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Once upon a dream, Thailand’s national agenda was to battle with Singapore for regional supremacy in terms of human and economic development.

Once upon a dream we talked of becoming one of the “Asian Tigers”, roaring with the likes of Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and the aforementioned Singapore.

Today the reality is we meow like a little pussy cat, wet and shaking in the cold, fearing that other alley cats like Cambodia and Vietnam will eat us up.

About two million children aged between three and 17 nationwide, or about 11% of the country’s school-age population, are not receiving even the basic education, according to the Quality Learning Foundation (QLF).

As well, the number of workers with an education background below primary level stands at 21.6 million people, or 60% of the country’s labour-age population.

According to Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Thailand’s scores have dipped over the past decade, and the country now ranks in the bottom third of the 36 countries that participated.

Since 2007, student performances in Thailand’s O-Net national exams have fallen steadily in all five core subjects: Thai, maths, science, social studies and English.

If the question is, is Thailand getting more stupid, the answer is no. If the question is, is Thailand getting more stupid relative to other countries, the answer is a resounding yes _ because while others are in a foot race to provide “the opportunities to pursue happiness” for their citizens, we just keep crawling on our hands and knees.

Who should we blame for this? Every single Thai person of adult age; anyone over 21 years old. Because if we don’t help our sons and daughters, our little brothers, sisters and cousins, then who will?

Every single child in this country is our son and daughter _ that is what it means to be a society.

We need to _ in a nutshell _ pull our collective heads out of the hole in the ground _ after all, we’re not a bunch of ostriches. We need to breathe in the reality of our mediocrity and then take the social responsibilities to make that change.

Our society isn’t crumbling, we aren’t falling apart, but rest assured that the numbers do not lie _ we are getting more and more stupid relative to others. If every one of us does not lend a hand, then rest assured of something else _ all Thailand will ever achieve is
jlmediocrity.

I have read articles and listened to politicians and bureaucrats talk about education reform. I have interviewed ministers and officials about creative economy.

And this I can tell you; to this day I still have no idea what they were talking about. The problem is: I don’t think they do either.

Because the most blatant action I have seen the government take on the issue of education is trying to prevent university students from expressing
jlpolitical ideas and organising political activities that are contrary to the official stance.

Not to mention the usual censorship we all know so well. Censoring ideas and opinions is amputating the mind and dismembering the soul, consequently forcing the young (and the public in general) to become stupid.

I have read and heard the media expound lyrical poetry against government restrictions and censorship, while at the same time the media itself is most adamant in delivering “appropriate” content by “appropriate” people to the public in upholding “tradition”.

That is not only self-censorship, it is hypocrisy. It is amputating the mind and dismembering the soul, consequently forcing the young (and the public in general) to become stupid.

The young look up to people in the entertainment industry _ the stars _ as the young naturally would in any society around the world.

But the stars of the Thai entertainment industry by en large are factory products rolled off the assembly line, with internally built censorship mechanisms that give off a high pitched alert if they ever even consider opening their mouth to utter an opinion of their own or say anything of any conse quence. Because this might _ heaven forbid _ harm their image and hurt the company’s bottom-line.

The young look up to heroes who are just beautiful talking puppets
jlincapable of any thought process, but so vivid in their talentless portrayal of mindless characters on senseless television programming _ because anything creative and intelligent is ultimately deemed inappropriate and dangerous.

Amputating the mind and dismembering the soul, consequently forcing the young (and the public in general) to become stupid.

Every week I teach at a university and last week I asked the students, growing up, what is the question your parents and teachers hate the most? They answered with a resounding “why”. Adults hate to be asked “why”. I then asked what happened when you ask “why”.

The answer was a couple of “whys” was tolerable, but too many “whys” and they are told to be quiet and are accused of being disruptive and disrespectful. At best, they are told to go and find out the answers themselves.

Not in the spirit of adventure and self-discovery, however. But because the adults are exasperated and clueless, hence they are told to go and find out for themselves without any guidance, without direction or a map. Not even a flashlight.

Does this not amputate the mind and dismember the soul, consequently forcing the young to become stupid?

There you have it _ the government, the media (news and entertainment), the school and the family all comply to keep Thailand dumb.

There are, of course, exceptions to every norm. There are politicians,
jlofficials, media people, stars, teachers and parents who do well in nurturing the mind and the soul of the young. But exception to the norm isn’t going to keep us from the benign existence of mediocrity.

The children who won the mathematic, robotic and science competitions that we read about in the news should be congratulated and nurtured, and applause to those parents and teachers who have helped them.

The children who have the opportunity to attend top schools and gain education abroad should also be congratulated and nurtured. But these are few and far in between.

The reality is 11% of the school-aged population is not even getting a basic education. The reality is the
jlmajority, while getting the basic education, are not getting quality education. The reality is 60% of the country’s labour-age population doesn’t even have primary level education.

Employers complain about the low skills and creativity levels of the workforce, because the universities have failed in preparing that workforce. University professors complain about the quality of students because secondary school teachers have failed. Secondary school teachers complain because primary school teachers have failed.

Primary school teachers complain because parents have failed. Parents complain because society has failed to assist. Society complains because the government has failed to help.

The government complains because businesses, universities, schools, parents and society refuse to embrace change.

Who’s responsible to make and embrace the changes? Everyone. Because if we don’t help our sons and daughters, our little brothers, sisters and cousins _ then who will? Every single child in this country is our son and daughter _ that is what it means to be a society.

We can simply start by opening our minds and stop censoring. Open our hearts and let opinions and ideas come out in the open. Nurture the question “why” and help the young find out “why” _ heaven forbid, in the process we adults might become smarter too.

This is something everyone can do, from parents to teachers to government to the media and to employers. Then there will be those who will say it’s too hard. It can’t be done in Thailand. Or even that it shouldn’t be done.

The idealists change the world. The clueless take up space. The naysayer wastes oxygen.

Source: Bangkok Post, August 29, 2010

Posted by QLF

Quality Learning Foundation (QLF), a new state agency created under the Prime Minister’s leadership and regulated from the Prime Minister’s Office. It seeks the Promotion of a Learning Society and the raised quality of Youth and Children Education and seeks to take new initiatives in the Thai education system, encourage education reform and accelerate quality learning.