One of the most obvious omissions in Koh Phangan facilities and amenities has been a decent school. Now we are soon to have Koh Phangan airport, it has been deemed the right time to start the ambitious project of a school. For many who regularly visit Koh Phangan the move has been seen as another example of how the island is becoming like Koh Samui. For most of the ex-pat community on the island the news of a school has been met with indifference. And for all but the wealthiest Thais the school is of little import. Indeed the biggest reaction to the news of an international school in Koh Phangan has been from teachers looking to find a job in paradise.
Si Panya School is located opposite Wat Pho near Ban Tai village. It is just off the road leading to Thong Nai Pan. The school follows the British curriculum and is for children aged 5 to 12 years old. The curriculum covers the following subjects:
The school opened in March 2012, and so far has about 7 children enrolled. The website does not list either the number of teachers or their qualifications. From looking at the gallery pages I estimate there are 3 foreign women involved and probably one Thai teacher.
Is it time for an International School in Koh Phangan?
For an international school to succeed there obviously needs to be a fairly wide catchment area with a suitable amount of demand. Few will argue that the Thai schools in Koh Phangan are of a poor quality. Nationally speaking Thai education is good at basic numeracy and literacy – figures show literacy is well over 90%. In terms of more sophisticated education the system has failed many Thais; and this is especially true in Koh Phangan. The wealthy Thais on the island normally send their kids away to the Catholic school in Suratthani for their education.
It is not just education at stake: Koh Phangan is famous for its parties. Inevitably drugs, organized crime and prostitution follow in the wake of the party scene. These are bad influences for kids growing up on the island.
The majority of foreigners who are staying legally and semi legally on the island are connected to tourism. They run bars etc, teach diving or call themselves DJs. It is a young demographic, most of who don’t have kids. If they did it is unsure how many of them can afford 7000 Thai baht a month for their kid’s education.
The cheaper option is distance learning packs. The Australian government has an excellent distance learning program with free books and online lessons.
In Koh Samui the International Schools have a wider pool of ex-pats to draw on. Until recently the boom in the luxury residential market meant foreign professionals resided on the island.
Ban Tai Center of Learning
Ban Tai is conveniently placed between Haad Rin and Thongsala, the 2 towns with the most facilities. Except for the hill just before Haad Rin it is also a flat area. It is for this reason that the off-shoots to the Full Moon Party are also located along this stretch of land. In Ban Tai and its surroundings are the Jungle Experience, the Half Moon Party, Shiva Moon Party, Ban Sabai After Party, Blue and Green Sramanora Waterfall Party and the Black Moon Party. Moreover, there is live music at The Sound on Fridays and Sundays.
The coastline from Thongsala to Ban Kai is full of cheap and mid-range resorts that cater to a young, party orientated crowd. The parties are outdoors and go on all night. The sound of the bass carries for miles. It is unlikely that they are going to turn it down on school nights.
Living in Paradise
Not thousands but millions of Westerners fed up with high taxes, bad weather and the alienation engendered by urban living dream of living in a place like Koh Phangan. The notion of ‘island life’ where people are laid back and friendly, where no one worries about being late, where everything is cheap, where a gorgeous beach is just a stone’s throw away is almost a Jungian archetype. It is thus no wonder that comment boxes for articles about Si Panya School are already filling up with job requests. Perhaps a better business model would be teacher training on Koh Phangan!
Despite my irony I would like the school to survive. I would also like for its fees to drop and for more Thai kids to have a chance at getting a better education. There have been rumours of oil exploration in the Gulf and this might lead to the success of the school. We will have to wait and see. As with the airport story, Koh Phangan International School is one that is bound to provoke a response, if only from teachers looking for a job.
For those interested the website for the school is: http://www.sipanyaschool.com/