Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Own Private Road Map

Before I went to China last week, M.R. Usnisa of the Bangkok Post happened to ask me "Well ... if you were prime minister, what would you do?"

This is the kind of question we all ask ourselves sometimes.  And most of the time, we realize that, much as we would want to change the world, we ourselves would rather have that responsibility belong to someone else.

Nevertheless, it's true that, just as a private little fantasy, I had already drawn up a road map of my own.  When she found out, she asked me to email it her ... which forced me to dig it out and look at it.

Well ... it is impossible, and it would cost too much, and it would annoy too many people, and it would shake too many monkeys out of too many trees, but here it is.  Anyone can play at this game.

Somtow's Road Map

1. A Complete Overhaul of the Educational System.
Make high-quality education genuinely universal.  Work to end the "unquestioning rote learning" philosophy of education that pervades even the best institutions in the country.  Take a good look at revisionist textbooks.  Encourage schools to teach openmindedness in analysing the lessons of history.  Teach kids to question their teachers.  Teach teachers how to teach.

2. Work towards inclusivity by battling linguistic and ethnic prejudices and by decentralizing.
Dialects shouldn't be treated as "second class".  Speakers should be empowered and not made to feel inferior.  It should be acceptable to teach school and make official pronouncements both in standard Thai and in regional dialects.  Speakers of standard Thai should be taught the linguistic principles of these dialects in school so that they stop being able to pretend they don't understand them.  This should extend towards minorities as well.  If a country has a single center, that center is an Achilles heel.  Make regional centers more important and give them the ability to decide for themselves how local issues should be handled.  In giving up some control, the center in the end becomes stronger and more credible.

3. Prosecute all sides equally if egregious breaches of law have occurred.
Don't let anyone who performs acts of vandalism get away with it even if the government thinks their viewpoint supports their own.  If the government does decide it should deal gently with those who break the law, it should still set clear limits, boundaries that no side may cross. Such limits should include seizing airports, city centers, arson, and intimidating people with opposing viewpoints with physical threats.

4. Make corruption socially unacceptable.
But don't just keep saying it's a bad thing.  Attack the root causes.  Make sure officials have real salaries instead assuming they will eke them out with bribes.

5. Make freedom of speech a central tenet of policy.
This doesn't mean endorsing hate speech or speech that incites violence.  But when such speech occurs, it should be dealt with through legal channels or with clear, unambiguous guidelines, and there should be judicial review of any government attempt to deal with such speech before any action can be taken by the government.

I sincerely believe that if those five points are addressed, the end result would be to address most of the things that people find problematic about Thailand's society today.  Elections would become real expressions of the well-thought-out opinions of real majorities — something that has never been true in any election in the history of Thailand.  Society would understand that agreeing to disagree is already a step forward.  It's not just that parts of this country are way behind the education curve; it's also that the parts that are ahead are not always told that thinking for yourself should be education's ultimate goal.  Real education is the key to narrowing the income gap as well.

In fact, I would submit that everything may well derive from this point, so perhaps the road map should actually consist only of a single item.  Too simplistic?  Yeah....


  1. Well said, and yes, probably too expensive. More "go" and less "show" with education.

  2. I agree. The same with minor variations in details could speak for the situation here in the US.

    Education that teaches how to think, the process not just "facts" is needed everywhere.

    Meg Phillips

  3. 1. Education reform is in the process to some extent, but some nonsense , nonlogical, and nonethical stuff are still there in the administrators whose mindsets remain unchanged. Logic, philosophy, ethics and religious principles should be on the solid ground which still lack and even some so-called creative education tries to wipe out these values as old fashioned-subjects in some materialistic universities. Many foreign educators with common sense who have no voice regret about this.
    2. Even in the higher institution, red and yellow split is obviousely fractioned in the working environment, even among some administrators.
    3. Some people misconceptualise "freedom" as disobedient, and oppose anything the superiors impose on them. Thailand enjoys too much indiciplinary-freedom beyond the reasonable limits and boundaries. This can cause the country upside down sooner or later.
    4. They forget the graditudes of H.M. The King that because of the king, they can live in today's modern society to keep abreast with world community, the country of citizens with abundant opportunities. Think when you have no King Bhumibol one day, falling down as if Thailand - Never Sunrise, comparing the saying in the past (The Great Britain, never sunset)
    5. Frequest changes of government and constitutions do not mean they exercise the proper freedom and democracy. Thai people have 2 choices, (a) too much freedom, frequent changes of governments and constitutions regardless of sustaining the country not to fall down, (b)let the good people govern and manage and a little bit set back that tooo much freedom and focus on principles and disciplines.
    6. How many years you have built your counttry to be today's status, but you all can destroy your country in one day to be zero if you let this hatred divides go like this. How long does it take to build Roam? but you can destroy in a day. Remember that!
    Sorry. I really sorry for the the King despite I am not Thai.

  4. One of the few stories, that touches most of the roots of Thailands problems. Hope it will be read by some influential people.

  5. Reform is sorely needed here. As this article (below) so clearly points out. If the teachers can not even pass in their own subjects what chance do the kids have????

  6. Thailand should also look at "legalizing" and "licensing" certain things that are illegal - but provide a source of corrupt income to police. Instead of street-side bars paying police 3 times a night to allow them to stay open -- the government should allow single owner/operated vendors to get a license to operate during the night in "tourist" areas. Bars should require liquor licenses - again - where the fees are paid into general revenues or city revenues. The police should be paid a good wage - and be required to be professional. An independent "internal affairs" (police of police) should be created outside of the normal police hierarchy should be created to investigate and trap corrupt police officials. Corruption should be treated with very sever penalties (maybe more than just) until such time that police corruption has been significantly reduced. Often laws are written and enforced only as a means of generating income for the police....

  7. I would change the Land Tax structure to eleminate "Land Bank". Increase Land Tax for absentee owners and decrease Land Tax for "Farmer-Owner" to preserve farm land. Keep 80% of Land Tax for Local use.

    Increase and enforce Inheritence Tax, add jail time to strengthen the enforcement & corruption.

    Basil Seven

  8. Two quick questions, and an observation: WHO will reform the country's education system? HOW LONG will it take before it measures up to your standards (making "real" democracy possible)? The link between education and democracy in Siam was made explicit already in the 1930s, so it's not as if your proposal is entirely original...

  9. Some more practical suggestions are necessary at this stage I think.

    1. There should be a world class teacher's training college set up in Thailand which is staffed with experts from around the world. Teachers trained at that college would command the highest teaching salaries and after a certain period of teaching experience, could go on to become teaching professionals at the college. Entrance would be tough. Competition to get in would be fierce.

    2. Set up a Peace Corps like program for young college graduates in Thailand. They get to work on projects and support programs all over Thailand (and perhaps around the region) that promote alternative technologies, rural business startups, water engineering, teaching, health care and so forth.

    3. Set up a system of 'user satisfaction surveys' wherever people have transactions with governments or state enterprises - at hospitals, schools, municipality, police etc. Results would be collected online and used to provide performance reports on public servants at each location. A team of auditors would publish these reports once a month with analysis and directions for improvement.

  10. Why don't you post your space on Nationmultimedia as usual?

  11. What do you think of the traditional "wai" greeting? Will it survive the road map in its current form, with its current rules? Or will it (along with similar practices such as the practice of using different levels of speech for different levels of persons) block the road entirely?