'Thainess' needs rethink

'Thainess' needs rethink

The Education Ministry has faced a torrent of criticism for its initiative to single out history as an individual subject from the social cluster in school curricula.

The decision is said to have been made by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in an attempt to boost patriotism among the young and make them "proud of the nation and Thainess".

It is a move that has triggered an outcry, if not outright rejection, by academics who have labelled it an unhealthy form of forced patriotism inappropriate for the classroom environment. They are urging the ministry to drop it.

They are right. It's hard, if not impossible, to promote patriotism without highlighting Thailand's or Siam's battles in the 13th to 18th centuries with its neighbours.

The story of King Naresuan of Ayutthaya (1555-1605), for instance, is now well-established in state textbooks and other forms of edutainment, TV dramas and movies. His statue stands in several spots, some irrelevant, around the country.

History is an important subject, but leaders must not use -- or abuse -- it to pursue their own agendas.

Misplaced nationalism can be harmful, and a number of Thais already possess an unhealthy attitude towards our neighbours, yet Education Minister Trinuch Thienthong has dismissed the academics' concerns.

She argues that the aim is to promote localism, local heroes and their bravery, and it will make history more enjoyable and relatable for the students.

Such claims are dubious. How can the ministry promote local heroes without mentioning the country's past supremacy and its tendency to look down on nearby countries with an air of arrogance?

Education expert Sompong Jitradab asks the right question: Instead of focusing on one single subject, why not improve an overall curriculum that has remained mostly unchanged since 2001?

Indeed, to this end, he is urging the government to engineer ground-up educational reform nationwide.

Some critics have also pointed out that the initiative is an unnecessary burden on teachers as well as students. Thai students already endure longer studying hours than their peers in many other countries.

Besides, there are technical problems, like a lack of teachers with specific knowledge of this branch of Thai history.

The right way to teach history is to encourage students to be inquisitive, not stick to rote learning, and misinformation must be removed from history textbooks.

The Education Ministry must pay heed to the rise of youth groups willing to challenge the government and key institutions as well as some archaic traditions.

The phenomenon was exemplified by the online popularity of the rap song Prathet Ku Me, and may explain the government's drive to protect the status quo and brand many such students and young people as "nation haters". Thainess is a double-edged sword which, on the one hand, can help knit a society mired in political rifts back together, yet can also engender ignorance and an arrogant attitude towards outsiders of all kinds.

It's not wrong to promote patriotism if the aim is to instil national pride in the young. Feeling confident goes hand-in-hand with becoming competent, but it is a top-down process.

There is no reason the government cannot bring about educational reform that both reflects the era we live in and the opinions of academics and also respects the nation's great heritage.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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