FRIDAY, April 19, 2024

Power dynamics and the struggles within Thailand’s educational system

Power dynamics and the struggles within Thailand’s educational system

A principal at a public school in Roi Et province was removed recently after a social media post went viral. A teacher and a former teacher shared insight into authoritarianism among educators in Thai schools.

On March 16, Wanida Rangsrisak, a teacher at Baan Ratchathani School in Roi Et, posted a screenshot of a message from the principal on Facebook.

The message read: “I feel something inappropriate happened today – a teacher sat on my chair. Though I did not see it, while I was a teacher, I never once sat on an executive’s chair and never dared put myself at the commander’s level.”

Once this post began doing the rounds on social media, the Office of the Basic Education Commission removed the principal and set investigators on the case. The principal has been assigned to work from the Roi Et district office since March 18.

Power dynamics and the struggles within Thailand’s educational system

“This chair incident was only the tip of the iceberg. In some cases, principals make teachers serve them food, work on their personal projects or have female teachers work as waitresses at school parties,” said Tanawat Suwannapan, a teacher at a public school in Bangkok.

Tanawat, also a member of the Kru Kor Sorn (Teachers Want to Teach) Network, said the cause of the problem is the structure of the Thai educational system. He explained that this authoritarian mindset can be blamed on Thai bureaucracy and traditional thinking, which do not put people at its centre.

“If a person is unstable, if they are unsure of themselves, they tend to seek validation from others. And if they are insecure, they act like this principal. In this case, the chair is a symbol of power. In Thai culture and society, individuals don’t feel valued or empowered to make changes,” Tanawat added. “There are no laws protecting teachers, there are only those that control them. So, what most of them do is keep working and keep hoping for improvement. Those with bad principals can only hope that they will be transferred to another school someday.”

Power dynamics and the struggles within Thailand’s educational system

MP Paramee Waichongcharoen, who was a teacher before entering politics in early 2023, said that being a politician has helped her see the bigger picture and realise that the power struggle between teachers is worse than the authoritarianism between teachers and students. This oppressive attitude has been reported among teachers as well.

Though recently students who are aware of their rights have raised their voices against repressive teachers, the problem among educators themselves remains hidden.

“This chair case proves how a school principal can oppress teachers. This repression can take many forms, between teachers and heads of departments, younger and older teachers and so many other combinations. But none of this makes the news because, under Thai bureaucracy, the chiefs are given the authority to evaluate the performance of those under their command,” the MP said.

She believes the problems caused by this oppressive structure are worse in rural areas and at medium-sized schools, where teachers are not aware of their rights and principals hold the power.

“Repression among educators is a sin that has been passed down by senior teachers to younger ones and then on to students,” Paramee said.

She added that she believes the Education Ministry has not done enough to address this problem, even though it holds so much power. The MP also believes that similar problems may exist in private schools, though they may not be as severe.