Rewriting of Thai history gets thumbs-up

Rewriting of Thai history gets thumbs-up

Syllabus to get update with more key events

Democracy Monument was commissioned to commemorate the 1932 coup. (Photo by Pattarachai Preechapanich)
Democracy Monument was commissioned to commemorate the 1932 coup. (Photo by Pattarachai Preechapanich)

The Education Ministry's plan to overhaul the Basic Education Core Curriculum to include key political events from 1932-1957 has been broadly welcomed, although not without some criticism too.

Former education minister Somsak Prissananantakul on Monday backed the idea of providing students with a better understanding of political history and democratic developments as long as a process known as chamra prawattisat ("clarifying history") be undertaken as well.

This process, where academics with differing opinions come together to agree upon a standard interpretation, should also be applied to other key political events like the failed Bovorndej coup by royalists, the unsuccessful Manhattan Rebellion and the 1973 student uprising, he said. According to Mr Somsak, history was frequently written by its winner rather than by "non-partisan" hands.

It is important the young learn the nation's history not by rote memorisation, but by gaining an understanding of landmark events and why they took place, he said, adding that professional historians should be roped in to help.

The veteran politician was responding to the ministry's move to revamp the curriculum, which comprises eight subjects. The syllabus for social sciences will be reworked to include political history from 1932-1957 not currently taught.

Education permanent secretary Supat Chumpathong said academics would help with the content and the ministry planned to submit a draft to the minister by the middle of December, so it could be implemented in the 2022 academic year.

The revamp follows increased interest in the 1932 revolution by the Khana Ratsadon (People's Party) that ended Thailand's absolute monarchy. This landmark event is a recurring theme in the anti-government protests, with one group of protesters calling itself Khana Ratsadon 2563 (2020).

Mr Somsak said the updated curriculum must not be based on distorted information or augmented facts and should be thoroughly reviewed prior to being rolled out.

"The reworked syllabus will focus on that period because they want to teach the transition from absolute monarchy to democratic regime. I think they want to show how democracy was achieved, how it developed and how a coup came into play.

"The students will come to see why we have seen dozens of coups since the 1932 revolt," he said.

Senator Wanlop Tangkhananurak also voiced support for expanding the history syllabus but warned the ministry should choose more than just a single period to teach.

"In principle, but we can't just single out a one particular period. By choosing the 1932 revolution, the focus is likely to be on political history. It shouldn't be this way. It should go all the way because it is about the shaping of the Thai nation," he said.

Mr Wanlop, who also advocates children's rights and welfare, said there are challenges when it comes to learning about the country's past. History has two elements: factual events and individual experiences and perceptions that can be totally different.

While information such as dates and the people involved is usually based on fact, accounts of the actual events are predominately subjective, he warned.

"I don't know why the 1932-1957 period was chosen and who will validate the historical accounts. If the teaching turns out to be influenced in a certain way, it could lead to complications. This is not easy work," he said.

The senator said current school textbooks are adequate for now and their use can continue while a panel of experts is formed to agree a common approach to teaching the new content.

He also said more efforts should be made to help students develop basic reading and writing skills as well as their geographical knowledge so they can better understand and interpret the history they are taught.

Sompong Jitradap, a professor of education at Chulalongkorn University, however, criticised the ministry's plan, saying the basic curriculum, which has been used for almost 20 years, is outdated and should be scrapped entirely.

He said a new curriculum should be constructed to help young learners develop more analytical thinking.

"The curriculum focuses on eight subjects taught using purely textbook/classroom-based methods that no developed country uses. Teachers should encourage students to do their own research and engage in discussion. I think we should drop this curriculum and design a new one. Updating textbooks alone isn't enough," he said.

He said the ministry's plan reflects its lack of understanding of modern teaching practices and the amount of money spent by parents on private tuition as well as the amount of time spent grading by teachers are the consequences of this.

Mr Sompong urged the ministry to keep an open mind and consider making more sweeping changes to the education system as a whole.

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