Teaching our children how to kowtow
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Teaching our children how to kowtow

No sooner had the sounds of military marches died down after the May 22 coup than the Education Ministry ordered all schools to play patriotic songs to please the junta.

Students gather for morning assembly at Assumption Convent Silom School. Under the new policy, there will be more patriotic marches. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The ministry said it would ask the military for a list of patriotic marches to play to primary and high school students nationwide two times a day — before morning classes and during lunch break, in order to strengthen their love for the country.

In his weekly speech on July 11, junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha identified 12 “core Thai values” that people should follow. Right on cue, the Education Ministry immediately announced it would include the junta’s morality prescriptions in the national curriculum and its education reform scheme.

Early this week, the Education Ministry came up with a new project to help fulfill the junta’s mandate. Students will be given “good deeds passports” to list their daily activities. These will be signed by school directors and pupils will accrue a score showing how good they have been.

The ministry is planning to ask the higher education commission to use the scores from these good deeds passports as an additional criteria for entrance to university. There are reasons to believe the ministry also wants these scores to be used for secondary and high school admissions too.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Oceans of words have been spoken and written about the need for education reform in Thailand if we want to remain competitive in the world arena. Attend any education meeting and you will not fail to hear these solutions: No more rote learning. Support questioning minds. Encourage independent thinking. Decentralise. Respect cultural differences. End top-down, one-size-fits-all policies from Bangkok.

The way the Education Ministry has been buttering up to the junta only confirms my belief that education reform is not possible under this existing infrastructure.

What the ministry has been doing since the coup — the ultra-nationalism bombardment, the focus on parroting moral values, the extremely superficial definition of good deeds and morality — cannot teach our children anything about goodness. If anything, it only teaches them the art of taking credit and kowtowing.

Do we still want this kind of organisation in charge of our children’s education?

Come to think of it, it is probably wrong to say the Education Ministry has failed. If its objective is to produce conformity and instill total submission to authority in our children in order to perpetuate old power structures, then it is highly successful, isn’t it?

Worse, the school system has brainwashed our children into believing in all the wrong ideas that perpetuate prejudice and inequality.

For example, the belief that our neighbouring countries are our enemies, that hilltribes are forest destroyers and that the poor are born poor because of bad karma in past lives.

In a society marked by rapid women’s advancement, the school system also perpetuates strict gender roles, female submissiveness, and the fallacy of “good or bad” women that condones sexual violence.

If we really want education reform to take off, we must do away with the Education Ministry’s central control and allow local communities to take over the education of their youngsters.

At present, the ministry receives a budget of 498 billion baht, the highest of all departments. At 19.3% of the national budget, this proportion is among the highest in the world. Yet education quality is among the lowest in the region — and in the world. The education system is also marked by glaring disparities between rich and poor children.

Many local movements have taken charge of education on behalf of their communities. They want to design curriculums to meet local needs and foster identity and values their own way. How can they do that when they cannot even hire their own teachers? Everything is up to Bangkok.

Meanwhile, teachers complain about the senselessly heavy burden of work evaluation that has nothing to do with teaching quality. It is connections and the art of boot-licking that gets them where they want.

Despite education reform rhetoric, the Education Ministry is fiercely resisting this movement to decentralisation which erodes its power.

How much longer do we want this agency to poison our children’s minds and hold our country back?

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor. She writes on human rights, gender and Thai Buddhism.

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