for the Princess Mother
Established over a 100 years ago, Satriwithaya School is a treasure of history,
Story by WEENA NOPPAKUNTHONG
Thereafter, the school changed its focus to include only secondary education for Grades 7 to 12 (Matthayom 1-6) and later became an all girls' state school.
Due to its expansion, Satriwithaya was relocated several times within Bangkok and is now located along Dinso and Rachadamnoen Klang roads, near the Democracy Monument.
Instilling democracy in young students
The Democracy Monument is important to Thai modern history, as it manifests the 1932 revolution, which ended absolute monarchy as a form of governance in Thailand and lead to the country's first constitution.
Being located so close to the monument, it would be ironic for the school not to impart democracy within the school community, says the energetic Ajarn Neeraya Kittisobhon, who has taught at Satriwithaya School for 31 years.
She says students have actively encouraged Thais to exercise their right to vote, for instance, by marching within the school's community and making public speeches in an effort to get as many people as possible to vote in the 2005 general elections.
Because Thailand is currently awaiting the adoption of a new constitution so that a general election can take place, Satriwithaya students also participated in another march around the campus on August 3 to urge people to vote on the August 19 referendum on the draft constitution.
Within the school compound, democratic principles are alive and well and practiced enthusiastically. Indeed, the school has a student parliament. The student government makes sure that major changes in the school have met with student approval and that students' voices have been heard.
The student parliament opens its floor to class representatives, club presidents and student committees to vigorously investigate, openly debate, and to ultimately and democratically resolve issues of importance to the school and the student body.
Students may also initiate projects for the school if a referendum is approved via a majority vote of the student parliament. Student-sponsored events often result in activities that students are most enthusiastic about, such as launching annual ``edu-tainment'' talent shows, says Kidakarn Chongjaroenjai, a Grade 12 student and also the student committee president.
The Princess Mother's school
Satriwithaya is perhaps most famous for being an alma mater of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother, Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani, the late mother of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The Princess Mother studied at Satriwithaya School between 1908 and 1913, when she was ages eight to 13, before pursuing her studies at Siriraj Hospital's nursing school.
Her Royal Highness always remembered Satriwithaya School, and in 1938, she placed the school under her patronage.
She donated her personal funds to construct classrooms, and she provided many scholarships and grants. She was a frequent visitor to the school.
In return, the spirit of the Princess Mother has always been a part of Satriwithaya School, as demonstrated by the many aspects of the Princess Mother's life that are incorporated into the school's core subjects for each grade level. For occupational studies, for example, students study her cross-stitching techniques and copy her intricate patterns.
Besides academics, the school also exposes students to many outdoor sports, including Petanque (``pe-tak''), but pronounced locally as ``pe-tong'', which originated from France and was introduced to Thailand by the Princess Mother in 1938. The Princess Mother wanted Thais to try the sport, as it was easy to play, practical and required very little expense. The aim of the game, often played on hard dirt, is to throw the metal balls as close as possible to the wooden ball in order to win.
Currently, a statue that replicates the image of the Princess Mother stands in the center of the school's courtyard, where garlands are laid every year to commemorate the anniversary of her death.
A broad range of activities
The school's director, Ajarn Fuangfah Praditpojana, admits that although the school has no champions of academic Olympics, ``the school is trying to help students excel with challenges to the intellect and a varied range of activities that the school provides.''
Students are given opportunities to excel in academics, music, arts, sports and leadership. The school's latest installment of a large indoor rock-climbing wall is aimed at developing physical strength and balance, and is yet another way to encourage youngsters to stay fit.
Tradition of making leaders
Besides the students' involvement in the school's parliament, leadership skills are developed in other ways, such as in the annual sports day at the school. Students build self-confidence and learn to be proactive and to speak up. They also learn how to become leaders and how to be responsible for their decisions when they have to manage the entire sports day on their own, with only minimal advice from teachers.
They design the activities, create an agenda and find sponsors for the big event. Moreover, a group of Grade 12 students acts as the panel of judges instead of teachers performing that role, says Neeraya, the Health Education teacher. There are many other events that allow students to test their leadership skills and the ability to manage things with minimal adult supervision. While praising the strong leadership skills in the all-girl student body, Neeraya is concerned that it might result in an imbalance in the traditional role of women in Thai society.
Blending the old and new
Satriwithaya is still acknowledged for its academic excellence, even after a hundred years. But today, it struggles to embrace the new challenges of the twenty-first century. Many teachers have taught at Satriwithaya for half their lives. They are certainly endowed with a high degree of teaching skills and experience.
However, Ajarn Neeraya would like to see the older teachers adapt more readily to new technologies and methods because the age gap between students and the teaching staff is getting wider, and the teachers are perhaps becoming more traditional. The perfect blend of the new and the old will take time, she adds. Nevertheless, students and teachers, alike, express their great pride in sharing the same school with the Princess Mother, someone who is well remembered and loved by all the people of the Kingdom.
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Last modified: August 10, 2007