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Monday, September 13, 2010
Reduce the age of minors from 18 to 15 years, so we can send the delinquents to jail sooner. Shut down the vocational schools, which have failed to rein in rogue students from causing public harm through street violence. Punish the parents also, for failing to keep their children in line.
When a popular TV news programme posed these ideas for public response last week, following a series of street violence from vocational students and subsequent sensational media coverage, the support was overwhelming.
No surprise there. The terror of street warfare among rival vocational schools has been prevalent for decades, while the degree of violence has escalated. Meanwhile, media sensationalism is no help in shedding light on the root cause of the problem of youth alienation and violence.
It's not only about this perennial problem of rival student gangs. Mention any youth problems _ from brawling, daredevil motorcycle racing, to rock-throwing at cars on highways _ the standard response is to blame the kids, the parents and the schools.
We refuse to look at the social values and structural inequality that breed youth alienation and violence.
We refuse to look at our society's failure to provide these hormone-driven male teenagers with creative outlets to relieve their energy and to foster self-esteem outside of academic achievements.
We refuse to look at the cut-throat education system which is turning kids who fall through the cracks into losers, crushing their sense of self-worth, and forcing them to rebuild their egos in destructive ways.
We refuse to look at the education policy which perpetuates inequality between the vocational and academic streams. The policy-makers' total neglect of vocational education has resulted in its utterly poor quality, which fails to offer these students decent job prospects and hope for the future.
And we keep asking why these youths are so angry and why is there no end in sight to this inter-school rivalry and violence? Is there any hope for change?
Don't bet on it. Had it not been for a frown from the cabinet, Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat and other Education bigwigs would have sent the troubled teens to the restive South!
It's crazy, isn't it? Our society is quickly turning grey. We need to nurture our 10.6 million youngsters into quality human capital to shoulder the burdens of our ageing society. Yet, we are doing just the opposite.
In this competitive world economy, we know our country will lose out if we fail to produce a skilled workforce, yet we allow cultural values that look down on manual work to paralyse vocational education. The class element is starkly clear between the academic and vocational streams. Given the need for expensive tutoring and admission fees, only the better-off can afford university education. The poor kids have no choice but to head to vocational schools, where tribalism is fierce, in answer to the boys' ferocious hunger for identity.
If we hope to end youth violence, we should ask what we have done wrong to push our children onto self-destructive paths. While many young precious lives have been lost in senseless violence from inter-school rivalry, many more have met untimely deaths from drunk driving and Aids.
We should ask if we are part of a system that is killing our boys when they pursue the reckless path of alcohol, drugs, violence and unsafe sex _ because of the wrong ideas of manhood we have put in their heads.
Can we blame them completely, when these youths are just trying to gain acceptance from their peers, when we fail to provide them with other sources of healthy self-esteem?
Youth violence is a symptom of youth alienation, hopelessness and a failed education system that perpetuates inequality and robs the young of any hope for a good future.
Unless we tackle the root cause of their alienation and hopelessness by giving them better life opportunities, we must continue living with these social time-bombs of our own making.