Lessons from history

Lessons from history

The Srettha Thavisin government has come up with an initiative to introduce new history textbooks for schoolchildren in order to boost patriotism and morality.

The idea was spearheaded by Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in collaboration with ministers from major industries, including education and labour.

Mr Anutin is of the view that it is necessary to imbue patriotism in young students so they love the nation more while remaining grateful to the monarchy. He said children must be groomed into decent citizens who are proud of their nation's history.

Permanent secretary for the Interior Suthipong Chulcharoen said the textbooks, dubbed history version 904 -- as they are basically adapted from the lectures given in Thai volunteer classes -- will be handed to provincial governors and the Office of Basic Education.

"All schools in Tak (province) have received the textbooks, as the teachers there are 100% ready. Other provinces have got some," said Mr Suthipong.

It remains unclear how many classes will have to study the additional textbooks. What is clear is that students will have to engage in rote learning.

It's not a coincidence the initiative was declared at the same time as a move by state agencies involved in recruiting new bureaucrats to introduce new exams to test the applicants' knowledge of Thailand's history, as well as indicators of patriotism, religion and the high institution along with citizens' moral duty.

Mr Suthipong said the interior ministry would see to it that the next recruitment exam for vacancies at the Department of Provincial Administration will have a new batch of officials rich in such knowledge.

Such tests are expected to be included in the university entrance exam.

The new initiative may be a response to challenges by the younger generation, who have demanded the reform of key institutions. At times, these younger people are referred to as "nation haters" despite their good intentions for the country.

What should be of concern are the narrow interpretations of patriotism and Thainess, which are typically connected to racial homogeneity, and very likely, there is no place for ethnic diversity.

More importantly, with such outdated ideas of patriotism and Thainess, it's highly likely the initiative will adhere to outdated versions of history, overlooking debates about new knowledge.

For instance, was Sukhothai really the first kingdom, followed by Ayutthaya?

This knowledge of Thai history was formulated during the reign of King Rama V when the country was battling to keep colonialism at bay and reinforced by the nation-building era of the 1940s.

Yet, there have barely been any attempts to conduct more academic research to update the nation's history.

This is largely because most of the current leaders tend to look at history as a static subject, while the fact is that it is not. History can and should be updated if new evidence comes to light.

In principle, learning about history should encourage students to be more inquisitive; morality should be taught by setting good examples, particularly by respecting the adage "Do as I do, not as I say".

Rote learning for this subject is bound to end in failure.

It's clear that from the way the interior minister wants it, there is little or no tolerance for a new interpretation of history or of patriotism, which constitutes something of a noble challenge.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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