It was a busy day for Kesanee Kodkham, a Grade 8 student at Phya Lor Witthayakom. Her school was the host of the "Buddhism and Science Expo", a fun and spectacular event that combines various fields of knowledge for youths in Thailand.
Privy Councillor Kasem Wattanachai.
Several thousand students from neighbouring schools visited the four-day event, which took place earlier this year, at the school in Chun district of this northern province. Kesanee was stationed at the local wisdom zone of the expo, and her duty was to lead young participants in a tour of her assigned zone to ensure that they all saw and learned as much as they wanted to.
"The idea of a coach and the expo is entirely new to me. I had only two weeks of training before taking this assignment. Taking care of young students is challenging but it's also fun," she said. Most of her friends were assigned the role of coach.
The ninth of its kind, the expo was organised by the Culture Ministry in collaboration with the Foundation for Religion and Quality of Life, and other government organisations such as the National Science Museum, the Non-Formal Education Department, as well as a number of departments under the Culture Ministry, including the Religion Department and the Office of National Culture Commission. The first expo was inaugurated in 2008 at Chedi Luang Pitthaya School in Chiang Rai province. Other expo host provinces include Khon Kaen, Kamphaeng Phet, Chiang Mai, Chanthaburi, Phichit, Lampang and Rayong. The next expo is planned to be hosted in Sa Kaeo province in June.
Each expo draws over 20,000 student participants from schools in the surrounding areas. For the Phayao event, which was presided over by Privy Councillor Dr Kasem Wattanachai during the opening ceremony in his capacity as president of the Foundation for Religion and Quality of Life, some of the participating students travelled all the way from Chiang Rai province.
The expo aims to bring good things to students and give them rare access to various fields of knowledge, said Dr Kasem. And on top of that, this event, despite it short running, was to inspire students who would otherwise have limited access to studies in the classroom.
Permanent Secretary for Culture Ministry Veera Rojpojanarat.
The Phayao expo was divided into different zones with over 100 booths on art, culture, Buddhism and science.
Apart from the hoardings at the exhibition, several booths also encouraged students to play various games and quizzes that allowed them, as individuals and groups, to learn difficult subjects like physics, chemistry and biology in an entertaining way. The mobile science museum, which offered a science show including short animated films and science labs, was a major attraction among the students.
The art zone drew in the crowd with drawing and painting activities.
At the Buddhist zone, chaired by Somdej Phra Maha Ratchamankalachan, an abbot of Wat Pak Nam, there was a ceremony for students to take a vow to become good Buddhists. And the subject became more enticing once games like dharma bingo and quizzes and a competition were introduced.
While embracing mainstream cultural activities from the capital - namely a puppet play from Aksra Theatre, a unit from Jo Louise Theatre, a khon masked dance featuring the Ramakien epic, as well as a contemporary dance - the expo nourished the indigenous culture and local wisdom with many different regions. Traditional Lanna learning, inscription reading and folk art were the other highlights of the event.
For many students, the event was an eye-opening experience where they could stay for as long as they wanted at any of the booths to cater to their interests. Even better, it is hoped that some of the youths found a subject or two with which they would like to pursue in their future studies.
The ultimate goal of the project is to create "decent citizens", said Dr Kasem, adding that the event was nam jai from phuyai (gift from elders).
The privy councillor said he was concerned with the unhealthy development of the attitude towards corruption among Thai youths today. He cited in a recent survey that more and more youngsters conceded that they found corruption acceptable. Another survey indicated that two-thirds of the young respondents did not feel proud to be Thai.
Worse, many youngsters are unable to separate the good from the bad, he said.
Dr Kasem said he soon realised that something needed to be done to reverse this discouraging trend, and to draw the youngsters closer to Lord Buddha's preaching.
"It is necessary the youngsters are groomed in an appropriate way so that they take pride in having a sense of 'Thainess' and feel patriotic to this nation. They should learn to place public interest before themselves and dare to stand against wrongful actions," said Dr Kasem.
Another good outcome from the expo was that the schools who played host to the expo wanted to do it again, he said.
Permanent Secretary for Culture Ministry Veera Rojpojanarat said the provinces that have already hosted the expo should find a way to further this non-formal learning process.
"Now that they know of the expo project, each school should be able to do it in their own way or to take its own initiative," he said, adding the ministry is to expand the expo project to cover as many provinces as possible.