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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Education, angry youths, and political crisis
But don't be too quick in making the poorly-paid teachers our scapegoats.
If we really believe that our children are our future, we must ask what we have done wrong to give them so much stress, prejudice, frustration, anger, and the belief in violence.
Are the schools solely to blame?
Or are they just one of the institutional tools to pass on the oppressive, authoritarian cultural values to maintain the status quo that is rooted in strict social hierarchy and inequality?
Is our education system a big failure? If the main goal is to produce a politically submissive, non-questioning populace, then the teachers are doing their jobs very well, aren't they?
Then again, we must ask why angry youths have become one of the main elements in our country's political crises, both in the restive South and in the explosive colour-coded politics.
Calling them terrorists - as the government wants to portray the young supporters of the red shirts and the radical Muslim movement - will not free us from the trap of hatred and violence.
Understanding their frustrations will. But are we prepared to do that?
Two recent news items about our education system are telling. One is about the majority of science teachers in high school flunking the national exams in the subjects they teach, namely maths, computer sciences, biology, physics, and chemistry.
What can we expect from their students, then?
The poor science teaching due to poor training and support for the teachers is why the Mahidol Wittayanusorn School was set up in the first place. There, the students receive the best grooming Thailand can offer. They are the country's cream of the cream and viewed as the hope of Thailand. The recent arson there has shattered this illusion.
To be fair, the admistrators of Mahidol Wittayusorn do recognise the need to ease the tense school life through some humanistic elements.
The arson, however, shows us that no matter how well the fiercely competitive system is designed and how many winners it can produce, a tragedy is inevitable when the losers snap.
The political nightmare we are facing is of our own making, for we have allowed the education system to turn the majority of our youths into losers. When they snap together, the country is on fire.
Excelling in the academic stream is a must for upward mobility in our society. But relatively few students, mostly the well-to-do with special tutoring, can make it. What remains open to the majority of youngsters who lose out? Very little.
They cannot return home because the Bangkok-centred education has made them look down on their local roots while their parents struggle with farm bankruptcy and environmental destruction from misguided development policies.
This grim situation can be offset by high-quality vocational education. But this is not the case. Sidelined as the path of losers with no state support, vocational education offers no work prospects. Meanwhile, school dropouts get no help. Overwhelmed by alienation and hopelessness, many resort to violence to feel good about themselves, or drugs to forget their pain.
As part of the growing urban poor, they are stuck in unrewarding, low-paying jobs with no upward mobility in sight. Surrounded by city affluence and angered by the daily contempt and injustice they receive, it is only a matter of time before they explode.
In the South, the problem is not only about an education that erodes local cultural pride and fails to equip the young with work skills. The well-educated Muslims also face unemployment and lack of career advancement because they are shunned by the centralised political structures.
According to national statistics, half of the unemployed are young people. This is a recipe for disaster. If we pass the buck to the teachers and fail to redress a system that produces a huge bulk of frustrated youths, we just have to live with the consequences of their angry explosions.
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