Students protest against abuse in schools, call for Education Minister to resign

The student activist group Bad Student on Friday (2 October) organized a series of protests at various high schools in Bangkok to protest against abuse and mistreatment of students in schools, before going to the Ministry of Education to call for Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan to resign.

Members of the Bad Student group visited five Bangkok schools on a track carrying speakers, on which they give speeches and invite representatives of students from each school to speak. 

The protesters visited five schools throughout the afternoon: Samsenwittayalai, Triam Udom Suksa, St. Joseph Convent, Debsirin, and Wat Rajabopit, all of which have been the subject of reports of teachers abusing and harassing students.

The students submitted letters to the principals of each school calling for an end to the use of violence against students. They also put up banners detailing the abuse that has happened at the schools, including incidents of teachers hitting students or snapping students’ bra straps as punishment for dress code violations.

Students put up banners in front of the Wat Rajabopit School which said "teachers at this school still hit students." 

At Samsenwittayalai School, the first that the group visited, school administrators locked the gates to stop students who were already gathering at the gate from joining the protest. Meanwhile, St. Joseph Convent School cancelled all afternoon classes ahead of the protest. School administrators also played the school song on the PA system in an attempt to drown out the speeches. The students instead began singing it as part of the protest.

A representative of students from Wat Rajabopit School also mentioned that the police tried to stop them from staging the protest, claiming that the school is within 150 metres of the Grand Palace, where public gatherings are not allowed under the Public Assembly Act, and also that the protest would block traffic.

At 17.45, the protesters arrived at the Ministry of Education in the heavy rain which began earlier in the afternoon and parked their truck in front of the Ministry. Nataphol was reportedly in another province and Permanent Secretary Karun Sakulpradit came to meet the protesters instead.

The organisers then read out the resignation letter they wrote for Nataphol, and called for him to resign due to his poor administration as Education Minister, his failure to stop the human rights violations the students face in schools, and for being involved with the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protests.

Laponpat Wangpaisit (right), a representative of the Bad Student group, speaking to Permanent Secretary Karun Sakulpradit (left).

Due to the heavy rain, protesters moved inside the Ministry, where they sang the national anthem while holding their hands up in the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute, now seen at the majority of anti-government protests in Thailand. They also threw piles of the resignation letter onto the steps in front of the Ministry building.

Laponpat Wangpaisit, a member of the Bad Student group, said that the group is making the same demands they have made previously: an end to harassment of students, abolition of outdated rules, and education reform, alongside demands made by students at various schools, which, according to Laponpat, the Ministry has yet to act on despite their promises.

Laponpat told the Education Permanent Secretary that said that they wanted an end to violence against students in schools, and that they have already made this demand a month ago but no progress has been made. He said that the abuse case at the Sarasas schools is only one among thousands and asked why it is not possible to start making schools safe now.

Protesters gathering in front of the steps to the ministry building to escape heavy rain.

“The question is these things happened, but you would have no idea about them if students weren’t speaking out. I’m talking to you as a representative of Minister Nataphol, because I believe that something should be done already, not just making promises, and in the end these things continue to happen and are not getting any less frequent,” said Laponpat.

Protesters standing on top of the truck have tied white ribbons, one of the symbols of the student movement, to the lamp hanging from the ceiling of the covered area in front of the Ministry building.

A Year 10 (Mathayom 4) student at Samsenwittayalai School who participated in the protest told Prachatai that the problems students face at their school include haircut rules which violate students’ rights, a curriculum which does not fit the students’ needs, and teachers abusing students, something which is seen as normal by society.

She also said that a teacher once pulled on her hair and made her run laps around the field because her hair was too long and because she had a fringe. This student said that she has been to two protests and said that her family support her participation in the protests, because they see that it is not right that young people have their rights violated in schools. However, she said that many other families are not like this, and that she has friends who have gone to protests and were disowned by their families.

“It’s understandable that some homes do not understand. Many are like that, but I’m happy that my parents are open to listening to the problems of my generation and listen to me, and don’t just base things on their own opinion. I actually want other parents to be able to think like this too. I have sympathy for others in my generation, others who face the same fate, who not only have their rights violated by their schools, but also have their feelings hurt at home,” she said.

Protesters throwing copies of the resignation letter onto the steps to the Ministry building.

Another Samsenwittayalai student who joined the protest said that she had been punished for violating the school dress code and haircut rules, and faced other abuses at school, until she attended a class on law and realized that what was done to her was illegal and became more aware of her rights. She also said that her family supports her participation in the protest because they see that the issues she faces have been a problem for a long time.

“(In the class), we talked about human rights violations and about society and politics. We were debating, because we already know what the problems are, so we talked and tried to find a solution, but we couldn’t find any, because we are the ones who are oppressed and we can’t do anything to them,” she said.

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