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New Social Compact

On history and humility: What students need to know

Rattana Lao

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Not so long ago, some Thai university students used Hitler image as the poster child for superhero and just recently, the Thai state used Nazi symbol in their propaganda for education.

This short documentary intends to promote the 12 values of education. These values include respect seniority, desire for knowledge and understand democracy.

Democracy and Hitler?  

To make things worse, the director of the film gave public interview seeing nothing wrong with it.

Kulp Kaljaruek, the director, said to Khaosod, one of the Thai newspapers that “I didn’t think it would be an issue. As for Hitler’s portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere. It’s even considered a fashion. It doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I didn’t expect it to be an issue at all.”

Seriously?  

The Ambassador of Isael to Thailand, His Excellency Simon Roded, issued a public statement on the 10th of December 2014. It read:

“I was surprised that throughout the screening process this movie must have gone through to be approved for public broadcast, none of the smart, well educated people checking it had identified it as being problematic and offensive.”

In an interview with Thailand’s renown historian, professor Thanet Aphornsuwan, the problem that has happened reflects an endemic problem in Thailand.

“The nature and practice (are) …Thai-centric and royal-nationalist. Such world-view allows for little diverse and challenging representation of other’s realities and identities. It does not provide nor encourage deep understanding and empathy towards others’ sensibilities and values.”

This is not a straightforward account of low quality education or the lack thereof. It highlights fundamental issue in terms of hidden and overt curriculum in Thailand, which promotes simplification of facts without critically understand or engage with multiple versions of truths.

Furthermore, three points should be made of this incident.

Firstly, this is NOT, let me stress, a byproduct of an anti-semantic attitude. To be “anti” something, one needs to hate or to belittle it. Thai people, generally, have very little idea what Jewish is, let alone being hateful to it.

Secondly, the ignorant of one group of people should not be used to condemn Thai people in its entity. Academics, media and many in Thailand feel shameful of this and regret what has been done, despite the fact most of us have nothing to do with it.  

Thai students do not deserve an international condemnation for what they have no parts in it, rather their ignorance is the byproduct of longstanding cultural centeredness.

Thirdly, more space and more opportunities are needed for the young in Thailand to learn, to respect and to understand others. It’s not as simple as a revamp of Thai curriculum, surely that needs to be done, but there needs to be a systematic approach to understand education from multiple perspectives, to integrate intercultural learning as a part of the whole and to teach it in a way that encourages  thinking and learning. A rote learning of one size fits all, of adults know best and of childen know nothing is not only outdated but backward to the development of the minds, let alone of a sustainable nation.

When asked about the way forward, Prof. Aphornsuvan added:

“The kind of education we need is one that is more open and less attached to the state and government practices. On state ideology, the promotion and practice of people’s democracy which is grounded on the principle of equality and liberty must be truly adhered to. Equality gives each people the sense of care and respect for one’s humanity.”

In short: “History lessons should teach humility not arrogance.”

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

New Social Compact

Modernizing Higher Education for Economic Growth

MD Staff

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Malawi has fewer affordable universities than it has students who want to go to them, leaving college out of reach for many. Enrollment in tertiary education is low, but more and more Malawians hunger for it. With IDA financing from the World Bank, Malawian citizens now have more options.

The five-year, $51 million Skills Development Project is helping public universities to strengthen and increase public access to programs that cater to sectors critical to Malawi’s economic growth. These include engineering, natural resources extraction, agriculture, construction, health services, tourism, and hospitality.

Beyond the establishment of the National Council for Higher Education, project funding supports a range of activities at institutions, including improving course offerings and staff skills, renovating infrastructure, and setting up satellite facilities.

Market-relevant course offerings

To expand the range of scientific skills and mid-level technicians needed to fuel Malawi’s economy, 39 new programs have been developed by universities, with the participation of the private sector ensuring their relevance to the economy. By 2017, these programs contributed 44 percent of the new student intake to public universities.

Diploma programs at universities have also been bolstered to increase the training of mid-level career personnel needed by various trades. For example, the University of Malawi’s Polytechnic now offers 10 technician-level engineering diploma programs in subjects like mining, telecommunications, and health. By 2019, these programs are expected to have enrolled 750 diploma students.

Modernized facilities

One of the major constraints to increasing student enrollment at public universities has been space. At Chancellor College, where most of Malawi’s secondary school science teachers are trained, more and better infrastructure is expected to make it possible to boost student intake by 65 percent. This includes modernized laboratories and four new lecture halls seating 350 students each.

This will go a long way toward meeting an increase in the demand for science teachers, following the introduction of physics and chemistry as separate subjects in the secondary school curriculum.

Mzuzu University is heading to be the country’s center of excellence in tourism training. It is constructing a purpose-built tourism and hospitality facility that will produce graduates who are industry-ready.

Online and distance learning

The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and Mzuzu have introduced online and distance learning (ODL), resulting in increased enrollment at both. At LUANAR, online students make up 10 percent of the total student population. Between 2014 and 2016, Mzuzu increased its intake of online students tenfold. With more affordable fees and flexible options, the ODL system has helped to open access to higher education for many people nationwide.

“I enrolled through ODL because of its flexibility. I continue with my everyday life and yet I am studying at the same time. This is wonderful,” says 45-year-old Joe Mwenye, a father of five and a teacher in Ngabu in Chikwawa district. He is studying at LUANAR for a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Extension.

LUANAR has three ODL centers: one in the town of Mzuzu, another in Lilongwe, and another in Blantyre. Mzuzu University is opening satellite centers in Balaka, Karonga, Mulanje, and Lilongwe.

World Bank

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New Social Compact

The Depth of Taboo: Social Issues in South Asia

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Rarely does a geopolitical handbook also make such large and important contributions to uncomfortably critical social issues. This handbook is that rare example. The author Aryal takes our MD readers deep into some disturbing discussions – caste systems, systematic violence against women, rape, honor killings, gender stigmatizing, and societal sexism – not to just anecdotally expose people to some of the continued living horrors afflicting important regions of the world but to systematically analyze such atrocities so that their long-term political, economic, social, and diplomatic consequences are revealed.

What many around the world do not realize is how crippling these gross abuses of human decency can be for a nation and region writ large: these are not just individual crimes to be noted and then forgotten. The failure of societies, the failure of GLOBAL society, to make more effective progress and take a more rigid stand against injustice is a black mark on all countries, on all of us. This handbook in its own small way strives to be a light within that darkness and as such it is both informative and courageous. While the readers of MD will not find the content of this particular handbook for the faint of heart, the importance of acquiring this knowledge, of becoming more aware of the world that we live in as it truly is in so many places, should be considered a duty of all those fortunate enough to not be born into states where such systemic violence still exists and largely goes unchallenged.

The title of this work is no accident and no shameless marketing attempt to attract more readers. Rather, it is exposing in a single word the reason why overcoming systemic violence based on gender is so difficult. Social taboos run deep in every region, state, city, town, village. We will likely not succeed in eliminating them from the social conscience of people. But the attempt to ameliorate the power of taboo, its power to push rationality out and pull insanity in, is a noble one that all of us at the editorial staff at MD recognize as silently essential for the cause of future peace on so many different levels. The battle against taboo is the secret front end of the war against gender violence and oppression. Ultimately, the criminal justice systems of societies must improve to remedy those actions not prevented from occurring. But the real long-term comprehensive solution will be the effort to eliminate the fear of social taboos, to eliminate the stigma that drives many to commit ignorant violence in the first place.

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New Social Compact

Women and girls with autism must be empowered to overcome discrimination they face

MD Staff

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On World Autism Awareness Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has joined the global call to empower women and girls with autism and involve them and their advocates in policy and decision-making to address the discrimination and other challenges they face.

“They face […] barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others, denial of their reproductive rights and the freedom to make their own choices, and a lack of involvement in policy making on matters that concern them,” said the Secretary-General in his message on the Day.

Emphasizing that “our work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls,” he stressed that the international community’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must uphold the 2030 Agenda’s core promise to leave no one behind.

The Goals and the landmark framework from which they emerged were adopted by UN Member States three years ago. Together they aim to wipe out poverty and boost equality by putting the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path by 2030.

“On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms,” concluded the Mr. Guterres.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics.

Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

The World Day is marked annually on 2 April, and this year’s official UN commemoration will be on Thursday, 5 April, with a half-day programme in New York entitled Empowering Women and Girls with Autism, that will feature a keynote address from Julia Bascom, Executive Director, Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

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