BANGKOK — From north to south, anti-government protests are popping up at various schools, both private and public. But none has been reported inside any international schools, despite their bigger exposure to Western values, like democracy and freedom.
A survey of 13 major international schools in Bangkok found that none of them witnessed any symbolic protests, even as Thai school students went as far as marching on the education ministry in defiance of the officialdom.
The silence may be even more striking when one compares the relatively free atmosphere of an international school to the oppressive culture commonplace in Thai classrooms, where several student protesters were outright assaulted by their teachers.
Bank, 19, who graduated in June from an international high school, describes international students as generally apathetic to Thai politics, and even resistant to change.
“No one cares at all,” Bank said. “If I talk about it, some people even get annoyed since they think it doesn’t affect them. Many foreign teachers also don’t know what’s going on. I went to the Democracy Monument protest alone.”
Khaosod English contacted 13 leading international schools in Bangkok, all of which said none of their students are protesting, nor do they have any policy in place for whether they will allow political expression or not.
Employees declined to be named or to comment on behalf of the school since they have not been allowed to do so by school administrators. Several who answered the phone responded with hostility to questions regarding the protests.
“Why are you calling out of the blue to ask about this? We’re not going to give an opinion,” one person said before hanging up.
Three employees who picked up the phone said that they did not foresee political protests to be an issue on their campus at all, while two of the 13 said they have not opened for in-person classes yet.
Some staff said that their school does not have a daily flag ceremony – a ritual hijacked by dissenting students in Thai schools as a moment for raising the anti-government salute.
“The administration is worried about the school’s name being called out,” a recent international school graduate who goes by the name Jirada said. “The students are putting New York Times articles up on their [Instagram] stories but don’t feel safe enough to go protest.”
Elite Thai social circles of international students (dek inter or เด็กอินเตอร์) are typically considered to be politically uninterested or even oblivious to Thai politics and social issues.
As a rough estimate, Bank said maybe “one of 10 students” even know about current Thai political protests, but three out of 10 posted #BlackLivesMatter content on social media – which he attributes to their generally well off background that insulates the students from social and political storms.
“The top 1 percent of the population doesn’t care about public issues like wanting better public transportation, education, or a smaller wealth gap,” Bank said. “Some students’ dads are higher up policemen or politicians who benefit from corruption. Even their kids don’t really know how powerful their parents are in society.”
Ploy, a 15-year-old 10th grader said that ongoing political conflicts are not study hall topic conversations.
“No one really knows what’s going on,” she said. “We, who a lot of people call privileged kids, do not really feel affected by politics. It’s not really a hot topic among students.”
She added, “There are some hashtags on Tiktok and Twitter, but when I go into them it’s just people being angry but I don’t know why. No one tells us why.”
Pete, 18, says that at a recent school assembly the foreign teachers talked only about the Lebanon explosion, but have never spoken about Thai current events. “Our school is quite American in terms of culture. Teachers focus on international events.”
Jirada said, “Circles of Thai international students also don’t see it as necessary to go. The majority are elite Thais who are pro-establishment, or their families are.”
Pete added that among his elite friends, no one seems to be affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. He was a high schooler during the 2019 polls, an election marred by blatant irregularities that reinstalled the junta leader as a prime minister.
“Most of my friends’ parents voted for the Democrat party, or Phalang Pracharath,” Pete said.
Paradoxically, this demographic – with wealth, clout, and foreign education – is believed to possess in its hands the power to push for political change in Thai society, a fact parodied by viral Instagram account @BougieBangkokGirl.
“BKK elites partying away at Beam and eating uni while the rest of the nation fights for basic human rights,” says the account’s latest post Monday, referring to the popular Thonglor nightclub and the trendy, expensive sea urchin sushi in vogue.
Jirada, who has attended several pro-democracy protests with her friends, says that some of her peers who wanted to go with her were not allowed by their parents.
Pete, 18, hasn’t been to any protest since he “does not want to get involved in politics.” “If I were to go, I would probably have to sneak out to go since my family doesn’t approve of the protests.”
One possibility of disinterest might be attributed to a lack of lessons on Thai history. Despite the higher tuition fees, international school education in Thailand barely teaches any Thai history, especially more controversial events that have been erased from state-sanctioned textbooks.
“We need to teach about October 6 and the change from absolute monarchy so we can understand current politics,” Bank said. “All they care about is teaching about World War 2 and World War 1. I had to research to educate myself.”