After the decision by Bangkok Christian College to let students choose what to wear every Tuesday, Ministry of Education (MOE) officials have tried to halt the experiment and stop other schools from copying it even though the rules say it is OK.
The Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC) has sent an official letter to Bangkok Christian College, a famous private school, asking it to review its initiative. Mr. Chalam Attatham, Secretary-General of OPEC, said that OPEC is worried about discipline, orderliness, the expense for parents, teachers’ responsibility, the Thai social context and social problems that might arise.
“Bangkok Christian College must consult its board and report back to the Ministry of Education, because what students can wear in private schools still comes under the 2008 MOE Uniform Rules. We understand that the school’s executive team and teachers have consulted each other and want to do research on student uniforms for 6 weeks, but we want them to look deeper than that into what effects it will have during the experiment. After all, the MOE, if anything happens, has to reconsider this. If other private schools want to do anything, they should think carefully about the consequences of their actions. A school board has to be strong about this,” said Mr. Chalam.
In response, College Director Mr. Suphakit Jitklongsub accepted that he feels uneasy. “If it ends, it ends, and I think it’s not a big deal. At least it shows us the state of society at this hour and our readiness to go along with each other when we have different ideas. We may not able to reach that point.” However, he will continue with the initiative while discussing it with parents and students following the instructions from the MOE.
There have also been responses on the internet. The dinosaur in this cartoon says “Get back in your uniforms - now!”
Even though several sources characterize the development as “hopeless,” it seems that there is hope. The MOE’s 2008 Uniform Rules, applying to all public and private schools in Thailand, does open the possibility of non-uniform schools in Thailand. Article 14 of the Rule says “Any educational institution that intends to use a uniform other than specified in these Rules must ask for permission from the director at the next superior level or the person responsible for that educational institution, as the case may be."
Article 15 adds “Any educational institution that determines that students shall wear boy scout uniforms, girl scout uniforms, red cross uniforms, cadet uniforms, or indigenous clothing, Thai clothing, casual dress, training clothes, sportswear, performance costumes or any clothing other than regulation school uniforms on any day may do so by considering thriftiness and appropriateness.” This fact has also been echoed by the Director of Bangkok Christian University.
Mr. Amporn Pinasa, Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), responsible for public schools in Thailand, took a defensive tone, stating that under the 2008 Uniform Rules, public schools cannot allow students not to wear uniforms. However, Mr. Amporn confirmed that sports clothes and local costumes are allowed. Beyond that, schools have to make a request to the Provincial Education Office.
Education Minister Dr. Teerakiat Jareonsettasin said that he understood the intentions of Bangkok Christian, and that the MOE would not intervene. “Wearing uniforms and studying must be kept separate. The reason we must have uniforms is because wearing uniforms is a matter of tradition and culture since the time of Rama V, who said that apart from setting discipline, having student uniforms narrows the gap between the rich and the poor.”
The equality argument has been challenged. Pakin Nimmannorawong, a social science teacher at Kamnoetvidya Science Academy in Rayong, told Prachatai that uniforms just hide inequality under the rug. “We have to separate uniformity and equality. It is sad that we like to hide it rather than talking about it. While we focus on uniforms, we forget that content about inequality is almost non-existent in the MOE’s curriculum. We forget that, in terms of budget and staffing, inequality between rural and urban schools is extremely high. We also forget that in rural schools, their libraries haven’t been updated for a decade or more. This is the inequality that we are not talking about.”
Although Bangkok Christian College started its experiment just a few days ago, Thammasat University Demonstration School has been doing it for two years now. The Dean of the Faculty of Learning Sciences and Education, Thammasat University, revealed to Thai PBS that having no uniform is a learning process that creates democracy in the school. Students learn to tolerate differences with understanding. “Throughout the 2 years, nobody has worn extravagant clothing or wasted their parents’ money. This collapses the old educational framework where educational rules are likely to be mandated by policy makers or people in power,” according to a reporter from Thai PBS.