BANGKOK: — Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, 16, is perhaps the youngest critic of the Thai education system.
The teenager is the co-founder and secretary general of the Thai Students Educational Revolution Alliance (TERA), a network of some 30 young activists seeking to reform the education system and ease the strict regulations among other things. Here are some excerpts of his conversation with The Sunday Nation’s Pravit Rojanaphruk.
Q : Why do you find education in Thailand so problematic?
It is problematic because the system does not allow students to challenge teachers. When I pose questions, I end up being branded as a problematic youth.
No, I don’t think the problem really lies with students being unable to challenge the teachers. They are not supposed to. Teachers who deserve to be challenged shouldn’t be teaching in the first place. The main problem lies with the syllabus. The powers that be want to make sure every citizen who has gone through the Thai system would be susceptible to some form of mental “kryptonite”.
Q : What are the other major problems?
The lack of welfare for both teachers and students, power centralised in the hands of teachers and school administrators, overcrowded classrooms to name a few.
The authority has to lie with the ministry and school administrators! We can’t have students running the system and telling their teachers and school admin what to do.
Q : Why do most other students not seem to have any problems with the system?
Many of them don’t recognise this as a problem, though I think they are somewhat aware. They don’t study [these issues] deeply enough or prefer to simply tolerate it.
Many Thais are aware of deficiencies within the system. Those who can afford it send their kids overseas. Some tolerate it because they have no better alternative and some are not aware that education does not really train them for skills that are required in the workplace.
Q : Several people who have seen you on television say you’re aggressive, brash even.
I’m surprised that I appear aggressive, but that’s how I’ve always been. I am blunt and rarely prepare notes, like when I called for the abolition of Thai traditions.
Q : Can you elaborate on your call regarding Thai traditions?
Abolishing traditions may sound a bit extreme, but I was referring to some aspects that are not useful or irrational. For instance, we’ve been told to stand in respect of the national flag because it’s true “Thai-ness” and people are barred from questioning this practice. It is things like this that turn the Thai culture into something bad, so I propose ending [such practice].
Ultra-nationalism does have a role to play in stifling the education system, but what’s wrong with showing respect for one’s national flag? Aspects of Thai traditions that need to be changed should include superstitious practices, meaningless rituals, blind faith and feudalistic thinking. These are the things that weaken Thailand. Pride and loyalty to one’s country shown by respecting the flag will not weaken Thailand.
Q : Is the media paying so much attention to you because other students are quiet?
I want more students to wake up and recognise these problems. We are dominated by a greed-based economy. Students are taught to become bosses. They should question that. Parents should not teach their children to become robots.
While it’s undesirable for children to become robots, isn’t it dangerous for them to become so powerful that they can overturn all decisions made those in authority?
Q : How would you assess your generation?
On the positive side, we have easy access to open technology. This may broaden our thinking and enable us to learn about our rights and liberty. But we have also become too individualistic and atomised so we cannot forge social change. We have also become more money oriented.
Q : How problematic is the Thai notion of old people being the wisest?
Students are most affected by this… The belief that older people are always correct turns them into something sacred.
But this “respect” for older people is actually quite superficial. Rebellious youngsters who ignore or even go against the advice of their elders far outnumber those who really treat them as sacred. Look at all those who refuse to wear helmets when riding. Look at those who party till the wee hours of the morning and drive when intoxicated. Is there anything wrong with advice from elders not to do such things?
Q : What are your views on the Pheu Thai government’s education policy?
I don’t think they take things seriously. They don’t go to the ground level to look at things. I never expect anything from this administration or any other administration – be it under [Prime Minister] Yingluck [Shinawatra] or [opposition leader] Abhisit [Vejjajiva].
The monster has grown so huge that even when a party independent of the powers that be (with its agenda to keep the people ignorant) gets voted into power, there isn’t very much they can do without closing down most of the so-called tertiary institutions, sacking the majority of the teachers, retraining the hopeful minority and rewriting all the school books.
The last thing Thailand needs is a bunch of angry, unqualified youths trying to be smart.