The 2008 Education Act for Persons with Disabilities defines inclusive education as the process of ‘providing persons with disabilities access to general education system, at any level and in various settings, including enabling education provision to enable schooling for all groups of persons, including persons with disabilities’. The 2017–36 National Education Plan broadens the concept, referring to inclusive education as the education provision for all learners, including students in socio-economically disadvantaged situations.
Special education needs
The 2017–36 National Education Plan further clarifies that students with physical, mental, intellectual, social, emotional, communication and learning impairments, non-autonomous learners and those without guardians are considered to have special education needs.
The 1999 National Education Act, amended in 2002, establishes that early childhood and basic education are provided in (Sec.18):
- Early childhood development institutions, i.e. childcare centres; child development centres; preschool child development centres of religious institutions; initial care centres for children with disabilities or those with special needs.
- Schools, i.e. state schools, private schools and those under the jurisdiction of Buddhist or other religious institutions.
- Learning centres, organized by non-formal education agencies; individuals; families; communities; community organizations; religious and other social institutions.
The 2008 Education Act for Persons with Disabilities clarifies that persons with disabilities can be educated in regular settings and/or specific learning centres providing education in different forms, through inclusive education or specific education provision for disabilities, including rehabilitation services (Section 8). Despite the Education Act for Persons with Disabilities and the intention to provide inclusive education for all, the country is still in a transition phase as regards inclusive education provision.
In 2015, 43 special schools were active across the country, along with 76 provincial special education centres and 13,786 inclusive schools. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, a local administration organization, provides inclusive education in approximately 100 schools.
The 2017 Constitution of Thailand mandates the state to provide free quality education to every child from preschool to compulsory education (Section 54). It further prohibits any forms of discrimination ‘on the grounds of the difference in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or constitutionally political view’ (Section 27). Social protection and assistance are guaranteed to children, youth, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and indigent and underprivileged persons (Section 71). Informed by the principle that all learners are capable of learning and of self-development, the 1999 National Education Act, amended in 2002, reiterates the right to quality and free education for all (Section 10). The teaching–learning process is meant to enable learners to develop ‘at their own pace and to the best of their potential’ (Section 22).
Updating the 1991 Disability Act, the 2007 Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act is the main legal instrument in the sector, regulating access to and use of facilities as well as non-discrimination measures and establishing a fund for support and assistance to students with disabilities.
Although the National Education Act states that persons with physical, mental, intellectual, emotional, social, communication and learning disabilities are entitled to receive basic education ‘specially provided’ (Section 10), the 2008 Education Act for Persons with Disabilities refers explicitly to inclusive education for persons with disabilities. It lays down their right to be included at every level of the education system. The Act specifies that persons with disabilities are entitled to assistive technologies and other supportive services to address their special needs, as defined in their individualized education programmes.
The 2017–36 National Education Plan sets inclusive education as one of its policy goals. However, the full endorsement of inclusive education has been slowed by the lack of facilities and adequate staff.
Gender equality is enshrined in the 2017 Constitution (Section 27). The 1999 National Education Act, amended in 2002, has expanded education access opportunities for both males and females. The 2012–16 Eleventh National Economic and Social Development Plan reaffirms the commitment to equal opportunity for girls and boys, in line with the precedent 2007–11 education sector development plan and its Plan on Empowerment of Women, which focused on gender awareness. The 2015 Gender Equality Act contains specific provisions on education.
With reference to gender minorities, no specific provisions protect transgender people from discrimination in education. However, the 2012 National Social Welfare Promotion Commission Regulation recognizes the value of gender diversity and the need to increase education opportunities for persons of diverse sexualities.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The protection and promotion of the rights of different ethnic groups to use and maintain their traditional culture, customs and ways of life is guaranteed by the 2017 Constitution (Section 70). Basic education institutions are responsible for addressing the needs of the community and ‘local wisdom’ (Section 27 of the National Education Act). ‘Local wisdom’ can be interpreted as the promotion of ethnic cultures and languages. Community engagement in the learning process is encouraged to impart information and local knowledge and as a chance for mutual exchange with other groups (Sections 29 and 57).
With reference to the promotion of local languages, circumscribed projects in the 1990s contributed to developing Thai-based orthography. Mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB MLE) programmes were implemented upon special permission. In 2006, a committee was set up to draft the national language policy. Its second sub-committee dealt specifically with ethnic minority languages. The 2010 National Language Policy recognizes the right to use and to learn one's mother tongue language, alongside the national and official language.
People living in rural or remote areas
Many schools located in rural areas are likely poorly funded. They tend to integrate students with disabilities in order to obtain extra funding.
Since a 2005 Cabinet regulation, education has been officially opened to all children regardless of their country of origin. Migrant learning centres, a non-formal form of education mainly run by members of the children’s ethnic community, were reinforced. Ad-hoc initiatives, such as the School Within School programme, were set up to promote the participation of migrants or stateless children in state education for a limited time each week to enable them to improve their command of the Thai language.
Cooperation across sectors
Cooperation among the State, local administrative organizations and the private sector is particularly encouraged by the 2017 Constitution (Art. 54).
Three offices placed under the Ministry of Education hold the responsibility for the education of persons with disabilities, namely the Office of Basic Education Commission, the Office of Vocational Education Commission and the Office of the Higher Education Commission. The Committee on Promoting Education for Persons with Disabilities is the key referral authority under the Ministry of Education. In addition, the National Committee for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities defines circumstances of unfair discrimination, while its sub-committee on Elimination of Unfair Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities assists in raising awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities and in reconciling disputes.
Established by the 2007 Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act, the National Commission on Promotion and Development of Life Quality of Disabled Persons is composed of several ministries. It cooperates with government agencies and the public and private sectors and is responsible for central policies, programmes and projects for the promotion and development of the quality of life of persons with disabilities. Alongside the national one, provincial sub-committees act with the same remit al local level.
Established in 2008, the National Commission on Policy and Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of Women, chaired by the Prime Minister, is an inter-agency cooperation for the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality. The Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security acts as a secretariat to the commission, while the Provincial Social Development and Human Security Office is responsible for the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights at local level. In all ministries, chief gender equality officers and gender focal points have been established since 2010.
Coordination across government levels
The 1999 National Education Act rolled out decentralization reforms aiming to transfer administrative responsibilities from central to local governments, maintaining education planning at the central level. The Ministry of Education's rule of decentralization has transferred decision-making power to schools and school councils in the areas of financial management and academic affairs. The ministry is still responsible for the national education curriculum, education standards, education assessment and quality assurance.
Despite a 2005 Ministerial Regulation on building accessibility for persons with disabilities and older persons, lack of adequate infrastructure and supportive services, such as transportation to school, remains one of the main barriers to inclusive education. The 2007 Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act also regulates accessibility to and use of public spaces according to the needs of persons with disabilities (Sec. 20).
The teaching and learning of sign language as a first language for persons with hearing impairments has been promoted through sign language courses for parents and the development of bilingual education in pre-primary and primary curricula in 17 schools for students with hearing impairments under the Office of Basic Education Commission. Thai Sign Language has been recognized as the official language of deaf persons.
ICT and learning materials
The 2007 Ministerial Regulations on Criteria and Procedures under Entitling Persons with Disabilities to Facilities, Auxiliary Technologies and Other Educational Assistance provides assistive technologies and other services for the non-formal or alternative education of persons with disabilities.
The Office of Basic Education Commission analysed textbooks and teaching materials in 2007 to identify gender biases and formulated policy recommendations on their revision with support from UNICEF.
The 2003 Teacher and Educational Personnel Council Act regulates teacher recruitment and training. The Teachers Council of Thailand set professional standards for the teaching profession and criteria for the accreditation of pre-service teacher education. None of the standards refer to inclusive education.
According to the 2008 Education Act for Persons with Disabilities, a special education teacher should have a university qualification in special education. However, teachers do not always have sufficient pre-service training in dealing with children with special needs, and often they do not receive adequate in-service training.
In 2015, a memorandum of understanding between Lampang Rajabhat University’s Faculty of Education and the Foundation for Applied Linguistics aimed to initiate a training programme to train teachers and administrators on MTB MLE.
School administrators, teachers and educational personnel have received trainings on gender, guided by UNESCO’s Gender Mainstreaming Implementation Framework, to promote gender mainstreaming in teaching and learning.
The office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education provides annual educational statistics.