In Mae Chai district, in the northern province of Phayao, a group of youngsters from Mae Chai Wittayakom School are trying to get traffic lights installed at their town's Mae Suk junction.
Students from Mae Chai Wittayakom School wait to present their project on installing traffic lights in their community. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN
"People in the town are afraid to use the junction because it is so dangerous," said Tawatchai Chaikantha, 14, one of the students behind the idea. He is studying in Mathayom 2 (Grade 8).
Tawatchai and his friends spent their last term break working on their project. They were able to mobilise over 10,000 people in their community to support their campaign to erect traffic lights at the intersection. They have presented their findings and the list of names to the sectors concerned and are waiting for a decision.
Recently, this traffic light movement won the first runner-up prize in the Project Citizen Thailand (PCT) programme. The final round of the presentations was held at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
Project Citizen Thailand is a collaborative effort between King Prajadhipok's Institute (KPI) and the Center for Civic Education in the US. The project, which targets Mathayom 1 to 3 (Grade 7 to 9) students, aims to encourage students to participate in solving community problems, conducting research and proposing public policy to the sectors concerned to bring about change.
Participating student teams choose a problem in their communities, create action plans and work together to put the plans into action.
This annual event was initiated in 2006. So far, 102 schools in 21 provinces throughout Thailand have participated in the project. This year, over 3,300 students and 140 teachers from 57 schools took part.
"The final result that we would like to see is students' proposals converted to public policies," said Pimon Ruetrakul, PhD, academic expert on foreign affairs at KPI and the one who initiated PCT.
Mrs Pimon added that students have the chance to conduct research, become aware of problems in their communities and perform their duty as good citizens to try to solve the predicaments and affect change.
"Students will realise that, as citizens, when they see problems, they cannot just disregard them, but need to find out the existing policy, how it should be adjusted, and create their proposed solutions to the problems. They need to create plans of action, not merely verbal proposals," she explained.
In the process, students first have to identify problems they want to solve. Each of the participating students then presents his or her proposal. After that, the group members vote for just one problem.
"This is the way to inculcate democracy in students' minds," said Supanat Permpoonwiwat, director of the Office of Promoting Politics of the People at KPI and the project director, who added that the project is in line with KPI's mission, which is promoting democracy among the people.
After deciding on the problem, the students proceed to explore the existing policies for dealing with the problem and explain why those policies cannot bring about effective and meaningful solutions. The students then present their own policy, which must be feasible and not contradictory to the existing policies, create their action plan and submit it to the sectors concerned.
Mr Supanat explained the criteria that he uses to evaluate each of the proposals received. He says he explores whether the problem chosen favourably impacts the community, whether the existing policies have been thoroughly explored, and whether the students are able to offer possible solutions that have the support of the general public.
"Personally, I don't want students to depend much on other parties. In other words, after they have come up with an action plan, they should be able to activate some parts of their plan right away on their own without having to push their proposed solution [to be accepted as a] policy or [made into] law," said the director.
While the students from Mae Chai Wittayakom School are trying to benefit their community as a whole, the winners of this year's PCT, students from Rattanakosinsompoch Bangkhen School in Bangkok, have their school's interests at heart. They are trying to get rid of the garbage problem in their school.
"The problem is the easiest one to solve, and everyone can help to turn it into reality," said Chutmanee Chatcharitmongkol, 15, a Mathayom 3 (Grade 9) student.
Her friend, Chanyanutch Setajit, 14, who is also in Mathayom 3, added that although her school already has rules to deal with this situation, such as not allowing students to carry food out of the cafeteria and into their classrooms, many students do not comply with the regulations.
So, the champion group came up with the "Beautiful School with our Hands" project, which consists of activities like the "Clean Classroom Contest", announcements to raise awareness of the garbage problem, and holding plays that highlight littering by students and others.
Chutmanee, Chanyanutch and her friends also encouraged nearby schools to help to spread awareness of the problem.
The projects by the other participants included promotion of youngsters' rights, saving the Irrawaddy dolphin in Songkhla Lake, and a drive to have cleaner restrooms in schools, among others.
Altogether, PCT has shown a positive attitude towards many Thai youngsters who are conducting themselves as responsible citizens. If other young generations can follow the action of the project's participants, Thailand can ensure that it will have a handful of people who can develop and construct a promising society.