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Civic education is a must for Thailand

A SERIES of protests since 2006 has sparked an urgent need for a new kind of education in Thailand - civic education, the process of educating citizens on their rights, duties and responsibilities to empower them.

According to the 2009 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS), about one fourth of Thai students lacked basic conceptual understanding in civics and citizenship.

The study covers 140,000 students with the mean age of 13-and-a-half years in 38 participating countries. Through the answers to 79 questions, Thai students showed their knowledge on civic rights was lower than the ICCS average.

From the study, only 8 per cent of Thai students had civic knowledge solid enough for application and forming proper judgements.

Some 38 per cent had just basic civic knowledge and 29 per cent knew the issues well enough to understand the interconnectedness of civic and |civil institutions, and the processes |and systems through which these |operate.

The result pinpoints what parties here need to develop for civic education in Thailand.

It should be noted that the 2009 ICCS study found 91 per cent of Thai students had a complete or significant trust in schools, as opposed to 72 per cent for media and 85 per cent for national governments.

Schools and educational authorities should play an important role in the promotion of civic education. By winning children's trust, they are in a good position to instil the right attitudes and dispositions in the young.

Thailand does have a civic-education strategy. Launched in 2010, this strategy is set to run till 2018.

According to Thailand's strategy, citizens in a democratic system can be diverse and thus they must have respect for others. While citizens can enjoy liberty and interdependence, they must have responsibility and not infringe on other people's rights or use violence to solve problems. Citizens should be aware that they are part of Thai society and must be responsible for it. They must be keen on addressing social issues at all levels from family to community to national. Together, responsible and knowledgeable citizens can take Thailand ahead and allow it to prosper on a sustainable basis.

The strategy has identified clear indicators to determine Thai students' achievements in civic education. Among them are whether they are willing to participate in activities that are useful to schools, communities, and the society, and whether they are willing to help and share with others.

While the implementation of this strategy is ongoing, I hope authorities review its results constantly to ensure that it can achieve desirable results.

Next year, Thai students in Mathayom 3 and Mathayom 4 will join another civic-education international evaluation survey.

I was surprised to find www.thaiciviceducation.org during my research on this subject. It was the work of a group who believe that a complex society needs strong support from a population who have a good understanding of their rights and duties.

"At birth, nobody knows what democracy is. Democracy could thrive if people's understanding and values were in line with democratic beliefs and if they honoured the equitable value of others, and fairness," it said on the website. Sadly, it has achieved little, judging from projects listed on the |site.

More initiatives like these should be created, otherwise any political and economic advancement could be pulled back by some people who claim they exercise their democratic rights without respecting others' rights. Civic education will also help ensure that Thais understand their rights, duties and responsibilities. This will in turn ensure that all see the value of accountability and equity.

Civic education must be undertaken seriously, if we want to secure a good future for Thailand.


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