Education Not to Blame for BNK48’s Nazi Moment: Official

Images posted by True ID from a televised BNK48 rehearsal on Friday.
Images posted by True ID from a televised BNK48 rehearsal on Friday.

BANGKOK — Debate continues over whether personal ignorance or a bad education was to blame for a pop singer taking the stage in a Nazi flag.

Nineteen-year-old Pichayapa “Namsai” Natha became the latest of many Thais to court fury for embracing a symbol that causes hurt worldwide, only to say afterward they had no idea what it meant. And blaming a lack of world history education is a defense her fans and even many of her detractors find valid, considering the poor reputation of education in Thailand.

No, an education official said Monday, don’t blame her education. Nitsuda Apinuntaporn of the Basic Education Commission said there’s no need to improve the curriculum in response to the public outcry, which included denunciations from the German and Israeli embassies.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to adjust the curriculum, because the content in history lessons are facts that can’t be changed,” she said. “Students learn about it, but they might not be able to remember.”

Nitsuda also said people should not blame the young singer solely for what happened, adding that a manager should have screened their outfits in advance.

No one appeared to object when Pichayapa wore the jersey printed with the Nazi war flag at a rehearsal before a live audience and the television media. She apologized the next day and met with Israeli Ambassador Meir Shlomo to do so again. The band agreed to participate in educational campaigns promoting Holocaust awareness.

Today, Pichayapa and other BNK48 members attended the Holocaust Remembrance Day hosted by the Israel Embassy in Bangkok. There, Shlomo emphasized the importance of education to prevent such events from repeating.

Pichayapa Natha, third from left, and other BNK48 members with Israeli Ambassador Meir Shlomo and his wife Bracha Shlomo, at center, at the Tuesday event marking the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Bangkok. Photo: Embassy of Israel in Thailand

“Did mankind really learn the lesson? The only real antidote to this hate is education, education and education,” he said.

Two history teachers blamed the lack of awareness however on the overall failure of schools to impart the importance and context of such symbolism.

While world history subjects including World War II must be taught, even at the elementary school level, no specifics are laid out and the content is left up to the teachers.

“The curriculum covers all important subjects, but I think it’s not deep enough,” said Chulalak Rakpong, who teaches history to sixth grade students in Uttaradit province. “Teachers also don’t emphasize the importance, causes and effects of these events.”

“The issue occurred because students don’t understand the origin of these symbols, about where they actually came from,” she added.

Silpakorn University student in Bangkok dresses recently as Adolf Hitler. Photo: Washirawit Santipiboon / Facebook

While BNK48’s Pichayapa could be the most high-profile figure to land in hot water for adopting Nazi imagery, she was far from the first. In 2016, Silpakorn University students cosplayed as Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler. Chulalongkorn University graduates in 2013 performed Nazi salutes for photos in front of a mural of “superheroes” which also included Hitler. Some parents at a Chiang Mai school were baffled and offended when students dressed as SS officers in a full-blown Nazi parade.

Pakin Nimmannorrawong, who teaches high-school history at the Kamnoetvidya Science Academy, said the ministry’s requirements about what students should learn come in broad terms and allow teachers to design courses how they think best.

“I think the current curriculum is already good for teachers in terms of its flexibility,” he said. “It already specifies what should be covered in class. How these subjects will be taught and how deep they will go into details is up to each teacher to design their courses.”

World history for high school students in particular includes “Historical timeline and eras,” “Ancient world civilizations,” “Key events in world history,” and “Collaborations and conflicts of humankind.”

In these broad subject areas, some mandatory modern events include Colonialism, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and Middle East conflict.

Although he likes that the ministry allows room for teachers to be creative, Pakin believes it could better guide them in educating the youth about history, which is a complex and sensitive subject to many nations.

A Nazi-themed parade at Sacred Heart School in Chiang Mai, 2011. Photo: Simon Wiesenthal Center

“World War II is not only important in terms of the event itself, but also the after-effects of the war and ideology,” he said. “They can include these keywords into the requirements … such as talking about how the Holocaust occurred in several places and other effects caused by warring ideologies.”

However, teachers themselves must also realize that teaching students only about timelines and events won’t help them address the complexity and sensitivity that drove the recent uproar, he said.

“Part of the problem comes from us teaching only details of these events, telling them to only remember the details.” he said. “They can’t see the impact and problems of these ideologies and concepts, such as how fascists came into existence and the social context behind it.”

“When you don’t explain these events by their nature, causes and effects, and only force students to memorize them word by word, of course they won’t be able to remember it afterward,” he added.