Knee-jerk, rearguard measures won't end school violence

opinion July 30, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

The root causes of this tragic situation must be addressed - but to start with, can Thai adults serve as good role models?

The latest student brawl in Bangkok that killed one and injured another student has harshly reminded us an ugly truth in our society. In this case, like most others, death is “not” an unfortunate event. It is a result of bad traditions that have claimed so many lives and have caused so much pain to so many. 
On their way home, two students were randomly targeted by a group from a rival vocational school. They tried to flee the scene but were unsuccessful. A group from another school attacked them brutally with swords. One died on the spot while his friend was wounded but managed to flee. The brutal fight happened in Soi Udomsuk, off Sukhumvit Road. Like many other incidents of student violence, it happened before the full glare of the public eye. 
Every time it happens, it claims the lives of the innocent. Sometimes, the victim is just a bystander. Many times, including in the latest case in Udomsuk, the targets are randomly attacked and killed. The families of student brawl victims have for long sought tougher measure to tackle the problem but the violence is mounting rather than abating. 
Governments and education ministers have stepped up measures to eradicate violence among the vocational school students. They have been told not to wear uniforms to avoid identification of the schools. Get-together events have been arranged for rival schools, which saw them shaking hands before the press. There were temporary shutdown of schools. Motivational speakers gave speeches at various schools. The latest move saw a military-style boot camp arranged to instil good behaviour in students. None of these measures have really borne fruit considering the number of incidents. 
Some measures don’t really address the root cause. Not wearing a uniform is a short-term, back-against-the-wall measure while at the other end motivational speeches offer a long-term measure. 
Any measure must not be a “flash in the pan” if they are aimed at an effective solution. Society reacts to school violence once or twice a year, whereas rival students plan to harm each other every day.
Student brawls are not unique to Thailand but what is worrying is that the scale of violence is escalating. The root causes involve bad tradition of bitter rivalry inherited through the years by the alumni. It is about mob behaviour, which is fuelled in students who are in a high-adrenaline, hormone-driven age. The long-term measures must address attitudes, psychology and badly misguided traditions. They have to be consistently implemented. Adults also have to play a part in setting an example. The violence between the different sides of the political divide has sadly demonstrated that even adults have failed to be good role models. 
It will take years, several governments and many education ministries to cope with the school violence. Every section of society and every adult must be involved in the process. The measures must be all-encompassing and systematic, and not a rearguard battle. The values must be in the curriculum and they have to be instilled in the students’ psyche. It has to be repeatedly taught and guided, without any loss of focus. Only when the number of cases is drastically reduced can we claim a success. These avoidable tragedies will stop only when the grown-ups get it right, too.