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Make a choice that’s right for you

For many students, university presents a clear route to a prosperous life beyond education. For some, however, finding an alternative path can be equally rewarding.

‘Pop’ Kanchanut Sittiwichai, student at Panyapiwat Technological College, Thailand (©UNESCO/R.Manowalailao)

Pop and her colleagues at 7-11 (©UNESCO/R.Manowalailao)

Pop and her mentor, Kitti Rattanarasri, Deputy Director in Academic Affairs and Dual Vocational Training at Panyapiwat Technological College (©UNESCO/R.Manowalailao)

“I have a clear future goal to carry on my family’s retail shop. So I opted to study in a technical college,” said 17-year-old ‘Pop’ Kanchanut Sittiwichai of Thailand.

“Most of my lower secondary school friends chose to pursue general study in higher secondary school. While some of them don’t know what fields and universities they want to go for and are now studying very hard to compete in the national university entrance exam, I now enjoy both studying and receiving hands on training through real work experiences and earning incomes from the work training. And I have already had a place in a university and a job waiting.” 

Pop graduated with a GPA of 3.7 in her lower-secondary school and now is a “Por Wor Chor 3” student at Panyapiwat Technological College in Nonthaburi, Thailand. Por Wor Chor is a certificate degree in vocational education equivalent to higher secondary degree level education (Matthayom 6). 

At Panyapiwat Technological College students who get accepted for Por Wor Chor 1 (equivalent to Matthayom 4) will be automatically an employee of CP All, whose business is marketing and distribution. CP All started the college six years ago to develop the ‘right’ employees for its workforce. Students can continue their studies up to diploma, and bachelor’s or master’s degrees if they wish. In each semester, students will study theory in classes for three months and train at a 7-Eleven, a convenient franchise store under CP All, for three months with pay. CP All operates 6,800 7-Eleven country-wide. 

Despite the benefits of the technical and vocational education, there are challenges to the promotion of technical colleges in Thailand.

“In Thailand technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is perceived by some as a ‘left over’ choice,” said Kitti Rattanarasri, Deputy Director in Academic Affairs and Dual Vocational Training at Panyapiwat Technological College.

“Thai society values highly university degrees. They are better recognised and accepted, and as consequence students are themselves often driven towards a university education. But what we must bear in mind is that there is no general formula for success in life. When it comes to making decisions about their future, students should follow the path that’s right for them.” 

Mr. Kitti shared his own experiences studying in secondary school. As he says, he had never been presented the option of studying at a technical and vocational college.

“I had never been told, for example, that if I wanted to be an engineer, I could also study at a technical college and it could have been a great choice. Indeed, studying engineering at university and at technical college is quite different in that the former focuses more on academic study and the latter on operation skills. This presents an important choice students can make for themselves. 

“If students are told about choices, they could opt for the choice that matches them most in terms of their aptitudes, preference, and circumstances,” he said.

Pop was lucky that she discovered different choices for her future study before she made a decision. 

“I chose it because I felt TVET would equip me with the technical skills I would need. Secondary school students may be better at theory but I don’t think they have been trained in terms of skills and practical experiences better than TVET students.”

And now Pop doesn’t have to ask her mother for a pocket money and she would surely get a job after she graduates. 

“I’m so proud of myself and I know my mother is proud of me too as she talks a lot about me in a positive way with neighbors,” said the 17-year-old Pop. 

Like Pop, Sakkarin Kajonmos chooses the TVET path because he wants to obtain technical skills and he is positive that he will get a job right after graduation. 

“I’ve witnessed so many capable students studying TVET. Like in my field, for example, students have to learn a lot about different circuits. It’s very difficult and so you learn to develop unique skills,” he said. 

Sakkarin, 18, is studying in Por Wor Sor 1 in Vocational Chemical Engineering Practical College (V-ChEPC) at Maptaphut Technical College in Rayong. Por Wor Sor is equivalent to the Technical Diploma. It is a two-year study and to earn a bachelor degree students have to study for two more years.


There are several causes for a potentially negative perception of TVET.

“We need to understand the fundamental causes behind the unpopularity. Does it stem from limited information? Bad working conditions for those who follow courses? Or basic differences in the labour market? Without understanding the reasons behind the mistrust of TVET, attempts to redress the issue will fail,” said Youngsup Choi, UNESCO Programme Specialist in Bangkok.

“TVET is often associated with vocational education within secondary schools which enables students to go on to become “blue collar” workers such as plumbers and electricians. This type of education is often the target of criticism because it appears to close doors and to artificially place students in one particular subsector of the labour force. In truth, TVET encompasses so much more, and higher end TVET programmes such as dentistry are highly esteemed. Unfortunately, however, it is the lower end programmes that get the attention and are responsible for TVET’s dubious reputation.” 

“Yet, in many cases, the labour market is not ready to support higher paid and more interesting work. The labour market needs to be reformed before we can entice people on to TVET courses with the promise of higher wages and better working conditions; otherwise we are, quite bluntly, lying to our students about the benefits that TVET can bring,” said Mr. Choi. 

In Thailand nearly 2 million students were enrolled in higher education institutions in 2010, of which almost 90% were enrolled in public higher education institutions. In 2010, about 0.7 million students enrolled in TVET colleges governed by the Office of Vocational Education Commission (OVEC) of the Ministry of Education, and approximately 0.4 million students were studying in private vocational schools and colleges. In 2010, the OVEC administered 415 public colleges, 427 private vocational schools and colleges around the country (UNESCO 2011).

According to a UNESCO publication “Expanding Technical and Vocational Education and Training at Secondary Education”, during 2006-2010 the total number of students in Thailand in upper secondary increased, especially in the general stream. At the same time, however, the number of students in both public and private vocational schools declined. This means more students were interested in general secondary schools..

The tendency in the decrease of graduates with vocational certificates can be explained by the negative value and reputation given to vocational education (UNESCO 2011).

According to the UNESCO publication, vocational secondary graduates made up only 3.26 per cent in 2007, and increased to 3.48 per cent in 2011. 

In Thailand, the vast majority of students prefers to follow the path to university. However, in a world where diversity of skills is increasingly in demand, this may not always be the right path. 

By Rojana Manowalailao, Rachel McCarthy and Mary Anne Therese Manuson, UNESCO Bangkok