Know your history
text size

Know your history

A recently held workshop organised by the Office of the Basic Education Committee (Obec) for history teachers working at state-run schools is causing a stir about how the past is being depicted.

The workshop ended last week and targeted teachers from 245 education zones. Sessions were themed after ten precious stones. For instance, the Pearl section focused on how the state has evolved over the years. During one session, trainers weighed much on the topic of the nation's pillars.

Key trainers at the workshop were from the Volunteer Defence Corps Bureau, a state unit affiliated with security agencies, while dozens of soldiers were assigned as assistants.

Such a composition raised questions about the trainers' credentials. It can't be helped if some critics compare this workshop to the village defence training hosted by the state in the 1970s. Back then, some of the indoctrinated volunteers eventually became aggressive ring-wing elements in the Oct 6, 1976 bloodbath.

Having said that, it would have been better for Obec to have enlisted the help of qualified historians from prestigious institutions for such a vital job of teaching about the past. With qualified trainers, the workshop would have been more laudable.

But without professional historians, such training risks being perceived as an indoctrination programme. Indeed, there are complaints that the programme was hardly educational, with some saying it was not interesting. The topics were limited to the collapse of Ayutthaya in 1767 and the rise of Rattanakosin. Few people are aware that a similar workshop, with the same trainers, is under way in every region, with the backing of the Interior Ministry.

One workshop participant posted on social media that it did not provide any tips on how to improve teaching. Instead, it's completely rote learning, a weak yet popular technique conventionally applied by most teachers.

The workshop is likened to a conventional history class in which students are discouraged from asking "why" or being inquisitive in exploring new evidence to challenge outdated notions.

Critics have lashed out at the propaganda-filled workshop, saying it is a failure. They noted that such archaic tactics may have worked in the 1970s when the public had no other option.

The fact that history education in Thailand is defined by nationalism and national security causes big and lasting problems. Our history education makes neighbouring countries, like Myanmar and Cambodia, the villains, if not forever enemies, even though the wars ended in the 18th century.

Take the case of the Altai mountain ranges in Mongolia, which were attributed to the origins of Thais before they migrated to what is known today as Thailand. Such an outdated belief has been deeply instilled despite various historical findings that proved otherwise.

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, while serving as prime minister in 2015, even made remarks recounting the rugged mountain as the place from which Thais came.

History lessons must be openly updated, challenged and debated. For example, should Thai history begin when Sukhothai was founded as the first capital?

However, this requires inquisitiveness as well as an open academic atmosphere, which was absent from the controversial workshop by Obec. But without such elements, history as a subject becomes wasteful and terribly dull.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email :

Do you like the content of this article?