’t used special services” (Edutopia, 2012).  He liked the idea that Finland’s aim is to guide students through the topics and said this is what he hopes he can achieve with the current school referral model.
He further explained that although he acknowledges the school has taken steps in the right direction, he declared he doesn’t know who follows up on this process or what the actions are.  I concurred, as in my opinion there is no communication on whether the Thai teacher followed up on our referrals.  In response to this, he stated if the Thai staff wants foreign teachers to evaluate the student and identify those with learning difficulties in class and follows procedures by writing their name in the form, he would like to know what’s being done about it.  Otherwise, he feels it’s just a “pointless exercise”.  What then follows in our interview seemed reminiscent or similar to what Narot (2010) and Curoe (2015) appealed from their perspectives.
The foreign teacher expressed how the Thai’s are “all about face” or keeping a “good face,” after all it is known as the “land of smiles”.  “I don’t know if that smile is a reason to sneak away from the problem or it’s a good way to respond to a question they don’t know,” (Bangkok Expat Life, 2014) but it often seems sometimes it matters more what it looks like than the quality behind it.  For example, our school has sports day, but the emphasis is not on the sports, is the preparation for the opening ceremony that’s more important, with the music, dancing gymnastics etc (equivalent to an opening ceremony of the Olympics). In reference to identifying learning difficulty students or special education students, it appears we have a process but “most of these teachers [in Thailand and in my school] had never been trained in special education. It was also pointed out that the policy for providing education to special needs groups is not clearly implemented” (Narot 2010).  Therefore, we have our “smile” on the surface, but what lies behind it is regrettably empty.

What lies ahead?

Overall, I feel Thailand has taken the steps in the right direction.  However, the NEA was legislated in 1999, in which it was nearly 20 years ago and times have changed! Within our world now, we have gained more knowledge on our 21st century learners and they are always advancing.  I’ve learnt there are processes and different mind-sets amongst people in general.  Through my discussions with teachers, administration and peers, I have discovered there are people who want to change or make a difference to their system in order to better our learners of tomorrows world.

Unfortunately, in my opinion there are currently no implementation strategies here and this seemed to remind me of how the M.O.E of Thailand implement their policies.  On the surface for Thailand, there seems to be a common theme.   They set up things with the right intention and it always looks good on paper but it falls or fails when it comes down to executing the process or following up with them.  “Rethinking policies and trying to come up with better ones is a good start, but without effective implementation it won’t lead anywhere” (The Nation, 2016).
Thailand as a whole still has a lot of work to do.  But I was honestly surprised to see signs like my private school attempting to adapt to the 21st century learner (at least from a Thai perspective) for learning difficulties.  Kosuwan, Vriryangkura, & Swerdlik (2014) agrees and concludes what I feel too would need to happen in order to benefit our 21st Century learners for tomorrows learning world;

“Expanding the knowledge base, resources, teacher preservice education and retention, parent education and empowerment, effective monitoring systems, and long-term policies need continuous work. At the same time, Thai citizens must be educated to develop more positive attitudes toward disabilities in general and individuals who live with them.”

Additional URL’s for the interviews

Thai – Home room English Teacher (Grade 6-10) Perspective  – Interview 1

School Counsellor, Principal and a Thai Co-ordinator Perspective  – Interview 2

Foreign Teacher’s Perspective – Interview 3



Bangkok Expat Life. (2014, July). WHY THAILAND IS CALLED “LAND OF SMILES”? Retrieved september 07, 2016, from bangkokexpatlife.com: https://www.bangkokexpatlife.com/2014/07/why-thailand-is-called-land-of-smiles

Curoe, M. S. (2015, April 01). Dealing With Learning Disabilities: Why Thai Education Fails Those Who Need It Most. Retrieved september 07, 2016, from chiangmaicitylife.com: http://www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citylife-articles/dealing-with-learning-disabilities-why-thai-education-fails-those-who-need-it-most/

Edutopia. (2012, January 25). Finland’s Formula for School Success (Education Everywhere Series). Retrieved September 05, 2016, from YouTube.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsdFi8zMrYI

Kosuwan, K., Vriryangkura, Y., & Swerdlik, M. E. (2014, October 08). Special Education Today in Thailand. Retrieved September 05, 2016, from emeraldinsight.com: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/S0270-401320140000028027#

Narot, P. K. (2010, January – March). edu.kku.ac.th. Retrieved september 07, 2016, from Movement in Special Education in Thailand: http://edu.kku.ac.th/journal/index.php/joe/article/view/26/17

Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities. (2013). The Special Education Referral Process. Retrieved september 07, 2016, from projectidealonline.org: http://www.projectidealonline.org/special-education-referral-process.php

The Nation. (2016, August 22). Retrieved from The Nation, Thailand’s Independent Newspaper: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Military-precision-is-just-what-Thai-education-nee-30256709.html

The National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2012, August 30). What is IEP? Retrieved September 07, 2016, from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2XlAWcMAUk




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