FOR CENTURIES or perhaps longer than that, philosophers have debated the issue of ethics. So, simple as it may sound, it is never easy to exactly define timeless unarguable values.
History, after all, has told us that ethics differ from place to place and from time to time. What is right in one place at a particular time may prove wrong elsewhere at some other time.
In modern Thai history, educational institutes have also pursued different targets in their assessment of the ethical level of their students and applicants.
Inspired by Japan’s speedy recovery after World War II, universities only looked for students with good grades in order to produce the human resources that could push Thailand to a higher level of prosperity. Decades later, they also chased students with a demonstrable social conscience. Now, possibly driven by political correctness, they are looking for “ethical” students who they believe will make a valuable contribution to society.
But what set of values is used to frame this definition of ethics?
At Srinakharinwirot University’s (SWU) Patumwan Demonstration School, applicants are required to demonstrate what they will do in various situations. These scenarios might include their demeanour as they walk past an older person or pass something to an elder. Children must prove their knowledge of good manners for an ethics test, which is held before they are allowed to submit an application to study at this prestigious school.
The school takes great pride in its ethics test, citing the need for a strong emphasis on morals lest children are led astray by bad examples.
Students are also encouraged to join activities that promote gratitude, volunteerism and love for the nation, religion and the monarchy.
Several schools have reserved places for known good examples. Children who have performed services on behalf of their community or undertaken volunteer work are welcome to submit applications for this special quota at many universities including Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani, Kasetsart, Suranaree and the Prince of Songkla University’s Trang campus.
The Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment (a public organisation) now even plans to include an ethical factor in assessing university standards between 2016 and 2020.
“This will consider students’ levels of patience, self-reliance, responsibility, volunteerism and similar qualities,” the office’s director Prof Channarong Pornrungroj disclosed.
He insisted that the move was carefully planned and relevant agencies had already agreed that it was possible to determine ethical levels.
Obec, the Office of Basic Education Commission, after all, released criteria back in 2008 to assess student’s moral soundness. This checklist includes touchstones such as compliance with religious concepts, self-reliance, ability to avoid vice, self-confidence, honesty, as well as responsibility, perseverance, discipline, kindness, frugality, sacrifice, willingness to volunteer and human-relations skills.
These criteria were introduced in response to the Surayud Chulanont-led administration’s suggestion that ethics should take a leading role in all fields, including the education sector.
The idea of promoting ethics is good, given that the recent chaos in Thailand is surely not the best way to promote conflict resolution to the country’s younger generation. Yet, the world is so complex that a simple value assessment may be insufficient.
A computer nerd may not be interested in joining summer camps in remote villages, but their innovations can help the world. Look at Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs, for example. In some countries, euthanasia or mercy killing is considered morally sound and legal.
I support the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) emphasis on History and Civic Duty in order to instil the right attitudes and ethics in students. Morals and ethics are something that must be embedded in education. Moreover, knowledge can’t be an inferior goal of education. It is best to teach children to know about the duties and rights of a person. This will instinctively guide them when they go about their lives.
Needless to say, society is crying out for people who neither flout laws nor violate the rights of others. It will be a plus if they also intuitively embrace patriotism and love for the global community.