Education and the creative economy
Following the raging success of the soap opera Buppaesannivas (Love Destiny), Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha floated the idea to help fund the production of Thai dramas that incorporate historical and cultural elements. If this sounds familiar, it should.
A year ago, Gen Prayut urged citizens to watch the Korean drama Descendants of the Sun as it could encourage people to become more dutiful citizens with a better sense of patriotism and sacrifice. "Please watch it," he said, "and if anyone wants to make such a drama I will financially sponsor it to make people love uncorrupt government officials and make Thai people love each other."
Nothing ever came of his pledge, but that's just as well in the view of critics who believe the last thing the country needs is a military government funding what will probably end up being boring and expensive propaganda.
Leaving the nitty-gritty details aside, what is crucial for the future of Thailand isn't the origin of the funding or sponsorship, but the need to look at the creative industry in a more holistic manner.
The government can do much better than jumping on the bandwagon and cherry picking the top-performing industry it wants to sponsor.
Instead, it should lay down a national agenda to spread soft power and build a comprehensive ecosystem to promote cultural exports. Such a system should be strong enough to survive future changes in government (or coups).
Gen Prayut has frequently mentioned the global phenomenon of hallyu or the Korean Wave, but the success of K-Pop and K-drama did not come overnight or through simple ad hoc funding.
For nearly 50 years, the South Korean government has prioritised its cultural content industry with deliberate strategy, planning and resource mobilisation. Interestingly, the campaign originally was part of a political and ideological agenda intended to transform a country emerging from war and economic hardship.
Fast forward to today, South Korea is now Asia's fourth largest economy, a digital powerhouse, a dream travel destination and a global pop culture juggernaut.
The government budget related to hallyu has increased by 20 times over the past two decades. Funds are mainly used to continuously develop an ecosystem that includes content creation, production, distribution and consumption. This is something the Thai government could emulate.
The crystal-clear vision and ambition of the Korean government to globalise Korean culture is reflected through physical and institutional support, such as easing regulations or offering incentives for investment.
There are also various channels to encourage cultural financing. In 2010-13, for instance, 40% of the total production cost of Korean films came from the private sector. Between 2006 and 2016, the government raised 1.9 trillion won (US$1.7 billion) through 74 cultural funds.
Despite an economic slowdown in recent years, Korean cultural content markets grew at an annual average of 5.7% in sales and 8.3% in exports in the past five years. As of 2014, the number of employees in the entire cultural content industry was about 610,000.
South Korea has shown clearly how cultural and creative industries (CCI) can help fuel an economy. Representing 3% of global gross domestic product (GDP), CCI generates $2.2 trillion in revenue and employs 29.5 million people, 43% of them in Asia Pacific.
For Thailand to ride this wave, we must overhaul our institutions to reflect and reinforce the values of the creative society. That includes an educational infrastructure for a world that no longer relies on assembly lines and manufacturing. We must encourage and cultivate creative ideas among students, harness innovation and support knowledge. Our fixed sense of culture and heritage needs to be complemented by systems that recognise the ability of humans to develop creative flows.
The National Reform Council has acknowledged that the Thai education system is underperforming and access to education is limited. These are the root cause of economic and social inequality in the third most unequal country in the world, with 58% of the country's wealth controlled by 1% of the people.
Educational reform is thus essential, not only for social and economic equality, but also for the creative economy to thrive. The NRC should emphasise the need to eliminate outdated education content and design a system that supports continuous knowledge sharing, learning and creativity.
If the Thai Wave ever gains traction, it will have a ripple effect and positive economic impact on other industries such as cosmetics, fashion, manufacturing and tourism, just as the K-Wave has had in Korea. Ultimately it could narrow income disparity and lift more people up from the bottom of the wealth pyramid.
Asia Focus Writer
Asia Focus Writer
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