A group called “Bad Student” is monitoring secondary school entrances and passing out “Student Survival Guides” to aid students in navigating Thailand’s authoritarian culture, which allegedly encourages sexual and physical violence in schools.
There is a lot of information in this new “Student Survival Guide” about how to handle difficult and seldom addressed problems in schools, from knowing your rights to contacting someone if you are being harassed.
Bad Student, a group made up of young Thai people who have already distributed over 4,000 copies of the guide to several schools, added information on organizing protests and sharing news on social media to the guide.
Outside a Bangkok middle school known for its strict dress code, members of the Bad Student group hand out manuals. There are hairstyle inspections at the school. Students requested that the group distribute their manuals.
“The teachers really believe that they can do whatever they want with us”
Bad Student emerged from a movement of young, pro-democracy activists who have been demonstrating on the streets of Bangkok for a year and a half. The aim of the group is to change the culture within Thai educational institutions.
Thanchanok Koshphaharin, known as “Ban”, is 21 years old and lives and studies in Bangkok. Strict dress codes, including rules for student’s hair, are one of the first steps towards an authoritarian culture in schools, she says:
When you come to Thailand you will see a lot of students with shaved heads or hair cut very short. The teachers cut the hair of these students because they did not follow the school’s hair policy. The teachers think they are entitled to do so.
There have even been some cases where teachers thought a girl’s skirt was too short and tore it up with scissors so she could no longer wear it.
In some schools, they force children who do not wear their uniforms properly to pull their nails over the wall.
This authoritarian culture allows teachers to do basically anything they want with students, which establishes a strict hierarchy and culture of domination. They really believe that they can do whatever they want with us.
Bad Student members say strict dress codes are some kind of entry point into an educational institution’s perceived right over a student’s body. So the guide contains a lot of information about a person’s right to physical autonomy. It also covers other fundamental rights for students under national and international law, including freedom of expression and the right to security.
The group is raising awareness of these rights through visual performances that have gone viral on Facebook and TikTok.
There have been a number of high-profile cases of sexual or other harassment of students in Thailand in recent years. Most of the cases we know of have been exposed on social media – but often they are covered up by educational institutions.
Last year the country was rocked by two incidents of sexual violence in Thai schools. The first case came to light in April 2020 when a video was posted online showing a school principal groping a 12-year-old student under her clothes. (Warning: the footage can be disruptive to some viewers.)
Then, in May 2020, five teachers were arrested and charged with repeatedly raping a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old schoolgirl. Bad Student says these cases are just the tip of the iceberg as most students who have been harassed do not know where to turn:
If a student reports this to their school, the school will try to cover up the incident and ask the student to pretend nothing happened. It happens all the time. Because the school believes that if the sexual harassment becomes public, the school will lose its reputation. Sometimes they even blame the student by saying something like, ‘Why didn’t you wear a longer skirt?’
It does not matter whether the violence was committed by another student or an employee.
The Thai school system sees teachers almost like parents. They stay long to keep an eye on the students and make sure they get home safely. Ban says she respects some of her teachers, but it’s hard to open up to them.
Student associations and social media play an essential role in this environment.
Students are more likely to open up on social media because they have the option to remain anonymous. And in general, when you report an injustice to a teacher, they don’t listen. Often times a teacher will dismiss what a student says. Or you could say that is how it is at this school or in Thailand. And if you can’t accept the rules then you should leave this school.
Bad Student concludes his survival guide by telling students how to create their own groups to create change in the Thai school system and how to get their messages across online or during protests. They also provide information on how to make friends and collect testimonials using a shared hashtag. They share a “do-it-yourself” form of activism.
This video presents the group’s survival guide. Ban says, “There was a teacher who was constantly violating the rights of students. A student was reading the manual to the teacher and she suddenly changed her mind to be more understanding.”
This work is based on our experience. We have all been students at one point and we know what students are doing in school. We tried to include as much as possible to think about what could help a student left to fend for themselves. The school is supposed to be a safe place for students, but this is not the case in Thailand. So when there is no one to help us, we need to create our own advice.