The most important event to be held at Sriwittayapaknam School is the annual Wai Khru Ceremony (พิธีไหว้ครู). Like other schools around the country this always takes place towards the start of the new academic year and always on a Thursday. So, either late May or early June. The students pay respect to their teachers by presenting them with flowers and going down onto the floor to do a krab, which is the most respectful way to show respect. The students hope to gain merit and good fortune for the coming year.
Every student comes to school with a bunch of flowers for their teachers. The flowers used in the arrangement are symbolic. Dok Ma Khue (eggplant flower) stands for respect because when the tree is blooming its branches bend down in the same way a student pays respect to their teacher. Ya Praek (Bermuda grass) stands for patience or perseverance because, although the grass looks wilted, it is still very much alive. Khao Tok (popped rice) stands for discipline because the rice is placed in a pan together and heated up to become popped rice. The Dok Kem has the same name as the Thai word for needle. So it means the student will be sharp-witted and brainy.
We have had quite a few foreign educators visit our school over the years from many countries such as America, England and Australia and a few closer to home such as Singapore and Malaysia. All of them agree that Thai students are far better behaved than their counterparts in the West. They often commented that they were surprised how one teacher could control a class of 45 students. While I was taking them around the school, we sometimes came across a class where the teacher had popped out to do something. Again they were amazed how quiet and diligent the students were in the classroom even without their teacher.
Of course, this is not always the case, and in the years that I have been teaching in Thailand, I have sadly seen the discipline of the students getting closer to what it is like in the West. We are starting to see the students being more rowdy and talking back to the teacher. Traditionally in Thai schools, students were taught by the rote method which is ideal when you have such big classes. It is easier to maintain discipline when everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. However, a downside of this method of teaching, is that the students are being taught what to think instead of how to think.
Someone in government then had the bright idea that we should copy some teaching methods from the West. So, we then started to have “child-centered” lessons where everything revolves around the student. Sitting in rows and repeating after the teacher went out the window. In came group work and free thinking. Not so bad in the long run as the students will be more developed and be able to think outside the box. But, with the students doing different things at the same time it became harder for the teachers to maintain discipline. Couple this with the teacher no longer being able to hit their students, then you start to see cheeky students like you have in the West who are trying to stretch the boundaries to see how far they can go.
I remember when I first started teaching here, I wasn’t too happy to see the students coming to my desk and having to kneel down. In Thai culture, the head of a child shouldn’t be higher than that of their elders. I kept telling them to stand up. I thought I should teach them some of my own culture at the same time as teaching English. But then, I later found out that the students were getting in trouble with some of their Thai teachers for not behaving properly. The students were trying to do the same for the other teachers as they did for me. I do miss the discipline that we had before, but that is a small price to pay to have students that can think for themselves. Instead of blindly following their elders, maybe in the future, we will have people who will make up their own minds on who to vote for in general elections. Then maybe we will then have real democracy in Thailand.