Bangkok: A mild-mannered teenage girl with owl glasses, a bob haircut and daisies painted on her fingernails is not your typical school troublemaker. But in the eyes of Thailand’s ultra-conservative school system, Benjamaporn “Ploy” Nivas has been cast as a rebel for daring to express herself.
The 15-year-old is at the forefront of Thailand’s “Bad Student” movement which is planning a major rally in Bangkok on Saturday. Thai schools have very strict dress standards, with ponytails and ribbons mandated for girls and military-style crew cuts for boys.
Ploy and her fellow high school activists have gone rogue, emboldened by the broader political protest movement currently sweeping Thailand. The students want cultural change, a curriculum overhaul, equality and a relaxation of rigid rules.
“We are brainwashed… as students we are taught not to ask questions, but to study and memorise facts for exams,” she said.History textbooks are a particular bone of contention in a country which has seen a dozen coups since becoming a democracy in 1932.
“If my teachers are on same side with me, the democracy side, they will admire me — but if they want (the status quo) those teachers hate me,” Ploy said.At a rally, police used water cannons and tear gas on activists, and six people suffered gunshot wounds.
Since August, the Bad Student movement has campaigned for the resignation of Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and even staged a mock funeral for him.
There have long been calls to reform the kingdom’s schools but progress has been piecemeal. In international assessments, Thai students score lower than the OECD average in maths and science.
They perform particularly badly in reading, and a World Bank report in 2015 noted widespread “functional illiteracy” among students across all types of Thai schools.