Students protest at Ministry of Education after schools retaliate against political expression

In an aftershock from the 16 August mass protest in Bangkok, over 500 school students have protested against Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and the prohibition against political expression in many schools.

Students raising 3 fingers with their arms tied with white ribbons.

The event was organized by the BAD STUDENTS group, which advocates students' rights. This week, students across the country have been trying to exercise their rights by raising 3 fingers and tying white ribbons as symbols of resistance against dictatorship.

The white ribbon has been used as a symbol of concern about Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a self-exiled Thai activist who was abducted in Cambodia in June.

The organizers distributed whistles as a parody of a method used by the People's Democratic Reform Committee PDRC), which Nataphol belonged to and whose protests against the Pheu Thai government led to the 2014 coup.

Students walking to the protest venue.

At 16.36 Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, an MP from the Thai Civilized Party, a member of the government coalition, appeared at the protest. He said, amidst boos, that he was there to observe and support students exercising their rights and freedoms.

Mongkolkit Suksintharanon

He said the students should support only the 3 demands from the Free People Movement about parliament dissolution, a new constitution and an end to authorities’ harassment of civilians. Political parties have all accepted these demands. 

However, he urged the students not to support the 10 demands for monarchy reform as he believes that it violates the constitutional monarchy regime.

At 16.50 Nataphol came to see the protest himself. His appearance was greeted with boos and whistles. He had earlier failed to attend parliament to answer MPs’ questions about student harassment, saying that he had an appointment.

(Blue mask) Nataphol at the front of the ministry.

As he tried to take the stage to make an address, the speaker told him to “get in line” and wait as there were many speakers before him. Protesters chanted “get in line, get in line”. 

Get in the line” is said regularly by teachers during morning assemblies for singing the National Anthem. He decided to go and sit with the students at the back. However, the spot there was rough as people around did not welcome him kindly.

Chronic, deep-rooted educational problems addressed

In their speeches, students complained about harassment for raising 3 fingers and physical punishments by teachers which left scars on students. As VAT payers and citizens, they have full rights to express their opinions. 

Students with their white ribbons, a symbolic item against dictatorship.

Some students said the strict dress code in schools oppresses women. More effort goes into teaching girls to keep themselves safe from sexual harassment than into teaching men to be respectful. The haircut rule, where students must have one style of very short hair, was also criticized.

A university student from a Faculty of Education took the stage. She said students these days have enough moral courage to come out against dictatorship despite facing harassment in schools. As a person who is going to be a teacher, she thanked the students for being here for the future of the country without authoritarianism.

At around 18.00 the students sang the National Anthem while raising 3 fingers. Then they chanted "Dictatorship shall fall, long live democracy" and tied white ribbons to the Ministry gate. 

Nataphol met 4 students after giving press the an interview.

4 students had a dialogue with Nataphol in the Ministry forecourt. They urged the Minister to solve the problems with the social studies curriculum, weak enforcement of more liberal school rules and gender biases within schools.

They said female students are ordered to wear many garments and skirts are strictly regulated. This is considered as a form of body control based on the idea of victim blaming, while male students are not taught to refrain from sexual harassment. The variety of genders and identities is also not sufficiently respected.

The students said the current school rules are not meant to allow students to grow up and prosper as they are in terms of identity. 

Earlier, Nataphol gave a press interview. He regretted that he was not allowed on stage to address the issues. However, he was glad that the students were concerned about their future. Many issues that have been raised were already being processed by the government. 

He said the Ministry will announce public hearings in schools countrywide on 20 August. The process will be via student councils which will compile the issues raised by the students. These will be filtered and sent to the Ministry.

On the provocation that he had received, he said Thai people should be united in order to progress forward together. The erstwhile pro-junta protester urged people to find solutions despite having different ideas.

A student tying a white ribbon at the ministry gate.

He urged the students that whatever demands they make should benefit the country. The students should consider the impact of their action beforehand, such as the impact on investment.

Nataphol is the first minister in the Palang Pracharat-led coalition government to meet an anti-government protest.


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