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Our schools for scoundrels

Satirical barbs have been flying on the social media this week. "No cash to go see your favourite singer in South Korea? Try asking Khun Tan!" went one post. "Need money to get hitched to your gal? Khun Tan's your man!" wisecracks another. Silly jokes, maybe, but they reflect genuine and deep-seated social ills in Thailand.

The story behind them concerns the Satriwitthaya 2 School marching band, whose request for funds for a trip to the Netherlands was turned down by the government. With time running out they turned to Tan Passakornnatee, chairman of the Ichitan Group, who has a reputation for generosity. The businessman forked over Bt3.1 million after the youngsters converged on his home to "borrow" the money.

But what could have been a lovely tale of youngsters getting a helping hand turned sour and the kids ended up being branded "the beggar band". You could argue that Tan should share the blame, but this case seems to be an exception to the rule that publicity is what motivates such generosity.

The youngsters just chose a quick-fix solution. All they were focused on was pursuing their dreams - a common trait among teens. In addition, the idea of sponsorship is certainly not alien to our society. Many Thai talents are backed by wealthy sponsors. But would the members of Satriwitthaya 2's Max Percussion Band have followed the same route had they known it meant sacrificing their integrity?

There is a thin line between pursuing your dreams and losing your soul. Knocking on someone's door and demanding they fulfil your dream obviously crosses that line. Was the trip to Holland a necessity? Were the kids deserving as charity cases? The social media answered with a resounding "no" after learning that the Dutch competition was only a stepping stone to the band's target of a United States trip.

The dream took another bad turn when a leaked conversation between band members and a man identifying himself as the phor or (school director) went viral. The video was declared authentic by the band members, but Patcharapong Treepeta, Satriwitthaya 2's director, has denied the voice heard is his. The court of public opinion thinks differently, and a can of worms has been opened.

The "director" in the clip assures the students that if they win a Dutch trophy, corporate sponsors will come running. "These dogs just want publicity," he says, encouraging the kids to go for broke. "I'll work on the [government side] and you guys go ahead [hunting money elsewhere]. Don't tell anyone I'm behind this," says the voice.

Apparently the school's most senior and respected figure was teaching children that their goal is the only thing that matters, and that truth and even gratefulness could be sacrificed to reach it. In the absence of any other advice, the students didn't even think twice.

Teaching pride and integrity seems to be a thing of the past. It's old-fashioned and an obstruction to success.

"People don't even care which tournament [prestigious or not] you win. Clinch a trophy and then sponsors will follow. Then you just have to pay them back by attending their events or representing them," said the voice in the clip.

Tan reacted by taking to the social media to voice his frustration, garnering much public sympathy. He said the scandal should serve as a lesson for the kids, and he'd let them off because of their youth and naivety. But he insisted that the donation came neither from his company nor his parents. "It's my wife's. Get it?"

Giving money is one thing, but being manipulated to do so and treated in an ungrateful way is another. The scandal will make it even harder for real talents to find backers, since sponsors will now think twice before stumping up cash.

But there's a bigger worry: how we can instil good values in kids when our society is full of adults with a twisted sense of morality? How can we eradicate the deep-rooted social ills when children are faced with such an inheritance?


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