On 19 August 2020, a group of around 300 students from different schools gathered at the Ministry of Education.
They demanded education reform and an end to the culture of fascism in school. The list of problems include intimidation and harassment by teachers and school authorities, as well as physical and emotional abuses, the censorship of political expressions, the suppression of individual rights, and the banning of freedom of speech.
This was the latest development in a week of protests across the country in which high school students raise the three-finger salute and display the white ribbon, a symbol of democracy (read commentary here), as they sing the national anthem.
We speak to Thayanee “Ning” Jaroenkool, a 16-year-old high school student, and a member of Bad Student.
For young people, what does politics mean?
I see politics as life. It’s on every breath that we take. The grown-ups like to talk about how vile politics is and that kids shouldn’t get involved in politics, but politics is with us since the day we were born, and it will be with us until we die.
For example, the education system is also politics. For at least 15 years that we are in school, these are the formative years that we learn, grow, and discover.
But they treat us like a white cloth to dye into the same color. They do not accept diversities.
What did you talk to the education minister [Nataphol Teepsuwan] about?
I was one of the four people that sat down and had a chat with him. He asked what the problems were. I told him how the curriculum in Thailand is outdated.
Teachers teach an outdated perspective on gender roles. History is riddled with nationalism. There’s never any lesson on critical thinking. Teachers have so many other responsibilities [on top of teaching] they don’t have time to prepare properly for lessons.
Testing methods are senseless, they don’t measure anything.
They are calling you “ก้าวร้าว” [rude, aggressive, inappropriate], how do you feel?
I don’t feel that we are doing anything inappropriate. Some adults grew up in a time where the mindset is built for obedience. We can’t be mad at them, because that’s how they were taught.
They don’t even recognize what we do [standing up for freedom and human rights]. They only see that we raise our voices or that we protest, and to them it’s inappropriate, and that’s all they care about.
How do your parents feel about this?
My parents are the so-call ‘salim.’ I’ve zero support from them. They have cut down my allowance, threatened to take me out of school, and kick me out of the house if I don’t stop.
They don’t see me as someone who has equal rights to them, but just a 16-year-old kid. But I will continue in this fight, regardless.
Let’s see what the Ministry of Education will do, if they will protect our rights.
If not, we will continue protesting. We are not asking for everybody to agree with us. All we ask is for them to just listen to us and to have a safe space where we can express our opinions.