Yok case shows need for a rethink
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Yok case shows need for a rethink

A recent controversy involving a prestigious high school refusing to enrol 15-year-old political activist Thanalop "Yok" Phalanchai reflects a lack of protection for rule-defying students.

While opinion may be divided over the youngster's political leanings, big questions remain over the nature of her treatment by the government.

Heated online debate has seen netizens posting Yok's home address and trying to find her biological parents.

Last year, when Yok was just 14, she was arrested and charged with violating Section 112, the lese majeste law, and endured 51 days at a state detention centre for girls. Upon her release, Yok, a Mathayom 4 student, faced another hurdle. The school declined to enrol her to finish her high school education citing her biological parents' failure to come to complete the registration process.

Supporters of the decision by Triam Udom Suksa Pattanakarn School argue that Yok's dismissal was justified due to her blatant violation of school rules, such as colouring her hair, refusing to wear a uniform, and repeated absences from classes she claimed to be overly authoritarian.

Amid the controversy surrounding Yok's disrespect for rules and discipline, it has gone largely unmentioned that the school itself might be violating the law and undermining the state's Education for All Policy by refusing her admission.

The Education for All policy was introduced to ensure that all children in the country, regardless of nationality, are entitled to a free education from preschool to Mathayom 6, or Grade 12.

The Prayut-led government supported this policy through Order No. 28/2016 which is still in effect today.

In addition to the July 5, 2016 order and a cabinet resolution to support free education by covering the costs of tuition fees, books, supplies, uniforms, and child development activities, the Education Ministry also has regulations obliging schools to admit students, with punitive measures for those that neglect to do so.

According to these regulations, existing students at the school do not require additional documents, while new students must provide necessary paperwork for the national database.

For orphans, abandoned or stateless children, or those without official identification, the Education Ministry allows guardians to act in loco parentis for enrolment purposes. The regulations also make it clear that it is the teachers' responsibility to assist in completing admission forms for students without parents or guardians.

If students commit offences, the Ministry of Education sanctions only four disciplinary measures in line with the Child Protection Act: verbal warning, probation, deduction of behaviour points, and activities to promote behavioural change.

However, these rules are not observed and teachers are rarely held accountable.

Students deemed to be disobedient are treated with bias and sometimes even expelled or denied admission to continue their education for failing to comply with school rules, violating the rights of other students and wasting time in class.

Abandoned and directionless, many dropouts frequently end up as social problems. That said, the authoritarian education policy and lack of sensitivity and empathy contribute to youth problems, or even crime.

Rights activists such as Angkhana Neelapaijit have made rational demands for the government or even judicial system to help by appointing a legal custodian for Yok to take care of her education problems and protect her rights.

Last week, the Ministry of Social Welfare held a meeting with the school, without any conclusive outcome. The ministries responsible cannot drag their feet on this and let public sentiment hijack the issue.

Perhaps, one of the actions the ministers can do is follow recommendations by rights activists such as Ms Angkhana, to take steps that ensure the teenager is looked after by a responsible adult until she becomes an adult in the eyes of the law when she turns 18.

Yok may not be everyone's cup of tea, but her case highlights the challenge of how to make the education system and society more tolerant and open to dialogue instead of sticking to a rigid rule-based system that only ends up alienating those with different opinions and pushing them towards the margins of society.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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