Thursday, April 09, 2020

Do Thais want to be schooled by Socrates or the Kalama Sutta?

Oct 01. 2018
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Re: “Thailand 4.0 and Digitalisation: Beware the buzzword trap”, Have Your Say, February 20, 2017.

A while ago S Tsow offered an entertaining survey of Thailand’s buzzword stages since 1986. First came Development, then Globalisation, followed by Critical Thinking and now Thailand 4.0 and Digitalisation. 

Perhaps most crucial for national progress is the third buzzword in that list. Indeed Thai policymakers are still talking about the importance of cultivating critical thinking in Thai education. 

Long ago Socrates and Plato paved the way for the Western world in this respect. Thailand tapped that legacy of critical thinking by using the model of foreign universities to develop its own higher education. (Prof Rattana Lao offers an excellent explanation in her book “A Critical Study of Thailand’s Higher Education Reforms: The Culture of Borrowing”.) Just-published university rankings might cause us to doubt whether this was the best option, but it was better than doing nothing at all.

Tsow seems to ridicule the Thai obsession with buzzwords for lacking any noticeable return on investment. But most puzzling is the lack of progress on critical thinking. Thailand, after all, has no need to borrow here. Critical thinking has been lying on a Thai silver platter for centuries in the form of Buddhist teachings, exemplified by the Kalama Sutta. Why slavishly copy the Western model when a combination of both worlds would suit Thailand much better?

What is preventing us from using these tools-at-hand, which are desperately needed today to turn the latest buzzword Thailand 4.0 into a reality?  

Dirk Sumter    

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