(The following article was published yesterday at The Nation newspaper. Here below however, is the originally un-edited submission)
You would never have guessed it, but quite amazingly, it has been strict government educational policy for the past few years to get Thai kids to think for themselves and seriously develop their analytical and critical abilities. And this was furthered last week by a planned introduction of ‘aptitude tests’ for university hopefuls beginning in the year 2010.
Excuse me for saying like, but you don’t need an Albert Einstein equivalent IQ to notice that a lot of Thai educators dictate that kids should simply not learn to be critical and develop any kind of open-mindedness. From just Grade One, Thai kids are taught to ‘repeat after me’ ‘recite a few sums’, believe everything their teacher says and sit in quiet obedience. Should one of them even dare to question a teacher’s advice, he will be on the receiving end of a boot out the door.
So, what do Thai kids learn at school besides the basic stuff and the beauty of a nice neat haircut? Well, in the mornings they may have to sing a rendition of some song which goes “Thailand is so good – the land of the free. Thai people are so kind”. Again, should any delinquent scoundrel propose any kind of critical analysis in due regard, his mother will be instantly summoned to the school for a serious discussion on the state of her son’s mental condition.
If the Ministry of Thought Control (Aka Ministry of Education) are serious about teaching Thai kids to be critical then they can start by abolishing their wonderful tradition of ‘A, B, C or D’ tests, which simply only evaluates ones memory skill. They should also cut down on some of the not so groovy subjects taught from time to time, along the lines of ‘I love my province’. I can perfectly recall at one government All Girls High school I was at, the hilarious time when it was ordered that the Grade 11 darlings be taught about Sex Education. Being a bit of a Nosey Parker like, wondering what the pitiable teacher’s lesson plan was for the one glorious hour, I came across a sheet of A4 on her desk entitled something like ‘The beauty of virginity and 10 other reasons to abstain from sex before marriage’.
(Kids at Richard’s school – not a government one! – enjoying an illustrated lesson on wearing a condom)
Beginning the year 2010, it has been proposed that the number of exam subjects be increased to eight. Besides just boring-old Maths and English, the kids may soon have to pass groovier tests which include Home Economics. Perhaps that’s a good idea though, as what else does the average man really wish for in life besides a voluptuous virgin bride who really knows how to cook. On top of testing the kids on their ability of making tasty Tom Yum Kung, I would sternly advise that they also introduce mandatory testing on other useful subjects such as this one – ‘Preserving the Environment’. Tricky examination questions I would recommend, include the likes of
“How should you dispose of a plastic bag?
A. Chuck it out a bus window B. Lob it in the nearest canal C. Tie it to a tree or D. Put it in a bin
The education authorities completely contradict themselves and I can recall a funky official quote by ONEC (National Scheme on Education) in 2002 which read ‘Thai people shall adopt desirable values and behaviour in accordance with the traditional ways of life’. Meaning therefore, that not only should Thai students sit down, shut up and obey the teacher, they ought also instinctively honour their elders and adhere to everything they say. Of course, it is utterly unheard of in traditional Thai culture to even think about confronting a person of seniority about some cheesy idea he may have.
And on the subject of ‘think about’, I can perhaps count on one foot just how many times a Thai student has asked me a question beginning with the words ‘Excuse me, what do you think about……..?’ Should you wish to experiment for yourself just how independent in voice some youths are, simply ask a young girl her idea of a perfect boyfriend and 99 out of 100 respondents will probably answer ‘He would be generous, handsome, responsible, tee-total and definitely non-smoking’. Of course, siding with the Thai youths, they do have their own notions but unfortunately they have been conditioned to silence them.
Youths everywhere, in the whole-wide world, always get the blame for the decadence of society and Thailand is by far and away no exception. Should little ‘Somchai’ be in the habit of using the computer often, it will be automatically presumed that besides playing games he will be downloading some Brazilian Blue Movies and chatting with some topless lassies on Camfrog. And talking about the Internet, perhaps the education authorities and their plans for teaching kids to think for themselves, ought immediately to call up Mr Sittichai at the MICT and inform him of their policies.
(I doubt it’s entirely their own fault that they ended-up like this)
Well, you certainly do not need a Masters Degree in psychology to realize that perhaps just a tiny part of Thai youth delinquency lies in the fault of parents and society. Let’s take a look at Somchai’s typical weekend activity; moving on from having to listen carefully to his teachers all week, he is next ordered by his parents to buck up his school grade by attending some over-priced private tutorial school at Siam Square. Regardless to whether his tutorial teacher may have just been released from a mental asylum, little Somchai will again have to just sit there and listen to the same old repetitive stuff that he has already been taught in his government school. What Somchai doesn’t know though, is that maybe he is only there because his parents, either don’t have the time to look after him or just can’t be bothered with the ho-bo lazing around the house all day.
Unlike a lot of the older Thai generation, countless foreigners on coming to Thailand are thoroughly impressed with Thai youths. Sat on a baht-bus in Pattaya, they may hear some smiling young students shouting from the street “Hello, where you go?” “Where are you come from? That is comparison to where I come from back in Farangland, where turban-wearing tourists on the bus, instead of hearing kind friendly words from the local kids, will instead be viewing a bunch of whippersnappers turning around, bending over, pulling down their pants and exposing their backsides full-frontal. Quite simply, Thai youths are not as menacing as what society makes them out to be.
The education authorities however, totally disagree with any such assertion of mine and just last week, besides the introduction of aptitude tests – agreed that due to children creating all the current social problems, that they be taught a nicely named new subject called ‘morality and virtue’. And it seems that the majority of parents are nodding their heads in approval. What the adult population amazingly doesn’t realize though, is that they are not too different to the kids’. Let’s have a look at some of the issues governing teenage delinquency and start with drinking. Come on let’s get serious, how can a father honestly teach his kids to stay away from alcohol when he himself sits hooching it up outside with his buddies every night? Then we have the hellish problem of hoodlum motorbike racers. Now, any pedestrian in Thailand would have realized by now that the country is not exactly famed for its lovely capable drivers. Look at Somchai’s dad, he sets a fantastic example: racing in and out of the traffic, driving through red lights and mowing over some elderly pedestrian before parking it on the pavement to the total inconvenience of every passer-by.
So, let us and not just the Ministry of Education, get a grip on reality and realize that the youth of today are only a reflection of the world we have brought them into.
And finally, if the Ministry of Education is genuinely serious about teaching Thai kids to think for themselves, then they ought to realize first that they would be in an extremely difficult Catch 22 situation.