Education in Thailand is provided mainly by the Thai government through the Ministry of Education from pre-school to senior high school. A free basic education of twelve years is guaranteed by the constitution, and a minimum of nine years' school attendance is mandatory.
Formal education consists of at least twelve years of basic education, and higher education. Basic education is divided into six years of primary education and six years of secondary education, the latter being further divided into three years of lower- and upper-secondary levels. Kindergarten levels of pre-primary education, also part of the basic education level, span 2–3 years depending on the locale, and are variably provided. Non-formal education is also supported by the state. Independent schools contribute significantly to the general education infrastructure.
Administration and control of public and private universities are carried out by the Ministry of University Affairs.
The school structure is divided into four key stages: the first three years in elementary school, Prathom 1 - 3, are for age groups 6 to 8, the second level, Prathom 4 through 6 are for age groups 9 to 11, the third level, Matthayom 1 - 3, is for age groups 12 to 14. The upper secondary level of schooling consists of Matthayom 4 - 6, for age groups 15 to 17 and is divided into academic and vocational streams. There are also academic upper secondary schools, vocational upper secondary schools and comprehensive schools offering both academic and vocational tracks. Students who choose the academic stream usually intend to enter a university. Vocational schools offer programs that prepare students for employment or further studies.
Admission to an upper secondary school is through an entrance exam. On the completion of each level, students need to pass the NET (National Educational Test) to graduate. Children are required only to attend six years of elementary school and at least the first three years of high school. Those who graduate from the sixth year of high school are candidates for two decisive tests: O-NET (Ordinary National Educational Test) and A-NET (Advanced National Educational Test).
Public schools are administered by the government, and the private sector comprises schools run for profit and fee-paying non-profit schools which are often run by charitable organizations - especially by Catholic diocesan and religious orders that operate over 300 large primary/secondary schools throughout the country.. Village and sub-district schools usually provide pre-school kindergarten (anuban) and elementary classes, while in the district towns, schools will serve their areas with comprehensive schools with all the classes from kindergarten to age 14, and separate secondary schools for ages 11 through 17.
Due to budgetary limitations, rural schools are generally less well equipped than the schools in the cities and the standard of instruction, particularly for the English language, is much lower, and many high school students will commute 60 - 80 kilometers to schools in the nearest city.
The school year in Thailand is divided into two semesters, and for primary and secondary schools generally runs from the middle of May to March, and from June to March for higher education. It has a two or three week break between the two terms in September. The long summer break coincides with the hottest part of the year and Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year celebrations. Schools enjoy all public and Buddhist religious holidays and Christian and international schools usually close for the Christmas-New Year break.
Uniforms are compulsory for all students with very few variations from the standard model throughout the public and private school systems, including colleges and universities.
The dress code in primary and secondary grades for boys comprises knee-length dark blue, khaki, or black shorts with a pale white open collar short-sleeved shirt, long socks and brown or black trainers. Female students, wear a knee-length dark blue or black skirt, and a pale white blouse with a loosely hanging bow tie. The bow tie is dropped in favor of an open-necked pale blue shirt from Matthayom 4.
The girls' uniform is complemented by white ankle socks and dark blue or black sandals. The student's name, number, and name of the school are often embroidered on the blouse or shirt. Some independent or international schools have uniforms more closely resembling British school uniform standards, and boys in senior high school grades may be allowed to wear long trousers. The standard dress for children in kindergarten is a red skirt and white blouse for girls, and red short trousers and a white shirt for boys. In all Thai schools, one day per week, usually Thursday, is dedicated to scouting, when beige scout uniforms for boys and dark green guide uniforms are the rule, both wearing yellow neckerchiefs. Many schools have some color variations of the scout uniform such as blue uniforms with blue neckerchiefs for girl scouts at Wattana Wittaya Academy.
University uniforms are standard throughout the country, and comprise a white blouse and plain or pleated skirt for the females, and long black trousers, a white long sleeved shirt with a dark blue or black tie for the males.
Staff: As in all branches of the civil service at lower grades, teachers and staff in government schools wear a military style uniform. The female teachers and administrators of independent schools may be required to wear discrete, attractive uniforms, while staff in universities generally wears standard business attire.