Nataphol braves student protest
defends actions, calls for more time
Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan denounced sexual harassment, drugs and intimidation before hundreds of students rallying at the ministry headquarters on Saturday.
Students from 50 schools gathered in front of the ministry building on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, calling for an end to student intimidation and outdated school regulations. They also called for education reform, including the resignation of the minister unless he can meet their demands.
In response, Mr Nataphol said anyone on schools staff found guilty of drug offences, sexual harassment and student intimidation must face legal and disciplinary action.
He added, however, that anyone accused of being an offender must have a fair chance to defend him or herself. He also promised the ministry will work harder to make 150,000 teachers across the kingdom understand school guidelines before they are enforced on students.
The students have been calling for the minister's resignation if he fails to meet their demands.
However, yesterday he put up a spirited defence of his actions.
Mr Nataphol, before coming on stage to speak to students, told the media that calling for his resignation is a form of harassment.
"If everyone has to resign for failing to achieve his or her task, every Education Ministry civil servant will have to resign then," he said.
"I want them [student activists] to understand that any work to resolve a major problem takes time."
As he took the stage, the minister was greeted with whistle-blowing and later received souvenirs, including books, a birch, 44 whistles and snacks, from the activists.
Mr Nataphol was a leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, which symbolically used whistles during an anti-Pheu Thai government rally in 2014.
Students expect schools to be politically neutral. According to the students, many have been harassed by teachers who claimed to have acted with good intentions. Some of the students who joined anti-establishment rallies and showed the three-finger salute were scolded by faculty members, while others let the police do the punishing.
They feel threatened by outdated regulations that impose on them a certain hairstyle and dress code. They also say some forms of punishment have made them lose self-confidence.