04 May 2012

Rethinking Education in a Globalized World

Just last week we CIEE students on the Development and Globalization program in Thailand had the opportunity to talk to an NGO leader named P’Suvit.  He introduced us to the argument that education in Thailand encourages capitalism, and perpetuates the gap between poverty and wealth.  The Thai school system has many aspects that propel the students toward consumerism and capitalism.  For example, the subjects in Thai schools are all taught in the Central Thai language, even though different dialects are spoken at home in many regions.  The Isaan (Northeast) region of Thailand (which happens to be the poorest region) for instance, speaks Lao at home but all the children are taught in the Central Thai language.  This is national law.  The outcome is that the students who speak central Thai at home (who also happen to live in the wealthier areas of Thailand), end up doing better in school and can thus attain higher positions in the workforce upon graduation.
    P’Suvit stated that the Thai government is using its people within the education system as tools for increasing capitalism in Thailand and raising its international status as a developing country.  By taking people out of their small villages and placing them in cities and urban areas, they will inherently rely less on their sustainable livelihoods and will start to rely more heavily on consumerism, thus increasing the economy and cash flow within the country.  He argues against sending kids to schools run by the government, and instead advocates self-teaching and local education.  
    As an American college student it was hard for me to wrap my mind around his argument.  For me, education was never an option—it is a necessary step so that later in life I can have a good and meaningful job.  Participating in the capitalist system is just another routine step forward for me—getting a good paying job is an objective for most US citizens.  I had never before questioned the necessity of getting a formal education.
    However, as Thailand is developing rapidly, with that movement comes the implementation and expansion of the economy and the abandoning of the traditional ways of life.  Although people have already been drawn to urbanization in Thailand, there are still many that prefer the “simple life” of small, rural, communities.  Capitalism now finds its way into these remote places.  Lifestyles are changing, and people are starting to seek the monetary rewards that one can acquire by working in cities.  In order to compete, the youth want to be educated; they are leaving their communities to go to university, getting jobs, and abandoning their sustainable village life for the capitalist economy.
    It didn’t occur to me until I reflected on our exchange with P’Suvit, that this program I am on, CIEE Development and Globalization, is the type of learning that P’Suvit was promoting.  Although we are furthering our education, we are not, for this semester, succumbing to the capitalist system that I have described above.  Here in Thailand, our teachers have been our peers, NGOs, and villagers.  Instead of focusing on individual achievement, we have been learning collectively and working together in solidarity.  Through this method, just like P’Suvit said, that there can be another path of scholarly work removed from larger outside influences such as commerce and government agendas.

Julia Bowman
Whitman College

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