The idea of 'investing in people' is one of those pretentious catchphrases that big companies use to create an image for themselves. And when you have to broadcast that as a part of your mission statement, it quickly gets seen, quite rightly, as rather trite. But outside of the corporate world, this ethos has great value.
The idea of ‘policy’ is one of those ambitions of determined governments to control our lives. Government ‘policies’ are rolled out to hector us into thinking and acting in a certain way. It’s often a battle between those government ‘policies’ and our own instincts… which is one reason why people don’t much like governments!
In ‘The West’, governments bombard us with their policies on everything from the important subjects (like education) to the absurdly inconsequential matters, like the appropriate shape of a banana! We might approve of these ideas, but they don’t come from us and we are given fewer options to choose for ourselves how these ideas are enacted, enforced and determined by law.
East v West
When we move abroad from The West to different cultures, we export these ideas of people and policy with us. We can’t help it, it’s part of our psyche. So, it comes as a frustrating shock to find that Eastern countries like Thailand have a completely different set of ideological ‘policies’, or that the ones that we do identify with, are routinely poorly enforced.
Instead of changing our instinctive (and learned) behaviors to adapt to our surroundings, too often our mood changes to one of contempt. The expat internet forums are littered with comments about how Thailand has got it all wrong. “The education system is… blah blah blah!” Too many people come here with the ‘correct’ view of the world and either end up hating Thailand and leaving, or, worse, making fun of Thailand and staying.
Maybe it’s time to suspend that ridicule and take a look at what Thailand does right and evaluate what happens here as something we can learn from rather than condemn.
For almost all Thais, their daily lives and their ‘quality of life’ are mostly unaffected by what the government does or thinks. Government policies are inconsistently enforced and if people don’t like the rules, they’ll just ignore them. Not only that, the priority of the existing rules changes almost daily, so, nobody is listening anyway.
For expats who teach English in Thailand, it’s too easy to point out all the ways where Thais have gone wrong. Our opinions are formulated based on Western government policies on education, and our own experiences of going through an entirely different system of learning. A system where qualifications are key and the end goal of ‘primary’ education is usually ‘further’ education.
We see time spent at Thai schools as mostly mucking about and focusing on the wrong things. And all the academic evidence would be on this side, too. If the yardstick of Thai schools was based on academic results (and to a certain extent, it is) we’re just not doing very well.
But let’s take a seat up in the rafters for a moment. Take yourself out of the classroom and look at the lives that Thais have outside of your classroom. There’s something going on in Thailand that we’re missing out on in The West. There are more solid family structures. There’s a lot less anger, hopelessness, and intolerance. (Okay, there’s less ambition and motivation, too. It’s not a perfect society.)
Although most Thais probably can’t articulate the rhyme or reason how they do it, compared to The West, they are living highly rewarding lives. They most likely can’t explain it in words, but Thai people have a (mostly) structured and enjoyable path through life from cradle to grave.
It is this peculiar measure of ‘success’ that is very hard for us to embrace and reconcile ourselves with. There’s no passing grade for everyday life. No certificate of achievement for a contented life well lived.
Maybe a part of the ‘education’ you can share with your students is sharing your culture as one of equal status… you know, ‘same same, but different’! Maybe a part of your education could be to take on board the things that Thai society does really well.
I don’t believe the ‘policies’ of education are working in The West OR Thailand! But, I also firmly believe that we can look at Thailand and learn a lot about how we prepare our kids to enter society and live rewarding lives with the resources they have and priorities they live by.
So… people or policy? Maybe better people obviates the need for more policy!