Students protest against continuous online education

The student activist group Bad Student has launched a strike campaign to protest against the continuous use of online classes during outbreaks of Covid-19, which has been detrimental to students’ mental health and deprived many of an education.

A student is tied to a chair surrounded by burning school books as part of Bad Student's performance at the 7 September 2021 protest, staged to protest against the online education policy. 

The group is demanding that the government provide students, education professionals, and members of the public with high efficacy vaccines as soon as possible so that the education system and the economy can continue. If the government is not able to provide vaccines and students are not allowed to return to in-person classes, the Ministry of Education must provide students with equipment for online learning, internet services, and reimbursement of expenses.

To prevent even more students from being deprived of an education, the Ministry should also reduce tuition fees or impose a tuition fee moratorium, and provide whatever welfare is needed by students and their parents to keep young people in school. 

They also demanded that the Ministry reduce class time, teachers’ and students’ workload, and adjust the curriculum to match the current situation, as well as provide counselling services for students whose mental health is affected by having to study online, which is said to be more stressful than in-person teaching. The Ministry must also open up communication channels for students to file complaints.

Students joining the campaign are encouraged to stop attending classes between 6 – 10 September 2021, or to join and then leave the video call. Those who must attend class can also change their Zoom profile picture or background to show support for the campaign.

During a protest at the Democracy Monument on Tuesday (7 September), a representative of Bad Student gave a speech saying that the current online education system is not effective, and that it is indirectly killing children. He also claimed that at least 1.8 million students have now dropped out of school, while the Ministry is persisting with its online education policy.  He said that the aim of their strike campaign is to send a message to the government about the issues students are facing.

“We don’t want this rotten education system. We don’t want this stinking Minister. But we want our future back, and even better, is an education system that truly improves us,” he said.

A banner saying "The workload that is surrounding us because of online class is destroying students' childhood" is hung from the Democracy Monument during the 7 September 2021 protest. 

According to the Equitable Education Fund (EEF), around 1.9 million out of 9 million Thai students live in poverty or extreme poverty, as the pandemic has caused a decrease in their families’ income. Almost 88% of students living in poverty have difficulties attending classes due to lack of electricity and equipment needed for online classes, while almost 15% have likely left school.

The EEF also found that at least 366 children have lost their parents to Covid-19, and need long-term support similar to children who lose their parents from natural disasters. They should be supported until they receive their Bachelor’s degree.

On 17 July 2021, a network of students and teachers also petitioned the Parliament Standing Committee on Education to summon Education Minister Trinuch Thienthong to give information on the policy to compensate students, parents, and teachers affected by prolonged school closures and online classes during the pandemic.

The network said that many new teachers do not have computers or mobile phones, while low-income parents whose salaries have been cut or who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic are not able to purchase the equipment necessary for their children to attend class. They must also carry the expense of internet access, while teachers have to bear the cost of travel to visit students while schools are closed.

Jirawut Jitjak, a teacher from Nakhon Pathom who filed the petition on behalf of the network, said that while classes have been online for at least 2 semesters, neither students nor teachers have received any support. Teachers and vulnerable families have been left to deal with these issues and many are no longer able to put up with the consequences. Students are being left behind as their teachers’ class workload increases but their learning income decreases.

On 3 September 2021, a group of Mathayom 6 students also petitioned the Education Committee to be exempted from the application fees for TCAS, the central university admission test, as these tests now cost over 2000 baht for each student, adding to the stress of online classes, inequal access to education and online learning equipment, and the lack of reimbursement for tuition fees.

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