The recent outcry surrounding the Thai Pop band BNK48’s serious faux pas of dressing in T-shirts bearing the Nazi swastika, has again ignited the debate over the depth and breath of the Thai education system. It is not the first time Thai youth’s have used the images of Nazi symbols as fashion designs. In 2013, Bangkok’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University was forced to apologise after its students created a mural depicting Hitler during graduation celebrations. In another incident a Catholic school was also left red-faced in 2011, after students dressed up in Nazi uniform for a sports day parade.

Whilst the claims by those involved that they genuinely had no idea of the context these symbols represented, especially to those in the Jewish community, does seem beyond belief to anyone schooled in the western world. When evaluating the design and implementation of Thailand’s education system, the cause of this lack of knowledge becomes clear, and can be broken down into three main elements.

Firstly, poor English skills.

A recent report put Thailand as the lowest country in South East Asia for spoken, written and reading English ability. The reasons behind this are well known and include lessons based on outdated rote learning methods, lack of student critical thinking, over emphasis on grammar and woefully under-qualified Thai and native English teachers.

Secondly, the level of Education reached.

The Thai constitution mandates that all children are to receive a free and mandatory education to Matthayom 3 (Year 9 approx. 14 years of age), however only 79% of students actually achieve this. With this level of achievement much lower outside of Bangkok.

Thirdly, Thai Education values.

Following the military takeover of May 2014, new Prime Minister Prayut, in a televised broadcast in July, ordered schools to display a list of 12 “Thai” values he composed.

They are:

  1. Loyalty to the Nation, a Religion, and the Monarchy
  2. Honesty, sacrifice, endurance, and noble ideology for the greater good
  3. Gratitude for parents, guardians, and teachers
  4. Diligence in acquiring knowledge, via school studies and other methods
  5. Preserving the Thai customs and tradition
  6. Morality and good will toward others
  7. Correct understanding of democracy with the King as Head of State
  8. Discipline, respect for law, and obedience to the older citizens
  9. Constant consciousness to practice good deeds all the time, as taught by His Majesty the King
  10. Practice of Self-Sufficient Economy in accordance with the teaching of His Majesty the King
  11. Physical and mental strength. Refusal to surrender to religious sins.
  12. Uphold the interest of the nation over oneself.

Out of 12 values only one (number 4) remotely relates to a Thai students actually learning of knowledge, outside of the ‘Thai world’.

This insular view however extends far beyond the Thai classroom, with a similar mentality reflected in everyday Thai life. Whilst many Thai’s simply remain ignorant or uninterested in outside cultures, ideas and history, we are sure to see many more of these ‘faux pas’ in the future.