By 8 o’ clock every morning, the school gates of the public school beside me have closed, the children already in their classrooms after the daily assembly, where they line up in rows in their uniforms, chant the school pledge, and see to the ceremonial raising of the flag. The roads are full of cars, as parents try to rush to work all at once.
A lot of criticism has fallen on the Thai educational system, deemed militaristic and human rights violating by the New York Times, and that is understandable. With its rote memorization, uniformity, and blind obedience, and the government’s surface-scratching solution of handing out free tablets, the Thai educational sector has many holes that are constantly pointed out by critics.
However, having had some experience in the Thai educational system as a student, and having been educated abroad for high school, I would have to say that the Thai education and system has instilled in me merits that I otherwise would not have acquired in such depth. As a student, my purpose, my job, is to learn. The Thai system has given me the drive to do well academically, and the memory capacity to retain dates, numbers, processes, and equations for History, Biology, Economics, and Maths classes. It has given me an appreciation for teachers and their profession, and what’s wrong with showing respect to authorities?
Being immersed in a more international setting, with students from all over the world traveling around the world together, has made me realize that education is not the sole priority in life. That there’s more to that, hobbies, music, soccer, fun. I learned that it’s completely okay to play guitar even though that’s more of a “male” instrument, and that analysis and critique has to match memorization.
Acknowledging that I am one of the few who have the opportunity to study abroad, I believe that there needs to be a joining between East and West in Thailand. A place where students maybe don’t have to have such rigid hairstyles or where the punishment are not whippings (even though that practice is diminishing quickly), but still a place where the Thai values of respect for authorities, memorization (in the earlier years, coupled with focus on analysis in older years), and hard work are still very present.
Because those values, are what makes us Thai.
And as for the English-speaking problem? One of the most effective solutions for that is learning through pop culture. I know when I started learning English, 90% of what I learnt was through TV shows, songs, and fiction books, not grammar and vocabulary lessons in a classroom. And with more luk-kreungs, or half Thai half foreign celebrities coming to fame, the trend towards the Western languages seems to be coming on in full swing.