Educate kids for the future

Anyone who thinks children should be seen and not heard might be happier staying at home today. That is because it is being given over to those often referred to as Generation Z, otherwise known as the internet generation or, more simply, smart young kids. While Thailand is not alone in celebrating Children's Day, the difference between us and the rest of the world is the preparation and enthusiasm that goes into it. In no other country do parents literally turn over the keys to the kingdom for a day, temporarily become second-class citizens and demonstrate as much love and trust in their children as they do here.

It is also a day devoted to soul-searching and pondering what kind of world today's youngsters will inherit and the job opportunities and social norms that will exist when they graduate. Will they be living in a corrupt, greed-obsessed, unhealthy society, struggling to cope with a polluted environment, filthy air and denuded forests? Will they have become a victim of inter-school gang violence or a tragic road accident statistic? These are valid concerns given the violence in our society, government policy objectives that seem to focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term consequences and growing debt levels. Or maybe they will enjoy the fruits of a buoyant economy in a properly regulated society which values honesty, ability and performance over age-based seniority. We can but hope.

Most of those enjoying today's festivities are at an age when the education they receive will chart the course of their future lives. And, without urgent reform in the system, the tuition they receive is likely to be sub-standard. It is surely time to dispense with the whole outdated system of learning by rote or memorisation, the lack of encouragement for critical, innovative thinking and the absence of flexibility which pervades the whole chain of higher learning. These students will need to be trained for eventual entry into a highly specialised job market, but obtaining the necessary skill sets is not made easy by the regular degree courses available. These need to be upgraded to meet future needs.

These breakdowns in education are unfair to students and disruptive to the needs of the country, as they force the unnecessary retraining of a newly emerging workforce. Young students may have already heard their older brothers and sisters say opportunities in the labour market for new graduates are challenging. In this usage, the word "challenging" is a polite way of terming the often-fruitless scramble for available jobs that occurs each year.

It is shameful that the young men and women now being trained to ensure the nation's ability to hold a competitive edge in the years following Asean economic integration are being hamstrung by an education system that is sadly deficient and seems largely designed to perpetuate the status quo.

The issues affecting young people are many and varied and they will receive plenty of attention today. But they are in danger of being forgotten next week. Setting aside just one day a year to focus on our newest generation is clearly not enough. If we expect parents to take greater responsibility - and we do - then resolving juvenile problems deserves a much higher place on the national agenda. Perhaps some of the youngsters being honoured today will eventually be able to fix the flaws in our education system themselves, a task which seems to be beyond our present administrators and politicians.

Underlying today's fun is a calculated investment in the nation's future. Some of those being honoured today are destined to become the leaders of tomorrow. We must ensure they are properly equipped for the task.