EACH YEAR, Thai kids can fully celebrate their childhood on only one day - the second Saturday of the year - which this year falls on January 11.
Also, thanks to the prolonged protest, Thai kids are being given a new lesson in democracy.
At present, there are activities at schools for children of all ages, starting when they are in Prathom 1 (Grade 1). In the Office of Basic Education’s teacher manual, 14 activities are suggested to promote understanding in democracy at three levels – family, school and community – among children in Prathom 1-3 (Grade 1-3). More activities are suggested for children up to Matthayom 6 (Grade 12).
Activities for the young students include a session to train them how to solve conflict through listening and peaceful communications. Children will be trained to see the merits of rules and social norms. They are taking “leader” and “follower” roles and participating in activities in their communities. Overall, they are given civic education – to learn their basic rights and duties.
I recalled the day when we elected the class leader. It was chaotic, with kids raising their hands for several candidates. It took some time before we learnt that we could vote for only one candidate.
A teacher of Social Studies for junior-secondary students in Pathum Thani said she had decided not to mention Thailand’s ongoing political conflict in class because she was not sure how students would interpret her words about it at home. She was worried that if the students referred to what she talked about in class to their parents, she and her school could get into trouble.
Despite well-designed courses, we as students learn there is no such thing as equality in Thai society. At school, particularly in the provinces, some students are not punished for breaking rules if their parents are the school’s main patrons or influential figures in the provinces.
At the family level most parents, lacking better ways and means to educate their children about what they should and should not do, stick to the “Because I say so!” phrase.
At the community level, seniority also rules. The leader’s voice is always the loudest. It is not surprising that when kids grow up, they yearn for financial and non-financial power so they can abuse others for their own benefit.
Pranee Muangnoi, a specialist in paediatrics at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry unit in Bangkok Hospital, noted that children learn more from actions than preaching. In an interview in November, she expressed concern about children taken to the anti-government rally site by their parents.
She noted that though these children do not understand what people were saying, they could absorb the words and actions, particularly children aged below 12, whose emotional and thinking process is not fully developed.
The ongoing political protest also tests Thailand’s education system. At a Bangkok university, two law lecturers share different political views – raising the question of how students of both classes can be taught when it comes to the rule of law.
Children in one camp were told that to end the political conflict in a democratic way, their parents must cast their votes in the February 2 election. Those in the other camp were told the election is not the answer and an undemocratic method is necessary when there are too many corrupt politicians.
At school, would any teacher rip off students’ voting rights for the school’s student leader, when knowing that some candidates were buying votes? What they should have done was to ensure the candidates do not cheat.
In this world, despite different voting methods, most countries view elections as the most democratic way to gain legislative representatives. When they grow up, our children will need a strong knowledge base to answer their foreign friends’ questions.
The protest poses a big challenge to Thailand’s civic education and a bigger challenge for all children, who are our future.