Mahidol Witthayanusorn is a dream school for many students and parents. This 19-year-old academy is Thailand's first and only science school with a special curriculum exclusively designed to create outstanding scientists.
Mahidol Witthayanusorn’s goal is to match the standards of worldclass science schools in other countries.
Located on 25 rai in the compound of Mahidol University in Nakhon Pathom's Buddha Monthon district, the boarding school is equipped with high-quality science and language laboratories, a large library and a sports complex.
It is the only school in the country to have an astronomy theatre which allows pupils to learn about the universe from 3D movies. MWITS was a pilot school under the government's scheme to provide the best education for students who have a gift for science.
The school, a public institute under the Education Ministry's supervision, presently has over 700 students from Matthayom 4 to 6. Girls and boys live in separate dormitories on the school's premises.
Dozens of MWITS students have won national academic contests and been chosen to represent Thailand in many international academic competitions, such as physics, mathematics and chemistry olympics. MWITS students have grabbed many medals from these contests.
The school's website, mwit.ac.th, is full of reports of the students' achievements at the national and international levels.
The latest proud boast came from a team of MWITS students who won a mathematics competition in Singapore last week.
MWITS students have been among the country's top scorers in university entrance exams in recent years.
It seems the academy is not very far from its ultimate goal of becoming a world-class science school.
But Sunday's fire allegedly set by a disturbed Matthayom 5 student has posed a setback to the school. The fire not only damaged three storeys of the building which houses the central library, a computer lab and classrooms, but demoralised staff and students.
Public concern over the school's treatment of its students has grown after the young man reportedly told police he started the fire because he had become stressed and desperately wanted the school to cancel some classes.
MWITS's alumni website, mahidolwitt .com, was yesterday flooded with comments from former students who posted condolence messages about the losses and to give the teachers and students moral support.
Many of them were frustrated by media reports that the highly competitive and stressful learning environment at the school had prompted the 16-year-old student to commit the crime.
''This school has taught us to become good people, morally and academically. Here, we help each other. We do not compete with each other just to become the best,'' said a message posted yesterday.
''I'm proud to be part of this yellow-blue [the school's colours] family. The school teaches us on how to become good scientists,'' said another former MWITS student.
Some messages, however, expressed frustration over the learning atmosphere and poor relationship between students.
''I could sense the discrimination between rich and poor students. Those who are from wealthy families in Bangkok get better scores than us because they have money to go to tutorial schools. Rural students feel inferior to them in every way,'' said a former student who claimed to belong to the ban nok (rural) student group at the school.
Many former students urged the public not to jump to conclusions about the motivation of the 16-year-old student who allegedly torched the school and recommended present students having problems talk to their teachers.
''They [the teachers] are kind and are ready to help you,'' one former student said in a message.