THE upcoming National Children’s Day presents another opportunity for the country to contemplate how it has been shaping and cultivating its children.
If Thailand expects its citizens to become more creative, self-confident and analytical, we need to create an environment in which children can grow and feel comfortable about doing things differently and raising questions.
Take a look at the circumstances that Thai kids find themselves in.
By culture, Thais appreciate nice, polite manners, particularly among kids. Most parents, though not all, want their children to be obedient and do what they are told to do.
Most teachers also expect pretty much the same.
Children who do things their own way quickly get reprimanded, rather than taught how they should express themselves.
Arguing with parents is seen as a form of disrespect towards one’s guardians. Raise a few questions in class and teachers will wonder if a particular student is trying to challenge them.
Since 1959, the prime minister has carved out a new motto for Thai kids every year. Most of these have put an emphasis on diligence, economising, honesty and morality.
For last year’s Children’s Day, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha gave the slogan “With knowledge and morality comes a brighter future”.
To mark Children’s Day this Saturday, his slogan is “Good kids shall persevere and study hard for the future”.
All the qualities mentioned in these mottoes are good, but the point is that Thailand also needs other qualities to shine in the population.
Some important skills needed this century in the labour force include innovative and analytical thinking, plus creativity.
Many experts say that Thai kids should do better academically, but there is little action to nurture them that way in Thailand.
Look at how a 15-year-old schoolgirl, known widely as ‘Ploy’, recently faced the threat of a lawsuit after she participated in a citizen’s TV initiative and reported on how the waterway in her home town appeared to have been harmed by the operation of a nearby gold-mine.
The mining firm lodged a complaint against her for alleged defamation, even though her report did not mention its name at all.
A lawyer for the company even went as far as contacting her school director in a bid to arrange a meeting – to get the girl to apologise for the report.
The girl’s mother has admitted that she feels worried and hopes that her daughter will not join any further extracurricular activity.
Before ‘Ploy’ got into hot water for her courage to speak up about the adverse environmental impacts in her hometown, a Mathayom 5 student faced temporary detention for unfurling a banner at a forum attended by the prime minister.
The boy, Parit Chiwarak, showed up at the event with the hope of airing his opinions that the government should place a stronger emphasis on philosophy than on history or civic duty, but he had hardly spoken a word when security officials grabbed him.
Although Parit was released soon after, he has found that his life is not the same as it was before the incident, as police have started monitoring his activities.
In one of his Facebook posts, Parit said: “I am just an ordinary student who stood up to demand a better education for Thai students.”
He also insisted that he is not affiliated with any political group.
Despite his explanations, Parit has been attacked by several people on social media, who suspect he may have had a hidden political agenda.
While ‘Ploy’ and Parit remain firm in their intention to pursue what they believe is right, the trouble they have had to face shows that Thai society does not provide children with many opportunities to express themselves, or experiment with their ideas and develop accountability in the process.
If Thai children are to grow up to become quality and mature adults, Thai culture needs to support self-expression, self-confidence and self-esteem as much as other great virtues like honesty, responsibility and politeness.
Let’s give Thai children a precious gift. Let them learn by doing, asking questions when they need answers, exploring solutions, and experimenting with ideas, some of which may turn out to be great.
Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) president Thepchai Yong has commented that Ploy has exercised her fundamental right to express her opinion and did it with a pure intent – protecting her community and locals’ quality of life.
“If the firm thinks her opinions are not accurate, it should provide information it thinks is right to the public, to create the right understanding, instead of taking legal action,” he said.
Indeed, we must all take care not to threaten and intimidate children who speak up. We need more people who agree to nurture Thai kids the right way. More than 14,000 people have already signed an online petition to demand that the mining firm withdraw its complaint against Ploy. But we need more such people to boost Thai culture, so that our kids can grow up stronger and wiser.
With a constructive culture, kids can fully develop their potential, while acquiring accountability along the way, and eventually making a positive contribution to Thai society.