I’ve spent the last five days with a group of middle-aged Burmese development workers who will be administering Payap University certificate courses in Myanmar and on the Thai-Myanmar border.
While teaching a session on Adult Learning on the first day, I asked the Burmese development workers to reflect on their schooling experiences. Many mentioned the militaristic style of the government schools. As students, they were asked to memorize large texts and repeat them back to the teacher. They were unable to question anything the teacher taught, even if they knew it was incorrect. If students misbehaved, they were hit with a rod.
At the time, Myanmar was being ruled by a strict military junta. The junta was afraid of people thinking critically and taking away their control. Their solution? In flagrant fashion they shut down the country’s universities and put 3000+ of the major thinkers in jail.
More surreptitiously, however, the military junta’s solution was to use schools to indoctrinate the people to be obedient, to memorize and regurgitate, and to learn helplessness. It’s not rocket science. It was not an accident that the education system reflected Myanmar’s government system and carried out its purposes. (For more information on the current situation in Myanmar, a great new book is called The Face of Resistance by Burmese journalist, Aung Zaw.)
This idea–that education systems reflect government systems–is evident in America as well where business-driven values of standardization, competition, and individualism dominate the education system. This drives inequality in the education system and is inextricably linked with America’s vast societal inequality.
In Finland, the main focus of the education system is promoting equity as Pasi Sahlberg outlines in his book Finnish Lessons. The Finnish education system is the result of, and supports, its equity-based government and society. The result? They have one of the most equitable, not to mention highest functioning, education systems in the world.
So what about Thailand?
Last year, the NYTimes posted an article called “In Thai Schools, Vestiges of Military Rule” the main point of which was that Thailand’s education system reflected its military influence. This includes hierarchical organization, uniforms, strict discipline, haircut policies (that are enforced on the spot if disobeyed), and rote memorization.
Today, an article was posted in the Bangkok Post titled “Jingoism is not education.” (Unless you’ve recently studied for the GRE you may need a reminder that jingoism means extreme patriotism.) The article describes the Education Ministry and junta’s efforts to “inject” the Thai education system with more patriotism.
The author ended the article with, “The country badly need [sic] education reform. But this cannot happen if the Education Ministry still enjoys central control while operating in an old-world, autocratic mindset. This is where reform must start urgently.”
I agree. But it should not be a surprise the junta is trying to influence the education system and that the education system as a whole supports the existence of a ruling junta. If the junta is to survive as a legitimate form of governance (i.e. maintain control), it must enlist the education system to support its purposes.
We are all the reflection (and often become the supporters) of our cultures, governments, and groups. As humans we are incredibly ethnocentric, egocentric, and groupish. The question is this: How can we move forward? How can we break out of our natural biases, prejudices, and inclinations and move towards truth, peace, and freedom? I’d love to hear your thoughts.