Can education be a force for change?
Sitting amongst the privileged TC kids, P’Ko said it outright: modern education is a myth, damaging the poor and enlarging the ugly inequality in Thailand. According to P’Ko’s world view, modern education encourages kids from the countries to go into the cities, working in factories, doing meaningless jobs and living meaningless lives. Many of them become construction workers in large cities, lived under the railways and been considered the illegal citizen in their own country. Despite the fact that many of these workers build schools in the province, their kids have no right to education.
He does not speak English and does not need to attend our Doctoral Seminar to encounter development of the modern world. To P’Ko, the myth of qualification is real, the symbolic violence is disgusting and the exclusion of the least privilege is a daily reality.
Under the name of “individualism”, the current education discourages teamwork and encourages extreme selfishness, he said.
He apologized for being blunt, yet continued: “the more education we get, the stupider we become”.
We need an alternative education, he said. An education that educates the poor to survive, self-sustain and succeed.
This story resonates with one of the classic books I read: “Learning to Labor: How working class kids get working class jobs” by Paul Willis. In his book, Willis conducted qualitative, ethnographic research to follow 12 working class lads in their school. Willis argues that the persistent inequality of working class kids continue to have working class jobs is a result of a complex interplay between the role of school in modern capitalist society, the working class culture, and the lads’ subjective construction. To the lads, being anti education and going against the myth of modern qualifications were celebrated and boosted their self-esteem. They refused to be docile. They viewed teachers as oppressive authority and tried every way they could to object. After graduation, these kids continued to work in shop-floors and low-skilled jobs. Despite this, Willis argues that school is not utterly- useless. Rather, schools enable the lads to develop their identity and group culture, albeit a working class one.
The question remains: what kind of educational institution that is conducive to these children? While the middle-class version of education is interpreted as subjecting the individuals under the dominant ideology, would working-class tailor-made education not further reinforce class differentiation and segregates the haves from the have-nots?
These conditions are deeply rooted, not only in the case of 1970s Britain but today’s Thailand.
After the discussion ended, I went up to P’Ko. So much that I agree that modern education has failed so much and served so few, I told him I am interested in industrial policy and how education could be better linked to serve the need of Thai industries, growth and the ugly development he hates. To me, Thai education has failed because we have yet to produce the workers we need for our economic development. We claimed to be the Asian Tiger and aspired to be the Detroit, yet we have too littler engineers and too few qualified mechanicians. Despite the polemic campaign of “Education for All”, we have obsessively focused on the selected few while the populated and skilled mass is the real engine of our sustainable growth.
He smiled, so I continued.
It is unfair to blame everything on the system that is barely able to educate children to meet minimum literacy and arithmetic skills. We are behind those we started off with forty/ fifty years ago and we are trying hard to even be in par with those who just declared independence.
An hour long discussion provokes the kind of reflection that none of the ‘reflection’ papers have ever done to me.
What kind of education is conducive to Thailand development?
I am still in search of the answers- the paradox of education this is.