The newly opened Thammasat Secondary School, serving students aged 12-18, has been making headlines for its progressive curriculum aimed at encouraging independent thought, as well as its no-uniform policy. Under the same management as Thammasat University, the B100,000-a-year (for now) school has admitted just 102 students for its first academic year, with both parents and wannabe pupils made to take an entrance test before any child is admitted. Here, we speak to Thammasat Secondary School’s director, Sirirat Siricheepchaiyan, associate director, Dr. Sittichoke Tabthong and assistant director, Nithi Junthanu, about their attitude to education.
Tell us about the no-school uniform policy.
Sirirat: We don’t want people to think that this means students can wear casual clothes. The point is to give students the ability to choose for themselves. We actually do have a uniform but it’s just a simple white polo shirt. Students can still choose their own bottom halves. They have to wear the polo shirt two days a week, on Monday and Thursday, because we have a market in the school area and this way it’s easy for us to separate our kids from others in the area. That’s the only reason why. The students were also involved in designing the polo with the teachers and parents.
Dr. Sittichoke: By giving them the opportunity to choose what they want to wear, we are also allowing them to choose who they want to be. It’s part of becoming an adult.
Tell us more about your curriculum.
Nithi: Students start school at 8am with no usual morning assembly singing the national anthem or praying. We believe that to love the nation, you don’t have to sing the national anthem every morning. Classes go on until 2:30pm, after which pupils have the opportunity to choose after-school clubs. On Monday we have what we call “social innovator” sessions, where kids get to discuss social problems.
What kind of issues do you discuss?
Nithi: We are not going to throw something big at them like the Rohingya problem [laughs]. We let them name problems that they have observed, then we discuss their causes and come up with ideal solutions, before thinking of how to make that ideal situation a reality. By making their own decisions and fully being themselves, students can learn to live with each other’s differences.
Sirirat: We want them to think progressively and develop leadership skills. That’s the whole point to education.
What does it take for parents to get their kids in this school?
Dr. Sittichoke: First, you have to apply on our website [www.satit.tu.ac.th], then we call both the kid and the parents in to sit an exam. The students take a “thinking skills” test, while the parents take an “attitude exam.” We have to make sure that parents have the time to support their kids. This means being involved with the school. We only accept students for matthayom 1 [age 12-13]. They cannot start with us mid-way through their education.
Will you be introducing your program to any other Thai schools?
Sirirat: We’ve already had requests from schools for our teachers to go and do some workshops. We don’t have the ability to set up another school like this but we can send our professionals to train other teachers.
Since your school is open to debate, has there been any fighting and arguments so far?
Nithi: Yes [laughs]. We had the Wai Kru [Teacher’s Day] ceremony pinned in our school calendar but we [teachers] didn’t think it was necessary. I told the students that, if they wanted to have it, they could organize it themselves. They decided they would. They locked themselves in a big meeting room and wouldn’t allow any teachers in. We allowed them to settle any arguments themselves. In the end, they managed to throw quite a good ceremony.