I live in a glass house so I've put away my stones.
I am on the verge of making Thailand my home as my partner and I make preparations to take the leap. Due to this, my interest in all things Thai has increased rapidly. The "hot topic" that seems to be rearing its provocative head repeatedly is the condemnation of a military disciplinarian approach to student culture and the read, remember, regurgitate philosophy towards learning. I will reiterate early on that I have never taught in Thailand and only have what I have read online during my research to go by, so no judgements will be made on the Thai education system in this article!
The perspective I do have is of someone who grew up in a former British colony where such a disciplined approach to educational conduct, behaviour and learning was exercised meticulously. At the age of 15, I left Cyprus, the country of my birth, and continued my education in London where I now live and work as a primary school teacher.
Appalling education standards
Hiding behind the facade of the creative curriculum, the British government has systematically lowered the standard of education to an all time low (UK ranked 19th out of 33 European countries by Eurostat, 2012). British education has slowly turned into a babysitting service where children are dropped off to "breakfast club" an hour early and collected from "homework club" an hour after school ends (often they have already had breakfast/ have no homework that needs doing, so they are told to read a book for an hour!), simply because mum and dad need to work longer. The general standard of education has slipped over the edge and slowly dissolved in a "child centred" approach to learning that lets them fall behind.
When I arrived in England, It took a whole school year in most subjects, and two in some, for the curriculum to catch up with what I had already learned in Cyprus. Despite this, it's now quite evident to me that the creative approach allowing investigation and exploration, will develop children as critical thinkers and increase their ability to problem solve. However, I now teach in such a system (where children also are not allowed to fail until they are taking GCSE's at 15/16) and sadly, I can see the direct link, in the determent to British society.
Kids have it tough
There is no balance for these kids. They don't get much time with their parents, particularly when they are seduced by technological advances in TV, social media and online gaming. Some of the children do not own toys so the only place to play is at school!
The adherence induced by the disciplinarian approach is integral to protecting the values of a culture (I know, I know. Stick with me) in the sense that they are there as a reflection of those values in the first place. I still take my hands out of my pockets and stand upright when I bump into an old teacher of mine back home. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who speaks disrespectfully to their elders where I grew up and the general demeanour of young people when out and about is a far cry from the plagued state of British youth (of course this is a generalisation but one that is influenced by recurrences).
Zero respect for teachers
I often notice job postings, warning teachers that they will be revered in Thailand due to their chosen profession. Believe me, Britain is one of few countries where teachers are not revered. It's the status quo in most places. I do often get told to F off by students as young as 11 when I ask them to tuck their shirt in. Yet there is NOTHING meaningful I can do about it (little Timmy will be the first to tell me that, when I throw an empty threat his way). So as our elders so wisely said, there's no harm in a bit of discipline!
Now, the sinister side to enforcing the military behaviour is that it is simply crucial if children are expected to copy, memorise and regurgitate masses of text. Military style revision for hours on end needs military style discipline.
You may think that this is the part where I offer my unique take on what the best solution is. Maybe a bit of both worlds, a compromise could work. Should they keep the disciplinarian rote learning but make those who fail repeat the year? Give them all a blank sheet of paper and ask them to draw their feelings! Whatever the solution is, with an opportunity to clean up its act, The Thai education system seems to have the chance to reform and develop a more investigative curriculum which allows creative problem solving. All I'm saying is they need to tread carefully before they've gone too far and they become the UK.