A critical lack of thinking
Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan's hostile reaction to Future Forward Party (FFP) MP Chirat Thongsuwan's discussion about conscription in a school speaks volumes about the reasons behind our education system's failure to promote critical thinking among students.
Earlier this week, Mr Chirat spoke with high-school students in Chachoengsao province. It was his weekly meeting with them, he said, adding that he shared with them his experiences on working in parliament and issues that included his party's bill to do away with conscription into the military and propose voluntary recruitment as an alternative.
He said his discussion of the topic with them gave him an understanding of why some of them did not attend the defence training course in school so they be exempted from conscription.
However, the minister hit back at the MP in a Facebook post. Even though he did not mention any names, it was widely understood he was targeting Mr Chirat. He blasted the politician for being an opportunist who uses tricks and propaganda to instil "hatred" against the military among youngsters, in what he said was "a very evil thing to do".
Mr Nataphol's remark demonstrates clearly his belief that students should not be given information and views which are any different from the status quo. He also seemed worried that students might actually start thinking for themselves.
His reaction reflects the learning culture in our education system that has promoted conformity and obedience in schools for the sake of maintaining a traditional culture of hierarchy and going with the flow.
In fact, Mr Chirat said his discussion with students allowed them to debate the issue and express their views opposing conscription. To be honest, this should be a far more common thing in Thai schools.
For too long, Thai educators and policymakers, particularly those in the current government, have enforced conformity and obedience in schools. They dictate how student should dress, interact with teachers or express their opinions.
No matter how the Education Ministry has integrated, or plans to integrate, "critical thinking" into the school curriculum, students will be unable to develop such skills as long as this learning culture remains the same.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivered an infamous remark to all teachers, on National Teacher's Day, encouraging them to refrain from letting students think outside the box.
Thailand's score in critical thinking in classrooms has always been low in international rankings. This year, the country's ranking in the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index dropped from 38 to 40. The WEF cited a lack of critical thinking in teaching among other factors making the ranking slip.
Apart from the education minister, Mr Chirat's anti-conscription talk has also drawn a strong rebuke from former Democrat MP Warong Dechgitvigrom who claimed it was part of the FFP's effort "to spread its hate-the-nation cult" among young people.
Mr Warong is among many conservatives who have accused the FFP of spreading a cult because of its policies which criticise or oppose the country's established systems and norms. In fact, criticising one's own nation should be common. Self-criticism can actually encourage critical thinking.
As long as our education policymakers and society as a whole do not let students think for themselves, think outside the box or challenge the status quo, promotion of critical thinking in schools will never materialise.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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