For Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, it has been important since he seized power that all school children know, memorise and recite daily the “12 core values” admired by his regime. (File photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

In a bid to ensure Thai children grow up as decent citizens, the authorities have come up with an ambitious plan: to amend a national exam to weigh up their goodness and morality.

The head of the National Institute of Educational Testing Service said a new O-Net standardisation test featuring goodness and morality could be possible by next year. He told the media it’s part of a proposal to overhaul the national curriculum by increasing the number of hours required for the study of civic duties, religion and morality.

The planned overhaul was proposed on the assumption that making students study the subjects longer and including them in the O-Net test would guarantee decent behaviour. The idea has sparked debate on social media and I agree with critics who have questioned the merits of such a test.

Ploenpote Atthakor is editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

No one has an issue with the need to guide youngsters to ensure they grow up as decent citizens. But to have them do a test?

I am afraid that it will be just a waste of time and effort.

This does not mean I don’t see the importance of imbuing moral principles in youngsters. I just think the approach is superficial, if not wrong.

One big question about such a test is that it might encourage our kids to be calculating persons which I cannot say is good. By arranging a morals exam, it might make youngsters think it’s okay to do good to get something in return — in this case the return comes in the form of marks.

What kind of people will they become?

Not to mention that the definition of “decent citizens” varies in accordance with the type of government. Under authoritarianism, decency can just mean obedience. Pro-democratic people who challenge the state could be categorised as troublemakers.

And we can never be sure about the end result of the test. It’s not certain that youngsters who can parrot moral principles in order to pass an exam will translate that into practice. That’s too easy. As easy as thinking that forcing people to observe the national anthem twice a day will make them patriotic. Or that those who don’t care about the anthem are ready to commit treason.

For morality, take a look at rogue monks. They are supposed to be spiritual leaders, with over 200 strict precepts to follow. Yet, quite a few still cannot overcome sins like greed, with many having engaged in commercial activities to accumulate wealth. It’s these people who have eroded our faith in Buddhism.

Even a sacred place like a temple which is supposed to be without sin is not entirely free from crime. Have you ever seen signs at some temples put up to warn visitors of pickpockets or thieves? What an irony.

In fact, I have a question about goodness-related campaigns that have been launched since the regime took power, including the designation of the so-called “Five-Precept Villages” which expanded to more than 70,000 sites nationwide. I wish those involved could show us the difference — like a decline in crime rates compared to villages that are not part of the campaign.

My questioning of the end result of the exam is because I don’t think there will be a difference if youngsters emerge from the exam room and later learn that some bad guys, with money and power, manage to escape justice and can live comfortable lives. A case in point is Vorayuth Yoovidhya, a wealthy kid who confessed to a fatal hit-and-run case that killed a police officer. His escape was facilitated by law enforcers who turned a blind eye.

The case only reflects that the use of money and power can make the law of karma null and void.

What about making it simple by ensuring that karma works as it should? The bad guys must be punished, accordingly. What about the powers-that-be setting a good example, not abusing the law?

We may achieve the goal with a small but important step: Leaders practising what they preach.

News Reporter

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