Monday, November 10, 2008

The REAL answer to the crisis

Thailand lies in a state of disrepair. The foundations of democracy lie in a brittle state, looking as though one more shock might cause them to disintegrate. Not only do the three pillars - executive, legislative and judiciary - stand ostracised and mistrusting of each other, but they are also internally fractured. Senator battles senator, MP frames MP and lawyer cheats lawyer.

The public have followed suit and split into gangs. Each one has a name - indeed it seems that Thai people love nothing more than forming a group and giving themselves a name - a colour, a theme and a love of attention. Each one has an answer: be it "new politics", a "fight for true democracy" or "national reconciliation (via transfer of money)".

The problem is that none of these sound bites provides a real answer. None of them are good for the country in practice, what they all amount to is manoeuvre and counter manoeuvre. Thaksin is sent into exile, so he organises a rally. PAD take Government House, so Somchai revives old TRT policies to help Isaan people, people who criticise a certain senior statesmen seem to have a run of bad luck, the list goes on.

There are two notable traits running through every move in this political chess game: one, they reek of self interest for certain sections of society; two, they are increasingly myopic. "Bring back Thaksin" will not help Thailand, it will simply infuriate his opponents. "New politics" sounds great but talk of votes depending on "how much tax is paid" is highly revealing. Need I go on?

I'd like to offer my alternative. Forgive me for offering an opinion on Thai politics, and forgive me again for stealing a quote from a UK political party but the answer is: education, education, education.

This is not a rose tinted, Disney style answer. It is a genuine, long term solution to the problem. Likewise I am not suggesting that most people are uneducated or stupid or that I am a model of good study or teaching (I am neither), every country in The World, including England could benefit from higher quality of education.

Education empowers the masses on so many levels. The obvious benefit is that it gives greater awareness of one's society, government and practices. By bringing education to the people, we can eliminate this psychological divide between the so called 'poor people' and "Bangkokians". The feud between these groups always seems to boil down to a row over the charge that 'poorer' people may vote purely for monetary reasons and lack the information to make an informed vote. Universal education can destroy that argument.

Education can also breed confidence and opportunities. It grants independence to the student by allowing them to enter new fields of employment and find new opportunities for self finance. Such solutions are far more effective than village fund schemes or loans. These plans always keep the borrower reliant on the lender.

As a consequence of this, education can eliminate the class divide that is so evident in Thai politics. Indeed, that same divide also seems to reflect not just differing income, but differing values, culture and ways of solving problems. No greater victory can be won for transparency, fairness and democracy than by having far more people educated about any academic subject. Learning breeds curiosity and awareness on many levels, regardless of the subject being taught.

Why has education not been discussed more as a solution to the ongoing crisis? Simple; it gives no short term benefits. It doesn't generate hordes of cheering supporters, it doesn't create impassioned, nationalistic speeches, it can't provide immediate kickbacks (apart from building contracts) and perhaps worst of all: it doesn't give people the opportunity to parade around in gang colours, pretending they are going to hit someone with a plank of wood.

Education truly is a big part of the answer, but that doesn't mean we build more schools and universities and say: "Right, we're done!". We also need reform. Government schools need younger teachers who are trained in teaching methods that actually work. With great respect to many well intentioned, knowledgeable Thai teachers, too many of them rely on the old "water into a glass" teaching method which has proven ineffective.

We need teachers who understand effective teaching methods. We also need the love of discipline in Thailand to be matched by the love of giving opportunities and freedom of thought to students. We need qualifications to really mean something more than: "I can afford to go to this expensive university". Only by setting standards for teachers, students and exams can degrees in Thailand gain international recognition.

It doesn't just stop at schools either. Learning can come in many forms including books or computer games, yet the only reading I see with most people in Thailand is comic books. How often do we see someone reading a newspaper on the BTS or a non-fiction book while their shop is quiet? Comics are great for learning to read but not for further education. Likewise, computer games are massively popular here but Thai kids seem to plump only for "Call of Duty 4" violence based games. Again, COD is a great game but where are the strategy games, the historical epics or conversation driven role players? As for TV I don't watch a lot so perhaps someone else can address its quality.

We need education to be high in quality and availability. Right now we have a lot of universities that are well intentioned but unable. My wife once asked me how it was that more Thai students had university education than English students. I tried to explain but I found my answer was actually rather rude: a degree in England means the student has passed a certain standard of exam. In Thailand, it means the student paid the money and turned up at least sometimes. People who have never been to Thailand often think I am joking or being metaphorical when I tell them nobody fails in Thailand. But of course it's utterly true, which completely invalidates the point of passing.

All this change will take years, maybe decades, but I do believe it will happen and when it does, I hope that Thailand will reap the rewards. Many systems in Thailand are based on UK models, I just wish education was one of them, because then Thailand could pass through this stage of immature democracy that England passed long ago and move on to better things.


hobby said...

More & better education might help, but only if more people become educated enough not to be manipulated by 'leaders' on both sides.

Personally, I doubt it would solve the problem, as the posters over at New Mandala are clearly 'educated' but they can be just as partisan as the rest, and only see what they want to - when it suits their agenda.

Also many in PAD, UDD, PPP, Democrats, Senators, NGO's etc are obviously well educated, but that still does not make them clear thinkers - the only thing they want to see is victory.

If only Chamlong could moderate Sondhi and PPP/TRT could moderate Thaksin, then the train need not continue over the cliff.

Anonymous said...

Such a bad article. The education system is based on the UK system. Obviously you have no clue about Thailand. Go get an education.

Red and White said...

What a brave post: opinion presented as fact without the courage to state your name!

Thailand has different curriculum, subjects, holidays, teaching style, exams, fees, timetables, class sizes, equipment, content, language and uniforms.

Educate us: how is Thailand’s education based on the UK?

Bangkok Pundit said...

R&W: Your comment in response to Anon was the last straw and shows what a disruptive influence you are. Your calls for evidence and to mount an argument when critiquing must be stopped now. When will it end? Next thing you will be asking students not to copy their fellow student's work or to end multiple choice exams and move towards an essay with a thesis statement. It must stop now!

Shouldn't ones response to what another has written to be to call it "bad"? And then to insult someone?

btw, I agree with your post in theory. It is the implementation which worries me. Calls for standards may end up in compulsory courses on Thai culture..

Charles Frith said...

It's the conversation that is missing. In 15 years or so of coming to Thailand I've never heard any Thais discuss health care, education, foreign policy or more. Without the conversation I feel the will is lacking.

Anonymous said...

So what on earth is wrong with Thai people in general? Look for example Malaysia or even Vietnam. Heck in Vietnam (referring to your observation about comic books) I saw in Hanoi a girl who was sitting on her little plastic chair and selling to passer bys, only Vietanamese I might add, reading her book. Happened to be Dan Browns Da Vinci Code. In English. Heck this was your average street selling small entrepreneur. When you have seen such thing happen in Thailand! About education and it taking long. It won't take "decades". There is solid proof about education being "liberator" and "life enhancer" in the multiple developping nations UN projects of starting the whole nations life standards upgrade by teaching women who have been traditionally left home and unschooled. Point being, if it is beneficcial to teach women in rural areas, how much more beneficial it would be to start such quality education for EVERYONE in Thailand. Or is it truly so that there is "lack of will" here? Something wrong with the gene pool? ;)