Run by a group of mainly high school students, กลุ่มการศึกษาเพื่อความเป็นไท or Education for Liberation of Siam is a non-profit, content-based social movement.
ELS champions the rights of students and works towards changing the Thai education system. The platform features many outspoken articles and videos that are critical of the Thai education system and the culture of seniority.
Created in 2018, the group’s Facebook Page currently has over 67,000 followers.
Earlier this year, ELS collaborated with student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal to sue the Ministry of Education over the haircut rules. Following the lawsuit, the Ministry changed the haircut rule to allow students to wear their hair short or long, but also leave it at the discretion of each school to implement the rule.
More recently, ELS stood up for a young student who was a victim of cyber bullying by “adults”, because of her stance on the haircut rule, which led to the Twitter hashtag #saveพลอย.
Panthin Adulthananusak is the director of ELS. He’s 18 years old and studies media art at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi.
How can we make changes?
We are the voice that speaks out on the problems in Thai education. We are the voice of students. We create online contents. We also organized the การศึกษาฆ่าฉัน (Education Killed Me) art exhibition at the front of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC).
This was our first offline event.
What would be your first action if you were education minister?
I would like to organize a public hearing and really listen to what students have to say, with no interference from people in power. I want to see changes suggested by those who actually are affected by the education system, the students.
The role of government officials should just be making the dreams of students come true.
What’s the core weakness in Thai education?
The problems in Thai education have been around for a long time. We students know them well, but our voice isn’t loud enough to be heard by those in power. The social hierarchy and seniority culture suppress our voice.
When students speak out on something, we would get into trouble, we would have to take our posts down. The seniority culture demands it.
What’s your opinion on the viral video of a Grade 6 teacher using incorrect English to teach students ?
There are three wrongs here:
First, people who were bashing her online. Being abusive doesn’t solve anything.
Second, I’m not saying the teacher is not educated, but that she should be more careful and correct with her lessons.
Third, the video shows the problem in our education. One teacher’s mistake affects students in her class. The education system’s mistake affects students in the entire country. Students learn the wrong thing, remember the wrong thing and use the wrong thing.
How important are the haircut rules and student uniforms?
They are irrelevant to the actual reason why parents send their children to school.
Their excuse for these rules is to create discipline. But discipline is not about having the same haircut or wearing the same uniform. True discipline for a good citizen is where we don’t violate each other’s rights.
This kind of mindset is for the military, but it’s not suitable for teaching the generation that will be the future of the country.
What’s your view on the system that focuses solely on test scores?
Taking an exam is to test our ability and it’s good to be aware of where we are. But I feel like a lot of people often forget that reason.
Instead, the exam is used to judge a person. It’s used to destroy dreams. I think it’s really crazy to use a system where exams can deprive certain groups of students of further education.
All students should have equal access to education. The system creates inequality.
Is after-school tutoring important?
For today’s system, yes, because there are still entrance exams for students. The goal that the system sets for students is very high and unrealistic.
There’s a saying, which I dislike: “education is an investment”. When parents have to invest so much money in after-school tutoring, it reflects a system of inequality. Most families cannot make that “investment”. Students have to give up their dreams, because they don’t have the resources to invest.
This is an ongoing problem. But the government never pays attention to it. So it’s “normal”.
What is your personal education goal?
My family wants me to get a PhD, but I don’t feel like it’s needed. I like to study, but not in the Thai system. I would like to study in Japan, but my Japanese is not that good yet, and my family can’t afford it.
What do you want to be professionally?
I have not decided. I might want to do a few things here and there, but ideally I would like to direct animation movies. It’s a little goal I set for myself.
I think a career in government might be interesting too, but it’s not one of my goals right now. But given my character and my path at the moment, eventually I might come back to work in education.