A land being strangled by uniformity

A land being strangled by uniformity

Bangkok Christian College made a stir early last year after allowing students to wear casual clothes to school. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
Bangkok Christian College made a stir early last year after allowing students to wear casual clothes to school. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

A few days ago, a twitter user posted a photo of a pile of socks in the grounds of a school. The socks had allegedly failed to meet a school regulation requiring they be all-white.

Most had black or grey soles. Some were also low-cut and thus considered inappropriate.

The offending socks, according to the poster, were to be thrown away.

In another tweet, a video clip shows a school teacher cutting the shoulder-length hair of a female student to level with her earlobes.

These two incidents prompt questions about whether schools have the authority to dispose of students' property or impose penalties such as hair-cutting or corporal punishment for alleged violations of regulations.

A more fundamental issue, however, is whether students have the right to be consulted on matters affecting their well-being.

Every so often, conflicts involving school regulations are aired via the social or mass media. The ensuing debate usually pits two schools of thought against one another.

One says the regulations are necessary to teach students discipline and prepare them for the adult world. The other says these regulations deal with trivial matters that have little relevance to education.

My own view is that Thailand is a conservative country much in love with uniforms and uniformity. Everywhere you go, you see uniforms, not just in government offices but private business premises as well.

Uniforms are believed to present an image of unity, orderliness and discipline. In short, they are almost sacred.

But the truth is they are just façade, a layer that hides what many see as an ugly truth.

If wearing uniforms instilled discipline, our country would have boasted first-world status with a population of great discipline a long time ago, instead of struggling under a backward feudal system as we are now.

In officialdom, uniforms are a big deal. Even civilian officials -- ministers included -- have different uniforms for different occasions. If they were as disciplined as their uniforms suggest, we would have an efficient, incorruptible and professional workforce and military.

The reality, however, is very different. It's an acknowledged fact that the bureaucracy is widely corrupt, and the armed forces are anything but professional -- otherwise democratic power would not be usurped every few years.

But back to school regulations regarding uniforms and physical appearance. Many young people argue -- correctly, I might add -- that what a student wears or how they present themselves physically has no bearing on their ability to learn. There are better ways to ensure students dress appropriately than imposing strict discipline or even brute force.

There are people who insist that a strict dress code is absolutely necessary for discipline and to ensure students become "good" and productive citizens.

When it's pointed out to them that many countries do not have such dress codes and yet still their young people grow up to be responsible and productive adults, they say we cannot compare different countries with different cultures and ways of doing things.

But these traditionalists fail to consider that some of our ways of doing things might be wrong and thus impart wrong messages to the younger generation, like responding to rule breaking with arbitrary punishment or, worse, interpreting rules according to their whim.

By the way, these school rules draw their authority from an order issued by the "Revolutionary Council" in 1972.

Instead of enforcing rules inherited from an era of dictatorship, wouldn't it be better if teachers and school administrators spent their time and efforts on improving teaching methods and helping students to realise their full potential?

Take learning the English language, for example. How many high school students, or college students for that matter, are confident enough to hold a conversation in English with a native speaker? Not many, I surmise, even though English has been taught in Thai schools for many decades now.

Some things are obviously not right in the way English is being taught, or in the mindset that Thais in general have about learning the language.

Meanwhile, we have super-intelligent students who have gone on to win many prizes in international scholastic competitions. But they are a very small minority. A large majority of their peers struggle through school, even those with the means to afford private tutoring.

Something is obviously wrong with our education system. Time and effort would be better spent fixing the problem. So why is this not being done?

Throughout our modern history, elite traditionalists have always attempted to exert control over the education of our young. The aim is, as many people have suggested, to maintain the status quo and ensure an obedient and subservient citizenry.

But this elite is swimming against time and nature.

First, it's in young people's very nature to rebel and seek their own unique identities and new ways of doing things.

Second, even in this authoritarian era, you cannot stop the world from advancing, especially when aided by disruptive technology.

It appears, then, that a clash of generations and belief systems lies ahead. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: The times they are a-changin'.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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