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On history and humility: What students need to know

By Rattana Lao

Not so long ago, some Thai university students used Hitler image as the poster child for superhero and just recently, the Thai state used Nazi symbol in their propaganda for education.

This short documentary intends to promote the 12 values of education. These values include respect seniority, desire for knowledge and understand democracy.

Democracy and Hitler?

To make things worse, the director of the film gave public interview seeing nothing wrong with it.

Kulp Kaljaruek, the director, said to Khaosod, one of the Thai newspapers that “I didn’t think it would be an issue. As for Hitler’s portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It’s even considered a fashion. It doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I didn’t expect it to be an issue at all.”

Seriously?

The Ambassador of Isael to Thailand, His Excellency Simon Roded, issued a public statement on the 10th of December 2014. It read:

“I was surprised that throughout the screening process this movie must have gone through to be approved for public broadcast, none of the smart, well educated people checking it had identified it as being problematic and offensive.”

In an interview with Thailand’s renown historian, professor Thanet Aphornsuwan, the problem that has happened reflects an endemic problem in Thailand.

“The nature and practice (are) …Thai-centric and royal-nationalist. Such world-view allows for little diverse and challenging representation of other’s realities and identities. It does not provide nor encourage deep understanding and empathy towards others’ sensibilities and values.”

This is not a straightforward account of low quality education or the lack thereof. It highlights fundamental issue in terms of hidden and overt curriculum in Thailand, which promotes simplification of facts without critically understand or engage with multiple versions of truths.

Furthermore, three points should be made of this incident.

Firstly, this is NOT, let me stress, a byproduct of an anti-semantic attitude. To be “anti” something, one needs to hate or to belittle it. Thai people, generally, have very little idea what Jewish is, let alone being hateful to it.

Secondly, the ignorant of one group of people should not be used to condemn Thai people in its entity. Academics, media and many in Thailand feel shameful of this and regret what has been done, despite the fact most of us have nothing to do with it.

Thai students do not deserve an international condemnation for what they have no parts in it, rather their ignorance is the byproduct of longstanding cultural centeredness.

Thirdly, more space and more opportunities are needed for the young in Thailand to learn, to respect and to understand others. It’s not as simple as a revamp of Thai curriculum, surely that needs to be done, but there needs to be a systematic approach to understand education from multiple perspectives, to integrate intercultural learning as a part of the whole and to teach it in a way that encourages  thinking and learning. A rote learning of one size fits all, of adults know best and of childen know nothing is not only outdated but backward to the development of the minds, let alone of a sustainable nation.

When asked about the way forward, Prof. Aphornsuvan added:

“The kind of education we need is one that is more open and less attached to the state and government practices. On state ideology, the promotion and practice of people’s democracy which is grounded on the principle of equality and liberty must be truly adhered to. Equality gives each people the sense of care and respect for one’s humanity.”

In short: “History lessons should teach humility not arrogance.”

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and is currently teaching in Bangkok.

Original published in www.moderndiplomacy.eu

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Modern Diplomacy

Modern Diplomacy is an online journal perceived as the valuable tool for the assessment and understanding of world affairs through a combination of qualitative analysis, political commentary, information, interviews and specific thematic features

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