Thai junta wants to foster patriotism in schools

Analysts highlight that the education curriculum is already nationalistic - a 'problem' that has left Thailand with the worst education system in the ASEAN.

Thai junta wants to foster patriotism in schools

World Bulletin / News Desk

The junta’s attempts to foster patriotism in Thailand's schools has come under fierce scrutiny from academics already alarmed at the low quality of education in the Kingdom compared with its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Thanet Aphornsuvan, professor of history at the Pridi Banomyong International College in Bangkok, told the Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that there is no need to encourage more patriotism through education as “History is already taught in a very nationalistic way.”

“We should overcome this narrow royalist perspective and move ahead, especially in view of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) community, which will be formed next year.”

In a recent survey of education in ASEAN countries, Thailand occupied last place, despite the fact that it is one of the most developed economies in the region.

The criticism follows Junta Leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha's spoken dismay last week that children know little about “past glorious kings.”

He said during his regular Friday TV slot that as a child he could remember all past kings and their deeds, and deplored that the new generation did not even know if Thailand had UNESCO World Heritage sites - such as the central site of the ancient Thai kingdom in Sukhothai.

The solution, he said, is to increase monarchy-related content in history lessons.

In its 2013-2014 Global Economic Competitiveness report, the World Economic Forum ranked Thailand's education system last in terms of quality of the eight surveyed ASEAN countries.

ASEAN has ten members. Singapore and Malaysia took the top two spots and Cambodia - considered to be much poorer than Thailand with a 2013 per capita GDP of $2,600 compared to $9,900 for Thailand - was ranked sixth. Laos and Myanmar were not surveyed.

In terms of GDP per capital, Thailand is fourth in ASEAN behind Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia, with $62,400, $54,800 and $17,500 GDP respectively.

The junta’s educational vision has since been picked up enthusiastically by education ministry bureaucrats who have announced that school books will be produced to present the “correct version” of Thai history.

“From now on, public schools must only use history and Thai language books that have been approved by the ministry and private schools are recommended to do so,” Kamol Rodklai, a high-ranking official of the Education ministry told reporters.

“If students have a correct understanding of Thai roots and history, people will be in unity,” he added.

Aphornsuvan says it is not so much about collective unity, but more to encourage those who have recently become interested in politics to not forget their social place.

"The military are doing this to diminish the anxiety of the middle-class who feel threatened by the rise of mass politics” among the poor, he told AA.

Bitter political conflicts since 2006 have thrown rural "Red Shirts" - supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - against "Yellow Shirts" - enemies of Thaksin and supporters of the traditional establishment - royalists, bureaucrats, military and a large part of Bangkok’s middle class.

The junta, which seized power May 22, has since thrown its weight behind nationalistic propaganda to - as it sees it - help foster unity, mend political divisions, and encourage subservience.

For a long time, Thailand was governed by a vast social system that encouraged subservience among the rural poor through blind adulation of the monarchy, Buddhism and anyone considered higher up the social ladder.

The Thai "wai" - a closed handed greeting - is often seen as denoting respect not just to elders or those seen to be deserving of such faith, but also as its own control system to remind people who they are in Thailand’s class system, and where they should remain.

The rise of politics in the rural areas, however, has put that to the test, Red Shirts - for the first time - challenging their place in society, through a new found belief in the populist Thaksin who offered them genuine material gains and a way out of the fields.

In June, the junta ordered movie halls across the country to show for free the epic “Naresuan” - a highly patriotic movie showing the prowess of a 16th century Siamese king against traditional enemy the Burmese, who are depicted as vile and vicious.

The education ministry has also announced that a “merit passport” could be launched soon in order to keep track of student's “good deeds” at primary and lower-secondary levels.

Children will have to sign their "good behavior" daily into the passport according to 12 Thai values defined by the junta - including “gratitude to parents, guardians and teachers”, “correct understanding of the democracy with the Monarch as head of state” and “love for the nation, religions and monarchy”.

The education ministry has also said it intends to make the passport’s content a major part of the university entrance examination - the Council of University Presidents of Thailand agreed in principle.

But some critical voices are making themselves heard.

“We have implemented a similar policy as an admission criterion before, but it was difficult to make it transparent, so we had to stop”, said Kittichai Triratanasirichai, president of the Khon Kaen university in northeastern Thailand, to information website Prachatai, referring to the ease with which a student can alter his “merit record”.

A recently created “anti-merit passport” Facebook page states that instead of pushing schoolchildren to improve behavior, the passport will instead encourage them to lie about their actions and deceive their teachers.

Last Mod: 09 Eylül 2014, 15:30
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