Too tough in Thailand

| November 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

Tourists generally go to Thailand to relax or explore. But going to school there is not nearly as much fun, reports The New York Times. A visit to public schools in Bangkok suggested to reporters that the education system is based on a militaristic, punitive philosophy reminiscent of part-military dictatorships.

At one school, journalists reported that teachers all wielded bamboo canes, and sheared off students’ hair on the spot for being too long. Students were closely scrutinised for dirty fingernails or any uniform infringements before singing the national anthem and reciting a pledge to “live for the nation, love the king and not cause any trouble”.

The call to slavish obedience in school has met with opposition. In 2012, a Thai high school student, Nethiwit Chotpatpaisan (aka ‘Frank’), launched a Facebook campaign called the Thailand Educational Revolution Alliance (TERA). On an online post, he decried teachers who demand that students “bow, bow, bow”.

TERA has attracted support from none other than the country’s United States-trained education minister, Phongthep Thepkanjana, who has vowed to relax stringent school rules and procedures. “We want them to be individuals, within reason,” said the minister in a television interview. Thepkanjana is in favour of a new curriculum focused on language, maths and science, as well as less homework and shorter school days. A Wikipedia fan, the minister said expecting today’s scholars to memorise reams of facts was pointless. He’s also pro allowing students to voice their own opinions.

Currently, Thai students are ranked 52nd overall for mathematics results in the Programme for International Student Assessment, a global benchmark, placing them below average and far behind other countries.

The education minister’s proposals have already met with opposition. Said one school head: “The military needs guns; teachers need sticks. Sometimes you need to hit them a little bit, but only on the bottom.”

Category: Featured Articles, Summer 2013

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