A number of students in Thailand have been asked by their teachers to pay respect to the national flag at 8.00 am in front of their televisions at home every day before online classes begin. A teacher was found asking students via Line to send photos of them standing for the anthem as a record.
The Ministry of Education said that they did not order this but it should be looked at from different points of view.
“Tomorrow, students should stand up to pay respect to the national flag at 8.00 am in front of the television at home and also take a picture and send it to me,” said a teacher from a school in Ubon Ratchathani via Line.
The conversation, with the name of the teacher deleted, was published on 8 June on the Facebook page of Bad Students, a group of student activists advocating education reform. The post went viral online with 13k reactions, 23k shares, and 3.5k comments as criticisms from netizens poured in.
“Thai teachers hit a new low every day,” said one comment.
“Don’t stop them. It should be supported across the country from kindergarten to university. We must be patriotic. Do it many times until the foreign media report it. Show them what Thai education is like. Don’t curse them. Cheer them on,” said one sarcastic comment.
In a separate event, Bad Students reported on 8 June that a vocational college also required its students to wear uniforms, pray, and chant college slogans in a Zoom meeting early in the morning before online classes began. Bad Students said that the students were allowed to wear non-uniform clothes after the morning ceremony was over.
As criticisms soared on the internet, Amporn Pinasa of the Office of the Basic Education Commission responded on 8 June that the Ministry of Education did not order this, but it should be looked at from different points of view. The new practice was okay and also part of innovation as long as it was an agreement between the teachers and students.
However, it can be seen as inappropriate if the students did not agree with it, said Amporn.
In Thailand, the national anthem has been a point of political contestation for some time. In the pro-democracy protests last year, many students were seen showing the three-finger salute during the national anthem – sometimes at the cost of being suspended or stripped of their student status or their right to continue their education.
In October last year, a girl in a student uniform was slapped for not standing up during the national anthem by a 45-year-old woman selling roti nearby. The girl was having her period so she could not stand up. A pro-government group donated at least 18,200 baht to the assailant when she faced legal action from the student’s family.
Education became a topic of controversy again after the new semester opened on 1 June. Amid the spread of Covid-19, Thai schools, often seen as highly conservative and authoritarian, had to make many adjustments when a large proportion of classes went onto the internet and cable TV, with learning materials delivered to students’ homes.
In late May, Trat Governor Pinyo Prakobphon called for students to wear uniforms for online classes believing that it would improve discipline and academic performance. He said schools will decide whether the policy should be enforced. In protest, Facebook users created camera filters to make fun of the policy. With the filters installed, a student appears to be wearing a uniform, without actually having to wear one.