International School Students and Political Apathy?

This isn’t really an article but I did want to note a couple of thoughts that I had. Recently, attention in the Thai English-language media has focused on international school students and their “political apathy.”

In particular, Khaosod English ran an investigative piece about the lack of concern international school students have for the current protests. There are no on-campus protests, it noted. Someone who was interviewed estimated that “one of 10 students even know about current Thai political protests.” Thai history was wholly ignored, according to this article.

I can’t speak for other schools, and perhaps this does capture the experience that many students in Thai international schools have. But I do want to offer my experience in an international school as a counter-example.

  • Every student from sixth to tenth grade was required to take Thai Studies, which focuses on Thai culture and history from Sukhothai onwards. This included history in the democratic period, which students researched and presented on. I distinctly remember sitting through a group presentation on the Thammasat university massacre.
  • In Thai language & literature, history was definitely also taught. One book on the middle school syllabus that everyone had to read was Democracy, Shaken and Stirred (ประชาธิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน) by Win Lyowarin, which goes over the events of Thai history since the 1932 revolution. We also read a lot of literature that presented strong criticisms of Thai society.
  • Foreign teachers attempted to link what we learned about in class to local contexts. We definitely had class debates (very topical in 2013-2014) about the merits of democracy.
  • Students were definitely aware of what was going on: almost everyone would have had some level of awareness about the 2014 military coup and the PDRC protests. I know that many of my friends today have a strong opinion one way or the other about the current protests.

Perhaps my school had an exceptionally strong Thai department. But regardless, I think that to paint over all international schools with a broad stroke and say that none of them have any interest in teaching political issues in Thailand, as the Khaosod article attempted to do, is too lazy.

I did find one quote in the Khaosod article striking, however: “There are some hashtags on Tiktok and Twitter, but when I go into them it’s just people being angry but I don’t know why. No one tells us why.” If some students in international schools, which pride themselves on open inquiry, do need to be spoon-fed the news, then that is concerning indeed.

(Cover image credits)






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