Things can seem so unlikely that it is striking sometimes what is actually achievable in Thailand, given its micro-society rules and sluggish bureaucracy: in August 2010 the Quality Swedish School (QSS) in Kamala, Phuket was officially licensed by Thai authorities to operate as a Swedish school in Thailand.
It was the first school ever to get such a license, and it had by then required an enormous effort for Birgitta Green and her husband to get this through – a year dominated by red tape, a lot of costs and other details.
But they succeeded, and given how things are actually being run here Birgitta is in particular proud of having receipts on everything.
‘’We have not paid anything under the table to get things trough, and which was the first condition the lawyer and auditor we hired had to accept.”
The right way
Birgitta’s connection to running schools on Phuket actually goes back to the very first school by and for Swedes set up in 2005. Back then she acted as a coordinator in Sweden to feed that school with teachers.
Coming back on holiday in the spring of year 2009, she was asked by families if she could not open up another school.
With these signals from parents, indicating a growing demand, Birgitta, now principal, started a dialogue with legal advisors.
“And we came back in the autumn to initiate a Swedish School. After having thought things through, my husband and I agreed that when taking on this challenge we ought to do it the right way from the start – knowing that this would take time and require money. Because I wanted a certified school where the Thai authorities would allow me to run a Swedish school following the Swedish curriculum and using Swedish teaching material. So we started that process and all the paperwork.”
One year later they landed on Phuket and headed right to the last hearing. There the strictly dressed Thai authorities representatives prompted the jetlagged Swedes to answer the question: ‘How many letters are there in the Swedish alphabet?’ This was on August 3rd and the school was to open on the last day of the same month.
During the summer all the Swedish books had been sent to the Thai authorities for them to go through.
“They wanted to look at everything, which they were of course welcome to do.”
But it went well and the officials congratulated them with the message: “You should know this has taken us a lot of time, as it is the very first school which has been given a license to be certified as Swedish school in Thailand.”
Birgitta especially took not when they said: ‘Thailand’. Not only Phuket.
Quality education is key
So with a license plate on the fence by the entrance to QSS the operations started with Swedish teachers and three students, which filled up to be just under twenty for the first year.
In the beginning of 2012 QSS expects to have at least twenty-five students, and thirteen in its kindergarten and be fully booked up until week 19.
QSS will accept no more than 45 students in the school, where, as indicated by the name, quality is in focus.
It’s about the quality in the education we give at this school. And I’m very picky about teachers, they are the absolute basis for this business,” says the principal who is not a teacher herself. “And I don’t interfere with their pedagogics, which they also know before coming here. And quality also means no more than twelve students in one group. One must not have to wait in order to get help from the teacher.”
QSS offers all topics, including second languages, domestic science and handicraft.
As for what kind of families placing their children at QSS, there are a few patterns. One category is those running businesses on Phuket, another those having a tough period back home and simply needing a change of scenery with couples trying to find their way back etc.
“Or when one partner has health issues and coming here for recuperation. And we have those coming here on maternity leave so it’s very wide.”
However, new regulations makes it difficult for families to get any extra leave other than the ordinary holidays, so next school year QSS expects to have a growing group of students coming only for two weeks.
“New school plan does not give parents permission to get extra leave in the way it was possible before but if they can sign up the child to a Swedish school on the destination and I give a certificate that they have been here, they can get more easily get permission for leave.”
Those in year 7 and up are also welcome but if not taking their studies via Sofia Distans such students must however return to Sweden for the national tests. Birgitta thinks the rules of the The Swedish National Agency for Education are obsolete and intends to write to Sweden’s Ambassador to Thailand about these tests.
Swedish regulations outdated
Financially, almost without exception parents must foot the bill for the education here themselves. Only a handful of municipalities approve that the school voucher system follows the child to the school they attend outside Sweden, either the whole sum or the actual cost for the education.
To get the education paid for otherwise is only possible based on consideration of special reasons.
“It has a lot to do with jealousy in Sweden. I have seen this in my own municipality,” says Birgitta.
Globalisation is increasing movement across borders and many Swedish families have moved and are increasingly moving abroad permanently.
And there seem to be some rising awareness also in Sweden that the times are changing.
It was announced earlier in 2011 that the Ministry of Education will investigate based on the new realities who will have the right to government funds from Sweden for having their children in a Swedish school abroad. Today only those working for a Swedish authority has this right but the regulation is considered out-dated.