Thailand Students Found A Government Ally Against Military-like Rule

Let us put aside the image of Thailand that tourists often see, a very laid-back and anything goes country of never-ending nightlife. When it comes to Thai schools, its students have a different impression.

In Thai schools, military dictatorships of the past, discipline and enforced deference prevail. At public school in Samut Prakan in the suburb of Bangkok, teachers are often seen carrying bamboo canes reprimanding students for long hair and cutting it off on the spot if it did not meet the required length. Everything is inspected, from dirty fingernails, colored socks to any other violation of the school’s dress code. Thai students have the same appearance. And as the legacy of the military rule is fading, some students are now rising up and challenging the system. The students have a receptive ally in the Government that is helping in reducing the military’s role in the student’s life and they are proposing changes to the education system.

Nethiwit Chotpatpaisan is a freethinking Thai high school student who is also known as Frank, started a campaign on Facebook calling for the abolition of the “mechanistic” education system in Thailand. He started the group, the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance with his friends. He spoke out on a prime-time television show last January which gained him national prominence. Frank described his school as a factory that manufactures identical people and teachers as “dictators” who orders their students to be obedient, and to never contradict them.

Phongthep Thepkanjana, a United States-trained Education Minister vowed to allow Thai school children to let their hair down and has proposed changes to reduce the emphasis on rote memorization and to promote critical thinking. He has proposed less homework and fewer hours in the classroom, and a curriculum that would focus on the essentials of language, math and science. The students should voice their opinions in class to exercise their freedom of expression in the society. He announced that he would change the rule on hair length. The rule requires that girls have their hair cut just below the ear, and that boys buzz the sides of their heads like cadets.

Advocates for change say the current curriculum, packed with subjects to memorize, does not allow time for Thai students to think for themselves. According to Phongthep, the main resistance to change has come from the civil servants for whom revising the curriculum would be a gargantuan task. After that, a new curriculum would face a series of public hearings before it could be approved.

And with regards to the dress code, there are already signs that administrators might balk. The vice principal and a strict disciplinarian, Mr. Arun, say that maintaining discipline is essential to combat the social ills convulsing young people in Thailand — drugs, teenage pregnancy and gang fights. He defined discipline the way the military needs a gun while the teachers need sticks.

The group consists of precocious students who love to debate. One of them trolls scientific sites on the Internet for comments questioning the theory of evolution, and ridicules the posters as being unscientific. Another member hacked into the Ministry of Education Web site, confessed, and was hired by the ministry to beef up cyber security.


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