Allow Thai kids freedom of expression
CRITICS have attacked Thailand's educational sector for encouraging rote learning, blocking children's analytical thinking and discouraging freedom of expression and creativity.
They also complain that students are naturally reluctant to raise questions, a step, more often than not, needed to help them acquire knowledge.
Just as efforts to stage educational reforms in the country started a decade ago, relevant authorities have again promised to make a change.
But what have children got today?
Earlier this month, Parit Chiwarak, a Secondary 5 student, showed up at an event where Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha delivered a special address.
As soon as General Prayut asked whether anyone would like to ask a question, Parit stood up and produced a banner.
The student was quickly surrounded by men, who reined him in and brought him to a police station.
He did not have a chance to speak up and raise his concerns about the country's educational sector, let alone deliver the letter he intended to hand over to Gen Prayut.
As the security guards surrounded the boy, Gen Prayut said: "What's happening? He's still young. Please take good care of him and please understand the security officers, they have had to watch over me carefully lately."
He then jokingly asked if the student was on "his side" and told the security guards to be gentle with the boy.
Parit, who was released the same day, said that he understood the officials involved were just carrying out their duty in detaining and interrogating him.
In an open letter addressed to Gen Prayut, he apologised for his attempt to deliver a letter without prior notice. The letter also raised the point he wanted to discuss with Gen Prayut on the day of his detention - a request for the subject civil duties to be replaced with philosophy and ethics, which he believes is more effective in nurturing ethics and virtues.
He ended the letter by saying: "I hope that in the future, there will be the right for everyone to express what they believe from the innermost of their hearts."
Will Gen Prayut give the assurance of expression of opinion to youth like Parit?
Such expressions of opinion, after all, promote children's creativity and their contribution to society.
Do not make children feel too intimidated to speak up. Do not look at those who have the courage to express their opinions with suspicion and doubt.
Doing so will trap Thailand where it is now, no matter how many years pass.
The educational sector will not be able to produce graduates with sharp analytical thinking and creativity.
Subjected to the muzzle culture, most children only learn to keep quiet and refrain from stepping outside the box and experimenting with new ideas.
Wanpen Khunna, a Secondary 4 student in Loei, admits that she was shocked and cried when a village head suddenly showed up at her house on Sept 4 and took a photo of her ID card over a mining company's complaint about her being a citizen TV reporter.
The company complained that the girl's report affected public confidence in its operation.
Wanpen reported on contaminated water sources in her hometown, and the company was worried people might link the contamination to its operation.
It has threatened to file a complaint against the girl and the people who convinced her to file this report.
The company has suggested that Wanpen tell the police she was ordered to produce the news report that way.
"But I don't think I did anything wrong in joining the citizen reporter project. So I haven't filed a report with police," Wanpen said.
SUPPRESSION IN SCHOOLS
The girl is not the only student who has faced much pressure and even intimidation, for expressing an opinion and trying to push for change.
A Secondary 5 student recently lamented how a teacher hit him on the head when he gave a speech in front of his school's flagpole. The boy was leading efforts to scrutinise the school's collection of money for extracurricular activities.
"At first, I got angry. But now my anger has subsided," he said. "I only focus on hearing a clear answer from the school. To me, the fee charged by the school is too expensive and the school's executives need to explain, not just stay silent."
These students had good intentions when they expressed themselves.
What did they get in return? Intimidation and criticism.
So how can we expect to see children speak up and express their ideas confidently?
In fact, a school teacher even suggested that one of her students had mental problems after she handed in a blank civic duties exam paper in protest over the restricted freedom of expression in the country.
How can expression, creativity and active participation thrive in society under such circumstances?
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK