The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) may not have said it out loud yet. But it is quite clear that educational reform is now embracing the idea of "moral soundness and virtues".
One of the very first things the NCPO did on the educational front, after all, was revive History and Civic Duty.
Despite cautions from quite a few educators, the NCPO has successfully pushed the Education Ministry to bring back these two subjects for the purpose of inculcating better attitudes and values among the young.
And the ministry has acted very quickly on this initiative. It has said History and Civic Duty will no longer be just part of Social Studies when the second semester of the 2014 academic year begins in November.
At present, it is unclear how History will change from three decades ago, when classes began with the loss of Ayutthaya to the former Burmese kingdom or Siam’s conquest of areas in neighbouring countries. That doesn’t quite match Thailand’s plan to become a hub in the Asean Economic Community (AEC) era. It remains unanswered how Thai educators will consult with their peers in other Asean states on how history is taught there.
For Civic Duty, it also remains unclear if international standards will be applied – or the NCPO’s standards. Internationally, the imposition of martial law is perceived as a move that deprives many of their basic rights. What will our students be told when it comes to the martial law recently imposed in Thailand?
Thailand’s preparations in the next few months will cover a lot of things – including new textbooks, new teaching guidelines, new class-time allocation, teachers’ training, and so on.
Like the NCPO, the Education Ministry expects the subjects of History and Civic Duty to promote patriotism, discipline, respect for others, a sense of duty, readiness to sacrifice and many more good values among all children.
Students from Prathom 1 to Mathayom 6 will have to study both subjects every week, starting from the second semester of this year.
To promote morality further, the Education Ministry is also working on a plan to turn boy/girl scouts into a mandatory requirement. Activities for boy/girl scouts are not just about recreation and survival skills. They have lots to do with ethics, discipline and mutual co-existence too.
This subject will be mandatory for students from Prathom 1 to at least Mathayom 3 levels.
The ministry even has hopes of introducing “Dhamma Study” to all schools. At present, this subject is only being taught in about 1,000 schools.
A public hearing on these plans is scheduled for July 19.
According to the ministry’s permanent secretary Suthasri Wongsaman, the Sangha Supreme Council and the Culture Ministry will also help with this plan.
Suthasri emphasised that children should study this subject because the course’s content will soften their hearts. “If they learn about Dhamma, they will have something to hold them back when temptations arise,” she said.
The Education Ministry appears to have acted swiftly to try to fulfil these short-term goals, which the NCPO seriously hopes will boost ethical standards.
The ministry, at the same time, has also instructed its agencies to conduct and conclude studies on how to improve its organisational structure fast, as it will need to present a roadmap on educational reform to the NCPO social-psychology group next month.
The roadmap will address teachers’ reform, decentralisation, management system reform, human resource production reform, learning reform and ICT system improvement.
This roadmap, if approved, is due for implementation between 2014 and 2021, and will affect millions of children.
In the eyes of many, the NCPO’s decisiveness and the Education Ministry’s serious efforts to respond to its goals may prove remarkable. But the problem is when urgency is involved, there is a risk of mistakes being made.
When information from all sides is not gathered or studied carefully, any initiative or roadmap introduced could be flawed and mean that these reforms don’t do students and teachers as much good as they might if processed with less haste.