Primary Source

Traditional and Modern Primary Education in Thailand [Object]


The image shows the reverse of a Thai 100-baht banknote, with engravings of of King Chulalongkorn and King Vajiravudha statues. The banknote's background theme is education. The detail on the right illustrates Thailand's traditional education system, showing a monk instructing boys in the courtyard of a temple. Until the 20th century, the village temple was a place where most young boys from peasant families received a basic education. Such temples typically received small boys to serve in the temple as dek wat, or "children of the temple," from the age of eight years old. The dek wat carried out minor housekeeping chores in exchange for instruction in reading and writing. They also memorized scriptural passages appropriate for important rituals. The dek wat served for four years or more, after which they could be ordained as novice monks (samana or samanen) for one or two years. At the age of 20, the novice could advance to higher ordination. Parents often sponsor a child as novice, who still spends time at home, but donations from other villagers help to provide for novices' robes, alms bowls, and other needs.

The detail of the banknote on the left represents modern mass education in Thailand, with boys and girls in uniform exiting a modern school building flying the national flag. In 1921, the Compulsory Primary Education Act was proclaimed, and in 1960, compulsory schooling was extended to seven years. At that time, the government made a series of five-year plans that resulted in widespread construction of wooden village primary schools and concrete-block secondary schools. Universal public education has largely replaced temple and monastery for imparting basic literacy, but some villages still rely on the dek wat system for boys' religious training. While it is no longer the only path toward higher education, a temporary period of ordination as a Buddhist monk is still a valued rite of passage for boys before they marry and start familes. Young men who have served as monks for a few months or years are viewed as better marriage partners and more suitable candidates for village leadership positions. Young men who remain monks for a longer period of education learn traditional scripts and gain the knowledge to officiate at religious ceremonies in the village and surrounding area.


"Thailand Baht 1994," Joksa's Collections: Banknote collection, (accessed November 30, 2009). Annotated by Susan Douglass.

How to Cite This Source

"Traditional and Modern Primary Education in Thailand [Object]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #377, (accessed August 10, 2021).