Andres Musta

Promoting human rights and peace education in Thailand

Thailand has played a vital role in promoting human rights and peace education at both the national and regional level. The country has developed, strengthened, and expanded human rights education as a result of national, regional, and global influences. [1] Among the major influences include widespread human rights violations committed throughout the country; an increasing demand for educated/trained human rights experts and academics in the Asian region; and Thailand’s need to fulfill its commitments to seven core international human rights treaties from which Thailand is a state party. [2] [1] Importantly, the ultimate goal of human rights and peace education in Thailand is to create a peaceful and harmonious society under the rule of law, where everyone has mutual respect for rights and dignity. Since this goal requires a great deal of commitment, understanding, and continuous learning from every related stakeholder, there is much work to be done before it is realised. [3]

One important milestone that led to the development of human rights education in Thailand was the emergence of the first National Human Rights Education Plan of Action brought about by the 1997 Constitution. This Education Plan was drafted by representatives from both the Thai government and civil society, and it eventually became a part of the first National Master Plans of Action on Human Rights.

The Plan’s objectives are mainly to integrate human rights within formal and informal education in a more systematic and comprehensive manner, as well as to further develop the methodology of teaching human rights in Thailand. It also aimed at training education-related personnel in the field of human rights by providing adequate teaching materials and providing adequate funding support from related stakeholders. [1] [4]

University courses on peace studies and conflict resolution were approved by the 29 November 2005 Cabinet Resolution. This enabled universities to prepare their appropriate curriculum, then hand the curriculum to a university committee for a revision, and submit it to the University Council for approval before getting a final official approval by the Higher Education Commission. The partial role of the Higher Education Commission is to support or promote human rights education. The universities incorporate human rights and peace studies both directly and indirectly in other subject areas like political sciences, social sciences, international relations and education. [1] [5] This process is common not only in Thailand, but also in the higher education institutions of other ASEAN countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore and Brunei. [5]

Most human rights and peace studies courses in Thailand are offered mainly as electives through several university departments including law, education, political science, social science and pharmaceutical science. This is despite the fact that the number of university courses dedicated to human rights and peace studies in law and other departments are increasing across state and private universities and colleges. There are also some universities that include human rights and peace studies in their general education curriculum, offering them to students studying in any program or major. However, the university law departments are the ones that directly teach the concept of human rights which touch upon, for example, legal philosophy, international law, public law, and international humanitarian law. [1]

At present, Thailand’s Mahasarakam University’s College of Politics and Governance is the only academic institution in the ASEAN region that provides an undergraduate program on human rights and peace studies. [1] [5] Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) is the only higher education institution in Thailand that offers graduate-level programmes on human rights and peace studies. It is also the first university in Thailand and Asia which offers an international graduate programme on human rights. Besides, as a member university of the ASEAN University Network (AUN), Mahidol University has played a leading role for AUN’s human rights education Network.

Several universities have set up centres on human rights and peace studies in Thailand, thus leading to increasing academic collaboration among universities at national and regional levels. Although human rights and peace education in Thailand have been developed and expanded to some extent, their serious and proper implementation and sustainability should be increasingly prioritized despite social or political challenges. [1] A lot more needs to be done for human rights and peace education for the full promotion of human rights in the country.

With regard to higher education level, human rights and peace education in Thailand should, first of all, be supported by every university-related stakeholder including teachers, students, academics, and parents. [3] In order to instil a belief on the importance of human rights education in Thai society, it is also noteworthy that those people should actively study human rights courses and fully realize/understand the importance of human rights, which can lead to national stability and developments.

In terms of the coursework, one main recommendation is that a core course on human rights and peace studies should be included under general education curriculum in all university departments, so that students of all majors are required to study human rights as a mandatory course. Human rights and peace studies should also become a mandatory core course for all law students and the students taking program on peace and conflict studies. Additionally, human rights and peace education should be incorporated into several other subjects from first year coursework. [1]

Concerning the content of the subject, the content of any human rights and peace related course is recommended to embrace both theoretical and practical realms. For instance, it might cover a wide range of theoretical studies on fundamental concepts; philosophy; conventions, laws and regulations; national and international mechanisms; conceptual analysis; as well as human rights practical study in the form of role-play. [1]

Interestingly, since Thailand is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, human rights might also be taught extensively based on Buddhist ideology and Asian philosophy such as the ideology/perception that after all “Everyone is equal under the same Dharma.”, as said by the Buddha. In case there is a reaction to the concept/principle of “human rights” as a result of several different reasons (i.e. negative perception on human rights, western influence on the concept, a belief that human rights leads to attack on the status quo, etc.), all human rights and peace studies might be taught by avoid using the words “human rights” itself. [3]

Teaching techniques and materials are viewed as important factors in human rights and peace education. Indeed, human rights and peace studies should be incorporated into all aspects of learning instead of remaining just a university course, for both teachers and students to comprehensively learn about and understand human rights. [3] This can be done through proactive and practical activities such as fieldwork, field trips, or working with local communities on human rights or peace related issues. Importantly, apart from having adequate teaching materials, instructors should develop their teaching methods by shifting from a teacher-centered to a student-centered approach so as to allow more creative thinking from students. [1]

Another essential factor for human rights and peace studies is a more systematic academic collaboration among universities and between all related stakeholders in the field of human rights and peace education. Among prime recommendations are to provide an efficient training course on human rights and peace studies for teachers and lecturers; to systematically exchange lecturers with other universities/institutions so as to enable the exchange of information, ideas and experience; as well as to promote the transfer of coursework units as another option for students. [1]

Although Thailand has already achieved significant development in the field of human rights and peace education at both national and regional levels, many problems remain. All of those mentioned recommendations are thus of great importance for the effective development of human rights and peace education, which can promote concern regarding human rights issues throughout the country.

 

References

References

[1] The Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Mahidol University and the ASEAN University Network (AUN). The Mapping and Analysis of Human Rights and Peace Education in Southeast Asia. Bangkok Thailand: IHRP & AUN, 2013.

[2] IHRP. Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP). http://www.ihrp.mahidol.ac.th/index.php/en/our-institute/study-at-ihrp/63-institute-of-human-rights-and-peace-studies-ihrp. (Accessed February 14, 2015).

[3] Suwansathit, Savitri. Thailand: Human Rights Education.

http://www.hurights.or.jp/archives/human_rights_education_in_asian_schools/section2/2000/03/thailand-human-rights-education.html. (Accessed February 14, 2015).

[4] Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Information of Thailand regarding Human Rights Education. http://www.mfa.go.th/humanrights/implementation-of-un-resolutions/64-human-rights-edcuation-in-thailand (accessed February 14, 2015).

[5] Lee, Ada. “Scholars urge unis to focus on rights. Teaching subject seen as vital to Asean peace.” Bangkok Post, February 6, 2015, http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/467622/scholars-urge-unis-to-focus-on-rights.

 

About Nattanit Boonrungsimon

Nattanit (Som) Boonrungsimon holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with a concentration in International Studies. She recently completed a four-month internship at the office of the ASEAN University Network (AUN) Secretariat in Bangkok, Thailand, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Human Rights at the University of Vienna.

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