I glance out the glass door of my classroom and catch the embarrassed eyes of a group of early-twenties university students, all Mickey Mouse-clad and sheepish at being caught trying to snatch an extra few minutes of ‘sanook' before entering my class over a quarter of an hour late. They are the charming, yet unmotivated, product of a ‘no-fail' education system, which has never let them feel the sting of failure, nor take responsibility for it.
These same students will daydream, or even physically sleep, through their semester, before huddling around the notice board peering at their final marks, with perhaps little or no understanding of the correlation between class participation and academic results. The more brazen among them will, if past form is anything to go by, beg in broken English ("You hell me?") for undeserved grades, or padded attendance points to boost them past a fail mark. The fact that the self-same student has missed 8, 9, or even 10 lessons is of no consequence. The jury is advised to lend it no weight. The student may also resort, if past form is anything to go by, to tears, and accusations about fellow students missing classes "same me". The heart bleeds.
Much has been written about the Thai culture, some of it well researched and gleaned from many years of experience. This article is unashamedly neither. What I have noticed is the trickle-down effect of a persistent lack of responsibility within everyday Thai practices. For instance, how many ‘Inactive Posts' can one country have? Every day there are news reports of some ne'er-do-well in officialdom having to step aside after having been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but, if anything is actually done, (and it's a big IF, as in the recent case of vote-buying politicians who were banned from politics for only 5 years) they can simply dust themselves off, regroup, and lobby for reinstatement. No muss, no fuss.
Thailand's latest faux-pas on the world stage was the setting adrift of humanitarian refugees. This has been covered in some (gruesome) detail by the international media, and yet the government's spokespeople still come out with statements denying that anything actually happened. This is hot on the heels of the bizarre scenes of a badly-executed protest which shut down Thailand's only international airport, thereby strangling the tourism industry, doing irreparable damage to the country's image, and causing untold suffering throughout the economy. "Oops."
As caring educators we are obliged to instill in our students a sense of responsibility, or at the very least, an understanding of the scientific principles of cause and effect, before they go out into the world, enter professions, raise families, and perhaps even form governments, only to further unleash the "but this is Thailand" mentality on future generations. The ability to make reasoned and reasonable decisions with an eye to future consequences, is of utmost importance in the development of the framework, international image, and people, of this country and this region.
"Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead, anthropologist