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Should Thailand Abolish the Mandatory School Uniform Policy?

The controversial poster questioning Thailand's mandatory uniform policy.

The controversial poster questioning Thailand's mandatory uniform policy.

A sophomore student at Thammasat University in Thailand has sparked a debate about the country’s mandatory uniform policy for university students when she distributed campaign posters showing students in sexual poses. Thailand is reportedly one of the three remaining countries in the world which continues to require student uniforms in college.

The controversial poster contains these messages (translation by Kaewmala): “At the last midterm did you still have to wear your student uniform?”, “When student uniforms are being challenged”, “Don’t student uniforms make having sex more fun?”, “Free your humanity from the shackles”. The posters have been removed from the campus already but they have been uploaded online and instantly went viral.

The campaign is led by a student nicknamed Aum Neko (translation: transgender) who is also the female student in the poster. Interviewed by Prachatai, Aum explained her reason for launching the campaign:

I want to post a question to the Thammasat community and also communities outside: why does a university that prides itself on freedom force students to wear uniforms in many classes in many faculties, especially those in the science field?

Mr. Somkit Lertpaithoon, the University Rector, clarified that the school only ‘encourages’ students to wear uniform:

I can confirm that we do not rule students to wear uniform to class, but we ‘encourage’ them to, particularly during exam season, in order to teach them about the virtues of disciplines.

The issue has generated mixed reactions. Chayapol Panhakarn is supportive of the uniform policy:

I am proud to be wearing Thammasat uniform on stage. Thanks to TU Band for giving me an opportunity to do creative activities like singing with them. You should respect the uniform, symbols, and identity of Thammasat. If you can’t do it and just have to go out there to claim your freedom then study somewhere else. Don’t apply to Thammasat in the first place and make rooms for other people who really want it.

Dusita Siriwan, an Economics student at Chulalongkorn University, finds the rule to be reasonable:

I guess we all complain about it [the uniform] but it's something you eventually get used to wearing. I feel that the requirement of having to wear the uniform during exams is not unreasonable and it's a good rule to enforce to make sure it's truly a student from there and not a random, fake person that is taking the test instead.

Some campaigners also asked teachers to wear uniforms:

New policy: wear bureaucratic uniform every day for the better education of Thailand! No uniform, no teaching, no salary.

Image from Facebook page of New Culture

Image from Facebook page of New Culture

For Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the issue has exposed the weakness of Thai education:

The point here is not so much about the abolition of a forced uniform, but to open the door for all students to choose if they wish to wear university uniform. In other words, those who are keen to wear it, please do so. For those who are not, they are free to wear anything as long as it is decent.

The debate within Thammasat University on student uniform, on the one hand, reminds many of why the Thai education has gone wrong and why it is necessary for the traditionalists to protect their space in this fast changing society. On the other hand, it also reaffirms the fact that, perhaps, all debates, like this one, can further promote democratisation.

Saksith Saiyasombut pointed out that the uniform policy is one aspect of Thailand’s ‘militaristic’ education:

While on the surface the debate over student uniforms may appear to be just a superficial issue, it is one of many aspects in Thailand’s militaristic education system that reinforces uniformity and obedience, since for Thai conservatives these are still the most important characteristics of our education – while Thailand’s society has changed and is more than ready to move on.

Thailand’s leading newspaper, The Nation, has recently published an editorial defending the uniform policy:

There is nothing wrong with the students expressing their opinion, but perhaps the effort and energy spent on this advocacy could be better spent on other causes that could benefit society as a whole. Being forced to wear a uniform in a class might be restricting, but it also denotes a sense of identity and equality.

Meanwhile, the student who wanted to reform the policy has been slapped with a Lese Majeste (anti-royal insult law) case.

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