Education " Can Fix " Urban Ills
By Ranjana Wangvipula, Bangkok Post, Thailand
Thai people have learned to voice their troubles on television as a way
to wake up the government. But their complaints sometimes fall on deaf
Thatís because they donít know how to target their
message and they donít know who in government is responsible for solving
Blame the textbooks and teachers. "No one
told them in schools who controls the rivers, cities and traffic,í said
Tanet Charoenmuang founder of the Chiang Mai Urban Studies Center.
Instead, when people make complaints, they just ask the" related agencies"
to solve their problems.
Even worse, most students are
not aware of the problems in the first place, as they have little idea
abut anything outside their books. The education system in Thailand
encourages students to specialize in fields of study at the expense of
being well rounded.
" Student majoring in German know nothing
about politics and the environment, while those study engineering just
(think about how to) construct roads all the time, but donít know local
issues," said Tanet, who also teaches political sciences at Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai, for example, traffic has been a
problem for at least four years. Downtown streets are clogged with cars
and motorbikes. The city lacks a good public transportation
But young people arenít concerned. "Girls just look
at boys who drive cars." The poor want cars, too, so that they will
look rich," said Tanet, who is worried about the exhaust fumes that get
trapped by the cityís high buildings and are held down in winter by the
cold southern China winds.
The students, meanwhile, just
concentrate on their majors without worrying about social problems. But
without proper education, itís difficult to understand the complex nature
of Thai politics.
Local traffic, for instance, is the
responsibility of the Ministry of Communication in Bangkok, not Chiang Mai
Municipality. The result, according to Tanet, is a slow and indirect
response to local needs.
Few students will ever learn how the
system works. "There are 28,000 students in the university, but I teach
politics to only 70 students," Tanet said.
blames the memory-oriented learning system of high schools. He said
students are required to know the " exact answers" on their exams
and must take multiple choice tests to get into top
Many attend tutorial classes after school and
continue studying on weekends and in summers to memorise everything for
the exam. They study like crazy. But when they get into universities, they
are so sick of learning by rote that they no longer want to read good
You can find 401 comic shops around Chiang Mai
University, but there are not intellectual bookshops," Tanet
Reform is badly needed. " If I were an Education
Minister, I would abolish this national entrance exam." Tanet
Tanet suggested universities consider accepting students who
are good in extra-curricular activities such as music, not just those who
are good at correctly choosing between " a, b, c, or
Chanakarn Wangwibul, a graduate of Chulalongkorn
University, agreed that many students have no idea what books are worth
reading. "They just choose the ďdigested information," which they
are accustomed to in the memorising-based learning. Thatís why they read
comics and magazines, which are easy to understand,Ē she
Chanakarn said the curriculum is so intensive that
students have little time or desire to explore other fields. " They must
first survive in their majors," she said. " Then, they just look for
easy subjects as minors to upgrade their overall marks."
Chanakarn, 22, majored in English and studied Thai language
as a minor. She did not take any classes on politics or environment Ė or
any other social sciences Ė because the system makes it almost impossible
to do so.
" If I want to take course in a certain department,
I need to ask for the permission from the instructor, check the exam
dates, which are possibly the same as my majors, then, if everythingís
okay, join the class, where other students in that department have a
stronger background than me," Chanakarn said.
Until such problems
within the educational system are reformed, Tanet said, it will be
difficult to create the public awareness necessary to solve social ills. "
People need better education, understanding and press," he
But journalists cannot necessarily be counted on to
give the people the information they need. The reporters themselves are
products of the education system. " So, " Tanet said, " how can press
benefit the public?"