BANGKOK – Since acquiring power in a coup on 22 May 2014, the Thai military junta has tried to make its mark on the nation’s educational system, prompting significant criticism from students and educators.
Most recently the junta required the recitation and memorization of the “12 Values”, a series of statements that promote respect for authority and place national interest over personal interest. The values first appeared in a statement on 11 July 2014 from then-General Prayuth Chan-ocha as part of the junta’s “Return Happiness to the People Programme.” The broad statement also included several political promises such as poverty reduction.
In addition to what students must say, the junta has also decreed what students must not say: anything that criticizes the junta. The new rule also prohibits teachers from participating in or holding political demonstrations or discussions. The official decree from the Office of Basic Education of Thailand is reportedly intended to “foster reconciliation.”
The mandatory recitation of the values and the banning of critical speech is part of a larger goal of teaching “correct democracy,” by the junta. The programme mandates using a history textbook that has removed the name of a democratically elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is seen as a controversial figure in the country.
His opponents accuse him of corruption while in office, while his supporters point to his halving Thailand’s poverty rate and reducing the income gap — goals the junta now claim as their own. In coming to power, the junta ousted another democratically elected leader: Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
Despite the risks of public dissent, Thai citizens have taken to social media to express their concerns. Activists from the group Education Liberation of Siam have started a petition on Change.org asking the government to lift the mandate on reciting the 12 Values. The petition has been promoted on Twitter:
The banning of criticism on campus has received condemnation from several Thai correspondents, such as Bangkok Pundit, who recently placed his blog on hiatus due in part to political pressure. The editing of textbooks received scrutiny from The New York Times as well as Thailand’s Prachtatai in September, prompting the junta to announce there is no official policy to remove Thaksin’s name, but offering no explanation as to why the edit was made. The move continues to receive criticism from human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
By Khun Somchai