May 02, 2010

030107 Ban Mae Ter school

A village school in the mountains of rural Thailand:


Miles away - both literally & figuratively - from the government schools in Bangkok that the 'cousins' went to, & even further removed from the swish private schools that their kids now go to.

Today = Wednesday = scouts day, when all school kids across the kingdom are required to turn up for school in their boy or girl scouts uniform (a few schools have it on a different weekday). Here you just turn up in whatever parts of a uniform you have:


Boy on left in a combination of normal uniform (shirt) + scout uniform (hat + scarf) + PE uniform (trackpants) & slippers:


Thailand has this thing for uniforms - school teachers & university students wear uniforms, & even university academic staff & civil servants have formal uniforms with jackets that look exactly like military ceremonial dress - complete with gold buttons, badges, tabs, epaulettes & lanyards.

A 'Mastercard analysis' of costs:

uniform blouse = 80-165 baht
uniform shirt = 80-150 baht
uniform skirt = 100-185 baht
uniform pants = 90-200 baht
school shoes = 180-290 baht/pair
scout hat/beret + scarf = 130-160 baht/set
belt = 60-80 baht
scout uniform shirt/blouse = 160-240 baht
scout uniform pants/skirt = 100-225 baht
uniform socks (boys) = ~30 baht/pair

minimum wage (Chiangrai province) = 146 baht/day (2007), 157 baht/day (2010)
income for most hilltribe people in this region = ~150 baht/day

Headmaster/teacher who doesn't bar kids from school for 'incomplete uniform' = priceless

Additional cost considerations:
* T-shirt + trackpants for PE uniform
* Fridays = traditional dress day in some regions; some schools require students to wear indigo หม้อฮ่อม 'mor hom' (traditional Lao Phuan/Lanna farmers' outfit)
* some schools require different uniforms for 'summer' & 'winter' e.g. long-sleeved blouses for girls' 'winter' uniform

Education is theoretically free up to Mor. 3 (third year of secondary school), but cost of uniformsss (plus books, stationery, transport, additional fees charged by schools, food, etc) end up keeping a good number of kids out of school &/or from continuing their studies beyond lower secondary school. Quite often, rural kids who are able to meet the whole lot of uniform requirements are those who have parents or other relatives working in cities or other countries & remitting money home. For the Mae Salong area, it usually means working as labourers in Taiwan, like what Mr Assistant Headman (who brought us to the school) did for a couple of years. His own daughter was in full girl scout uniform today ;)


A great deal of time at Thai schools is devoted towards reinforcing beliefs in the three pillars of ชาติ chaat (Nation), ศาสน์ saat (Religion) & กษัตริย์ gasat (Monarchy):


Before the end of the school day, everyone turns around...

P1030111 pay their respects to the Buddha statue:


The cat has never been to the deep south of Thailand, but for everywhere else it has been, in government schools, Religion = Theravada Buddhism, regardless of whether students are animists, Mahayana Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Catholics, agnostics, atheists or even Pastafarians. Not too sure if Buddha ever intended to have things done this way...but guess knowing all the 'correct things to do' does help the kids 'fit'/blend into lowland Thai society.

Even the teacher has to be in full scout uniform like an overgrown kid:


Thai guys are trained from young to embrace the colour pink:


A different kind of swing in the school playground - it's an Akha village after all:

P1030107 P1030108

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