Good adults join protest of Bad Students

As adults are asked to behave according to the ‘10 duties of adults’, grandparents, parents and public figures have joined the protest held by the Bad Students to help them pressure the Ministry of Education to do more on education reform.  

Caption: A woman with a white ribbon, a symbol of the student movement, walked past the wall of Education Ministry with wreaths hung by the student protesters.

Naruemon, 70, came from Chiang Rai to attend the protest with her grandchild. Triyaphon, 11, wanted to join the protest, so she told her grandmother the night before.

Naruemon came along right away. ‘I have been here since the October [incidents in 1973 and 1976]. It runs in my blood. I love what is right. I have been through a lot, wrongs that have not been useful to us at all,’ said Naruemon as she expressed her dissatisfaction with corrupt local government officers.

On the right: Naruemon with her grandchildren.

‘I am delighted in my grandchild. I even cried when she told me that she would come here. She said she was not afraid because she didn't do anything wrong,’ said Naruemon.

Naruemon’s grandchild was one of the 300 students from 50 schools who gathered in front of the Ministry of Education to call for education reform. As the students challenged Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan to a debate, they received tremendous support from adults with democratic minds.

Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, a singer from the famous band Bottom Blues and a frontliner in the democratic movement, posted on Facebook that he came to join the protest as a security guard as he rallied along with the students to the Education Ministry. 

Nuttaa ‘Bow’ Mahattana, a political activist, also joined the stage calling on parents and adults to protect their children. Behind her was a vinyl backdrop which elaborated the 10 duties of adults adapted by the Bad Students from the lyrics of ‘Yea Kids, Good Kids’, a song composed in 1991 which is still used by the government today.

Caption: Nuttaa Mahattana gave speech about the Education Ministry's obligation to follow the CRC.

Comparing the lyrics of ‘Good Adults’ and ‘Good Kids’

10 Duties of Adults (2020)

10 Duties of Kids (1991)

  1. Be open-minded about religion.
  1. Respect religion.
  1. Know the value of fellow humans.

2. Safeguard tradition.

  1. Have judgement.

3. Believe parents and teachers.

  1. Speak without satire or abuse.

4. Speak politely, softly and sweetly.

  1. Think and act with reason.

5. Adhere to gratitude.

  1. Respect people who think differently.

6. Be a person who knows and loves work.

  1. Have a neutral mind, listen to inferiors, don’t rush to oppose.

7. Study to be an expert, persevere, don’t be lazy.

  1. If you have an ego, get rid of it.

8. Know how to be thrifty.

  1. Don’t limit your experience, learn a wide new world, keep up-to-date with international developments.

9. Be eternally honest, sportsmanlike and courageous, appropriately for the stage of national development.

  1. Be a good example. Learn to say sorry, and do not cause only problems. Adults in the period of national development cooperating with children lead the Thai nation to progress.

10. Make yourself useful, know good from evil, and preserve national treasures. Children in the period of national development will be children who lead the Thai nation to progress.

She said that the students' 3 demands are something that adults should unanimously support.

Caption: The 'Yea Adults, Good Adults', a performance by the student protesters on that day of protest. (Source: Matichon TV)

In the protest, the Bad Students called for the end of harassment against students, cancellation of outdated rules, and comprehensive education reform. They also gave an ultimatum that Education Minister Nataphol must resign if he cannot do the job.

Nuttaa referred to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), signed by 196 countries including Thailand. According to the CRC, a child has 4 basic rights including the rights to life, survival, development and respect for the views of the child. Nuttaa said the Education Minister must work harder, especially on the third one.

‘Because those who protect the children's rights from now on will be the adults in society, the government, MPs, the media and teachers in schools,’ said Nuttaa, ‘from now on, we will no longer see things like this: when a teacher shaves a kid's hair, parents will not go to talk to the teacher and reach a compromise and apologize to each other. From now on, when a teacher shaves a kid's hair, we will be the people walking to the police station to report a criminal case.’

She ended her speech by reading the poem On Children by Kahlil Gibran.

Thai students have been suffering from haircut regulations. Under the haircut regulation released this year, boy students can either have short hair or long hair, but it must not be longer than their hairline. Girls can also either have short or long hair, but it must not be too long and must be tied appropriately. But teachers have exploited the vague regulations as they punished students based on arbitrary judgements, forcibly cutting students’ hair to make them look ugly.

Teachers must use their freedom

On the stage, Tanawat “Kru Tew” Suwannapan, a social studies teacher from Wat That Thong School, also gave a speech saying that a school should be a garden that allows students to grow beautifully, not a factory that turns every student into the same fruit.

Tanawat Suwannapan

Tawawat is a member of Khru Kho Son group, a band of teachers calling for better teaching in terms of both quantity and quality.

The teacher said many teachers refrain from expressing their political opinions due to fear of violating discipline and the professional code. But Section 93 of the 2004 Government Teacher and Education Personnel Act has nothing to do with political expression.

Tanawat said that the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression for all citizens. Teachers are also citizens. The code of ethics for teachers also urges teachers to develop their attitudes about social, economic and political issues. If teachers are apolitical, they have overlooked the code.

Section 93

"Government teachers and education personnel must remain politically neutral in carrying out their duties and other activities related to the people, by not utilizing their powers and duties as government officials to display affiliation with, support for, or endorsement of any politician, political group or political party."

As a teacher, he said that the Ministry should reduce the workload unrelated to teaching. Teachers have been overburdened with trivial paper tasks including security, procurement, driving, and annual evaluations, which divert their attention away from students.

Thanawat urged society to push forward education reform by questioning the purpose of education. Teachers should be allowed to express their opinions and criticism of centrally determined policies.

Help from behind the scenes

The protests by the Bad Students are thought to be the best-scripted and organized demonstrations in Thailand. The Education Minister said he felt threatened after hearing the student’s ultimatum that he must resign if he cannot do his job.

Bad Students teach Minister education reform

The Bad Students are praised by their allies, but criticized by pro-government supporters as tainted. It turns out that they receive tremendous support from an adult who shares their democratic cause.

Pakorn Porncheewangkun, a red shirt protester, told PPTV that he had spent almost 200,000 baht to help the students organize this protest, including provision of banners, a stage, a toilet truck, electric generator truck, audio amplifiers, and 4,000 bottles of water with Kai Meaw’s ‘Ta Sai’ stickers. Some of the money also came from politically like-minded donors.

Caption: Students raised 3 fingers, an anti-dictatorship gesture inspired from the salute in The Hunger Games film.

“We must accept that a protest requires money; if we do not use money, we cannot push forward anything,” said Pakorn.

While he denied the involvement of any politicians in the protests as it should be, Pakorn said politicians should support the protesters in the form of bail when a case comes to court.

In 2019, Pakorn bought one of a set of controversial paintings that depicted Lord Buddha as the superhero Ultraman for 4,500 baht. They were painted by a student at Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University who later had to apologize to hardline Buddhist groups for tarnishing their religion after they asked the Crime Suppression Division to prosecute her.

Despite a request from the University, he refused to return the paintings knowing that they would be destroyed. Instead, he put them up for auction and donated some of the money to the young painter and hospitals in Nakhon Ratchasima. The first painting raised 600,000 baht while the second raised 2 million baht.

Pakorn announced that he was ready to support any group of student protesters in the democratic cause. He believes that the government allows the protests because they know in the long run the students cannot afford to keep holding protests. So he supports the students to help increase their chance of success.