The best Children's Day gift is "updated" knowledge

opinion January 11, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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As the world moves quickly on, Thai education remains a backwater buffeted by constant political upheaval

There was a time when children were taught the world was flat; now they learn that the blinking dots in the night sky are stars just like our sun. Condense the whole of human history down to just one year and we only came to know “yesterday” that the world is round and the blinking dots form entire galaxies. Knowledge keeps changing. Just when we think a truth is unchangeable, new discoveries turn it on its head.
As we celebrate Children’s Day once more, the most important question to be asked is whether our youngsters are being taught the most “up-to-date” truth. Technological advancement, the speed of new discoveries, and access to new knowledge all demand a highly effective education system. Are we giving our children solid foundations? The number of education ministers over the past two decades perhaps provides the damning answer.
While Thais are stuck fighting each other, the world keeps moving on. Local history alone is giving educators a major headache. Children will wrack their brains over where the division between right and wrong lies in Thailand’s ideological battles. But that is just part of the problem. The political war has left our education system a backwater amid its regional peers. Neighbouring countries are placing more importance on their human resources than we are.
Thai educators have to realise the importance of their job. These are the last people we want simply sitting around predicting which way the political wind will blow. We need professional, efficient and open-minded educators who are alert to discoveries of new knowledge. We need them to put children first all the time, and not be preoccupied with being transferred because an imminent change of ministers.
We have introduced free elementary education. We have provided free computer tablets. Corporations have made children’s education an integral part of their “social responsibility” activities. It sounds impressive, but the truth is that these are little more than “self-help facilities” for kids. It still falls far short of a good mainstream education system.
Scientists are testing the theory that ours is just one of “multiple” universes. How much should our children be taught about that? How should they perceive religions? Are “human rights” something that evolve with time and will change drastically when the world comes to be heavily overpopulated? Such questions hardly worried previous educators.
Like the Thai economy, our education is tied to the unpredictability and volatility in domestic politics. Regionally, we do poorly in mathematics and science and English is probably our biggest embarrassment. However “knowledge” is not confined to those subjects. And the speed with which adults dispense knowledge has much to do with their “obsession”. If adults are too obsessed with themselves, as is happening in Thailand, then the younger generation is pretty much on its own.
Forget the talent shows that are ubiquitous every Children’s Day. Forget allowing kids to board battleships or jet fighters or enter zoos for free. And ditch those slogans. Adults can do better. But first it must be admitted that “knowledge” changes all the time and we have to be in the best possible shape so we can “update” it.