January 27, 2014 00:00 By Chularat Saengpassa
Children need education. Going to school is the primary duty of most children. But as the country is plunging deeper into political crisis, politics has apparently made its way into educational compounds.
After the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) launched its massive protest late last year, it became a new norm that several universities and schools suspend their classes on many occasions. For what reason?
Hundreds of schools in Bangkok closed down on January 13 – the day the PDRC started its “Bangkok Shutdown” operation. The move is understandable, as their administrators were back then unsure as to how the situation would develop and they were concerned about the safety of students and staff. However, it is quite hard to comprehend why schools in unaffected zones and in provinces far from Bangkok were closed too. Some of them remain closed till today.
Some parents in southern provinces have recently brought to the Education Ministry’s attention that they have to leave their children at home because schools are closed.
Some provincial schools have suspended class under pressure from PDRC demonstrators, who have rallied in their provinces. But at some other schools, teachers have responded to the PDRC call for civil disobedience. These teachers have stopped coming to class and some have joined the PDRC rallies.
Several universities have closed down temporarily too.
Chaicharn Thavaravej, president of Silpakorn University, had posted a message on his Facebook page urging the university’s staff, students, alumni and lecturers to turn out in full force on December 9 for a march.
“Let’s join people in marching to Government House,” he said.
Several other universities, including Chulalongkorn and Thammasat, also arranged marches to Government House on December 9.
Of these higher-education institutions, some also suspended classes often in recent months apparently in tandem with some big political moves.
Thammasat rector Somkit Lertpaithoon ordered the suspension of all campuses in Bangkok and the provinces on December 2 and December 3, citing the political situation. According to his statement, the political situation in Bangkok and other provinces looks set to head towards violence and the situation looks set to affect more areas, posing an obstacle to learning and working.
While the measure was not groundless for campuses in Bangkok and adjacent provinces, the suspension proved absurd for the campuses in Lampang and Chon Buri. Back then, political rallies were concentrated just in the capital.
When the PDRC announced the Bangkok Shutdown, Chulalongkorn, Srinakharinwirot, Kasetsart, Ramkhamhaeng and many other higher-education institutions also suspended classes for at least two days this month.
The safety reason can override educational needs. Yet, in the violence-wracked deep South, students and teachers have headed to their class every day. Armed soldiers are deployed to accompany teachers in risky zones as they hope nothing will disrupt children’s education. Despite violent attacks taking place almost on a daily basis, schools, teachers and security officials have done their best to keep classes going.
Some said educational institutions have the duty to uphold democracy (in this case, it involves joining the protests). Well, it’s in fact the duty of all people in a democratic country. Educational institutions’ duty is beyond that – to equip people with knowledge so that they can think for themselves how to peacefully and creatively promote democracy. Political science courses indicate the right to peaceful demonstration, but none urges students to host the demonstrations. It is the students who have to think for themselves.
Looking back, even during serious crises like the war between China and Japan, university administrators strove to ensure their students could go ahead with their studies. They relocated places of study deeper inland to avoid battles.
As the Second Sino-Japanese War dragged on from 1937 to 1945, three leading universities on Chinese soil decided to set up an ad-hoc university in Yunnan to facilitate education. So even in wartime, the university had been able to produce a number of graduates. This ad-hoc university has been transformed into today’s Yunnan Normal University.
These universities could operate in times of war. Why can’t Thai universities, when the protests are generally peaceful?
The ramifications are huge. Students have found their studies interrupted. They have become unsure of their exam schedule, which has been repeatedly postponed. The country may face political turmoil but there is no need to drag educational institutions or students into the fray.