Yesterday I read an article about Thailand’s education system failing, and I woke up this morning thinking about it – deciding to make an early morning response. Sadly that response cannot happen because I cannot find the particular article. Here is my recollection of the position in the article, and it is this position I want to discuss. The article was written by a western teacher recently employed to teach English in Thailand, and it included an attack on the “always pass” policy. As discussed in my book, testing within the corporate paradigm of western education does nothing but create failures for the reserve army needed to help the exploitation in western society – that sounds hack, sorry, check the book.
I too have many criticisms of the way the “always pass” system works, but does any form of testing work in an unequal system? About 5 years ago I told a friend that she needed to find out how well her daughter was doing at school, don’t just look at the figures in the child’s reports. She, the daughter, recently took her university test and failed. I was told she had to resit. I told the mother not to worry, that the testing was a money venture and that she would pass. The girl has now gone to a university somewhere in Bangkok. We discussed the girl in another context. I asked her what the girl was going to do, and the mother said she was going into the family business. So I asked her why she was going to university, and she said to get an education, then she would come back to run the family business.
I go to a local restaurant, and I was told that the various waitresses who work at the restaurant all have degrees, so I asked why did they go to university. Vague answer – to get an education.
Yet is that answer vague, do Thailand’s children get an education? That is difficult to answer, but if I then ask that same question in the UK or anywhere in the world it is also difficult to answer. The question needs to be asked at the bootstraps level, then Thailand’s education measures up quite well. Thailand is a relatively pleasant place to be, and this has to be connected to the way the people are and the way they are brought up – education is a part of that upbringing. Benchmark one – OK. I am not aware of all the problems of discipline etc. in Thai education but there is nowhere near the level of disruptive behaviour that is a benchmark of western state education. Here in Thailand as a generalisation the students want to go to school, including the kids of westerners (mixed Thai/Farang). Benchmark two – OK. Despite the general feeling of bonhomie in Thai society (Land of Smiles etc.) there are vast inequalities – as demonstrated by the Reds’ debacle 3 years ago that seems to have died down. But the level of social unrest is fairly limited, people accept corruption, they get on with their lives, and are generally quite happy. Considering the level of inequality their upbringing is working. Benchmark three – OK. Based on these benchmarks western education fails miserably. In the UK for example, society is not pleasant, the kids don’t want to go to school, and there is a significant level of unrest that is barely contained.
What about basic societal skills? Do the students gain sufficient organisational and discipline skills to survive Thai society and its bureaucratic system? It appears so. Benchmark four – OK. Does the Thai education system provide sufficient workers to maintain the social structure? Benchmark five – OK. Do the children of Thailand’s rich get an elite education that enables them to remain within the rich echelons of Thai society? Benchmark six – OK. Western education is also successful in benchmarks four, five and six.
What about real education? Neither Thailand nor the West provides this, although it is far easier to move onto a spiritual path in Thailand albeit a Thai Buddhism that is quite exoteric. Becoming a monk is encouraged, and monks in general benefit Thai society. They function on a parallel to western clergy and benefit society in an equivalent way to western clergy, but becoming a member of the clergy is much more of a leap as compared with the more integrated process here in Thailand. This consideration of how much real education there is in Thailand could be pursued more but if I am discussing education systems then there is no real education, and I want to return to that discussion.
Based on the 6 benchmarks Thailand’s education works well. Western involvement in it will only create the turmoil that is prevalent in western education but Thailand makes vague attempts at improving English. When they do so they require western teachers but those teachers are always distanced from any decision-making. It is undoubtedly true that western teachers are marginalised within the institutions, in my view understandably because all they would do would be to disrupt. Their benchmarks would not be the 6 I chose, but they would also not be the benchmarks of educated Thais. However the 6 benchmarks, I could call them the Bilderberg benchmarks, do provide stability in the society.
I have some limited contact with the internal runnings of a school, I teach part-time a few hours a week. The kids go to school, are taught by rote, love the King, and develop a Thai nationalism. They are taught to read and write, do arithmetic. And by the time they are 18, can go off to university if the parents are willing to pay. They do some learning at that level, most find some kind of work, and society ticks over – with far less turmoil than the West. Of course there is not as much money invested here as in the West. With the salaries being far lower we are dealing with far less spending power, and the spending power of people in the West is far higher, the level of their indoctrination is required to be far more repressive. Hence the reactions to education in the West are far more strident.
Let’s discuss the “always pass”. Now I have worked on a satellite to the US system in which schools determine the grades as part of the entrance for university. Schools I worked in cooked the books, I have no doubts at all they are cooked in the US. The only system that can deal with qualifications has to be an external examination system. The US system is dual, a school grade (cooked) and an entrance exam. The Thai system is just cooked. I had a small contribution briefly to the system here, and gave everyone 50% or more. There were students who could have got zero but the only way they could be got up to passing was to give them another test. These students didn’t care would have failed every meaningful test so what would be the result? You would just end up battling the establishment and you would lose. Marks are always meaningless just less so here in Thailand.
When examining education you need to look more at what the kids learn. The 6 benchmarks I use demonstrate a level of harmony in Thailand’s education that the West could envy – as part of a society that they could also envy. But I could not imagine Thailand being any better than countries in the West if they had the money to be more integrally involved in the “Wars for Profit” lifestyle that is integral to western wealth. Thailand ticks over keeping out of most of that.
In the end what is this blogentry about? That is hard to say. Implicit within the article (I couldn’t find) was an analysis of failure in Thailand’s education. Trying to find the article I searched “Thailand’s education failing”, and all the appropriate people are saying the same – discussing failure. There is a limited debate, but for what I am not sure? There is a debate in the West, but the varied agendas make that debate shapeless as well; the practice in education is that of the paradigm irrespective of the debate. Ultimately I was examining the assumptions inherent in the criticism (article). I am reminded of a discussion I had with a guest house owner in Cambodia 8 years ago. She called her staff “stupid” or some such word. This was because her staff lacked initiative and could not be relied on to organise themselves. Every day she made a point of telling them what to do. Here in Thailand it is better than that but not always. People do what they are supposed to do, society is organised and ticks over in its own way. That way does not have the efficiency more associated with the West but nor does it have the repression, stress and lack of general bonhomie also associated with the West. It is all about the benchmarks and the assumptions, when you are examining something like education it is these which need to be examined first. In the West they are not allowed to be examined in any practical way, you can discuss but that’s all the paradigm controls the practice. Things tick over here in Thailand.