Educational reform is going to be tricky. I mean, where to start?
The Office of the Vocational Education Commission or OVEC (sibling to Basic Ed or OBEC and Higher Ed or OHEC) (stop giggling there; if they hadn’t called it that it would be Further Ed) (OK you may laugh now) has already had to start its reform by recalling its Basic Mathematics textbooks. Or more accurately the covers.
It seems that the modus operandi for graphic artists tasked with finding something that will bore the pants off students looking at it time and again throughout their course is simply to nick a picture or two from the internet. And this time they decided on the image a young lady holding a folder whose label could be changed from the original Japanese to read ‘Mathematics’ (use of English and a general non-Thainess is de rigueur on educational book covers).
They had not counted on the numerous Vocational Education students taking Basic Mathematics who (a) consume significant amounts of Japanese internet porn and (b) don’t mind betraying this by gleefully pointing out that the young lady is a well-known porn star.
This time, fortunately, the Ministry had used a fully clothed image. Some years ago, they shipped out some misprinted primary textbooks with more hard-core stuff inadvertently included.
So reform will mean cleaning up more than the water hyacinth that seems to exercise the military mind. (Why don’t they just prosecute whoever introduced that noxious weed into Thailand?) (Oh, I see.)
But perhaps a bigger problem exists over at OBEC who took out a full page ad in last Friday’s Bangkok Post to set out their policies for 2015.
And the first question is ‘Why?’
It’s not as if OBEC needs to tout for custom. Education, at least the bit that OBEC is responsible for, is compulsory in Thailand, so they’re guaranteed a market and even the schools that OBEC doesn’t run itself have to abide by OBEC’s policies.
And how many students under OBEC’s care could have sufficient command of English to read what they intend to offer over the next year? Well, not very many, I’ll bet, because the deficiencies in the English of the policy statement are baffling to this native speaker.
The manifesto begins with a paragraph-long 50-word sentence that tells us that ‘developing children’ in the ‘context for development of Thai students’ is a ‘vital basis’ for ‘improvement of living standards going forwards’.
So ‘developing children’ takes place in the context of the development of students. And driving buses similarly takes place in the context of, er, bus driving and, well, the universe exists in the context of the existence of the universe. Hmm.
And what exactly is an ‘improvement of living standards going forwards’. Are there improvements that go backwards?
But this is just the opening blurb. We soon get down to the nitty-gritty, and we learn that as of next year, ‘primary students in Grade 3 should have Literacy, numeracy and reasoning abilities.’ Well, yes, I think we can all support that, even if numeracy and reasoning fans might be miffed at not getting the capital letter that Literacy enjoys. But what are Prathom 3 students getting now? Not Literacy, numeracy and reasoning?
We also learn under ‘Focus on teachers and educational personnel’ that ‘Principals who must be helped are urgently developed.’ Now I would have thought OBEC would prefer to develop principals who don’t need to be helped, but I admit to knowing little about educational management. Or culture, so I am bemused by upper secondary students adjusting to ‘live in a multi-cultural society on a basis of Thai culture’.
But what we all want to read about is the morals/civic duties/patriotic history bits that have already been heavily trailed by the junta punters over at the Min of Ed. And these are fascinatingly enumerated in Policy 2 of Focus on Learners: ‘Students are instilled with ethics, moral values, in harmony, reconciliation, conformity, patriotism, devoutness, imperial loyalty, pride with Thainess and drug free.’
Now I think we’d suspected all along that all this talk of harmony and reconciliation was a smokescreen for demanding conformity, but I am mystified by ‘imperial loyalty’. What empire? The nearest empire to here must be Japan and loyalty to that doesn’t quite square with patriotism. Why should Thai students be instructed to worship something Japanese?
Unless this goes back to the young lady on the cover of the maths textbook.
No, I’m afraid that this waste of OBEC’s advertising budget has proved only one thing. Educational reform can’t be left in the hands of people who clearly need reform themselves.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).