Does Thailand have to choose between obedience and critical thinking?

your say October 12, 2018 01:00

Re: “The hand grenade hidden in the heart of Thai Buddhism”, October 3.

The fact that the Kalama Sutta has been overlooked by Thai education culture makes one wonder whether the focus of teaching here is to instil knowledge, or to force obedience. S Tsow’s informative letter spurred me to do some online digging about critical thinking in Thai education. 

I unearthed three reports, dating back to 2003: “Today’s cultural dilemma for the Thai teacher: Moral parent & critical thinker” (2003); “Revitalisation of Critical Thinking in Thailand” (2012); and “Critical Thinking Instructional Model Based on the Kalama Sutta Approach for Thai Teachers” (2013).

The first of these lists two objectives of education demanded by the Office of Education Council of Thailand: 

“All Thais will have knowledge, critical thinking ability and a thirst for knowledge in science and technology as well as social and human sciences” and “The majority of the Thai people will behave in accordance with the traditional way of life.”

This is the earliest reference to critical thinking that I can find in Thai government documents about education.

Merle Wallace, the author of the report, explains in a nutshell what critical thinking is up against: “Critical Thinking is problematic when it is envisioned as accompanying traditional Thai culture which discourages critical thinking and disagreement by encouraging conformity, conservativeness, going with the flow and not making waves.”

Turning a blind eye to critical thinking, in favour of morality and hierarchy, while experts are announcing that Thailand urgently needs to move to the “4.0” era of industry, agriculture, SMEs and the EEC Development Plan, etc, will keep us anchored in the Thailand 3.0 era while others move on. The answer might be to strive for a symbiosis of morality and critical thinking in Thai education. Perhaps the example of Japan, another strongly obedience-orientated Buddhist culture, could serve as a role model. Japanese universities took a significant share in the top 1,000 QS World University Rankings 2019. 

Dirk Sumter