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Thai Army cannot be in charge of southern education

The sooner Thai authorities accept the malay south’s differences, the sooner we’ll all be united

A proposal to allow a task force of soldiers to oversee education development in the southern border provinces is disturbing, as well as a misuse of military personnel. Recent history has established that Thai soldiers lack vision in all of their undertakings and are certainly not up to the task of tending to education at any broad level. Yet here they are preparing to oversee the education system in the conflict-afflicted South, where the vast majority of residents consider themselves Malays, not Thais. Their mother tongue is not Thai and neither is their historical and cultural background. Instead of coming to terms with these facts, our educators – civilian and military – want to promulgate the same system found across the country, which boils down to using schools as a platform for instilling in children a sense of Thainess in a bid to foster nationhood. The Malays of Patani have a wholly separate view. Their language, history and culture are very different from those of the majorityThai populace. But they are again to be subjected to a virtually foreign concept and told to embrace it as their own.

Thais tend to disdain the southerners’ Muslim piety as an obstacle to their ability to speak the Thai language properly. The head of the military-led education task force, Maj General Chatuporn Klumpasut, had the audacity to go on record saying Malay students cannot read Thai because they spend too much time in religious studies. And he said the problem is compounded by the misuse of state subsidies. Reporters relayed these pronouncements unquestioningly, but if they bothered to ask teachers in the South, they would learn how difficult it is for them to deal with the military. Army officials, the teachers would explain, are more interested in the size of a project and its budget allocations than the quality of the education. Chatuporn complained about southern students performing far below par compared to their peers elsewhere in the country, but failed to mention that they’re being taught lessons in a language not their own. Other nations with large segments of the population speaking different languages make sure their education systems are bilingual. If students are taught in the language they’ve spoken since infancy, they’re bound to make better progress. But “Thainess” is the national policy, unity of thought the goal, and centuries of diverse practices are overridden. Afraid of being left behind, communities of non-Thai speakers in all four regions decided it was best to go along with the state policy, put their past behind them and assimilate fully. The strategy worked to some extent in strengthening nationhood, but it has never worked properly in the Malay-speaking far South, where Muslims still see the Thai state and its security apparatus as invaders. The inevitable wave of insurgency that began 14 years ago has so far claimed nearly 7,000 lives. Meanwhile, as the state points to student test scores, no one ever talks about the quality and capabilities of the teachers. Do they know how to teach? Sadly, Thailand doesn’t send its best and brightest to the South. For decades, the region was a dumping ground for bumbling and corrupt civil servants being punished. If a recent incident at Anuban Pattani School was any indication, there is little hope for the region’s education system. Twenty teachers protested when a handful of students wore Islamic headscarves – a practice permitted by the Education Ministry. Clearly the children’s education was not these teachers’ chief priority. The priority instead was given to “defending Thailand’s honour” by trying to bar the headscarves. Clearly there are a lot of Thais who do not have their priorities straight. NT – EP

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