The Thai Character : Education and Competence Orientation


6. Education and Competence Orientation

With respect to the value of education and its related values, the findings of the Thai Value studies revealed that knowledge-for-knowledge sake value does not receive high value in the cognition of the Thai in general. Education has been perceived more as a "means" of climbing up the social ladder, of gaining higher prestige and higher salary, rather than an end value in itself. This functional value of being labelled as educated is very clear in everyday life experience, and indicates as well that the Thai people value and give importance to form more than content or substances.

6.1. Form over Content Value

The value of "form" more than "content" seems to underlie a number of behavioral pattern, ranging from bribing to getting good grades. Since the Thai people place highest value on the "ego" self, the "face", and social relations, these decorative external labels, degrees, decorations, etc., thus naturally become important. The possession of them would identify the owner with the respected class of the society. These empty labels are highly valued as indicators of prestige and honors, something to be possessed, with or without the suitable worth - the content.

However, since values are always used in relative terms, there is no intention to mean that there are no Thai who would value content and work diligently against obstacles to achieve their ideal goals. The fact is, while there are Thai who are serious workers and who value competence and substance, there are also those who, not only value the reverse more, but would seek to possess those decorative forms, either by hook or by crook.

6.2. Form and Material Possession Value

Most Thai and foreign observers of the Thai would agree that the Thai value good form and appearance, as well as material possessions. They are particular about appearance and dressing, in quantity and quality with designer labels, and brand names of all kinds. This is why imitated merchandises make good business, for they cater to those who really cannot afford them. This appearance conscious value is an everyday life reality. As a matter of fact, Komin's sociolinguistic analysis of conversational topics in Thai social interactions shows that one of the common conversational themes, is appreciating one another's clothing and its accessories at length.

Such "form" and "material possession" oriented behaviors are evident in all levels of social class. People bought what they do not really need, but to show that they also possess them. Frugality is one of the high values of the Thai. "Spending more than one's means" is a common syndrome. One foreigner in Thailand did not understand why his Thai friend decided, much beyond his means, to buy a 3 million baht power Mercedes-Benz. The answer received was that he was the managing director of a company.

As for the lower class, this over-spending syndrome has become the core cause of the endless circle of poverty, now that everything can be bought on hire-purchase basis.

6.3. Form And Perception of Development

The Thai generally value material symbols, as they are seen as "forms" of being "modern" (Thansamai) and "developed". Even government officials are stuck with these misleading "forms". "Development" has often been equated with roads, electricity, refrigerators, motorcycles, etc.

The story of a Buddhist monk's work in a poor village in the Northeastern region is quite illustrative. The monk used to think of development in terms of roads and electricity, etc. Determined to fight poverty and backwardness, he convinced the villagers to give up their land to build a new road that would link their homes to the city. "Development" did quickly stream in. Motorcycles started roaring into the village. Refrigerators replaced earthen jars for keeping drinking water. Electric rice cookers, televisions, jeans, lipsticks, shampoo, fragrant soaps and other consumer goods advertised on television became integral part of the villagers' lives, while gambling and drinking become more widespread. And the villagers plunged deeper into debts.

Disillusioned, the monk changed his views, and that was when real change began to take place in this small Northeastern village of Surin Province. Through meditation and Buddhist teachings, he got the villagers to analyze and identify the chronic disease of their poverty, to understand that their gambling, drinking and unnecessary expenses have worsened their situations, and to help them think out means to ease their problems. The villagers made religious vow to decrease expenses on unnecessary products, and they revitalized their community spirits, collaborated on a series of projects from the village's Rice Bank, Fertilizer Bank, "Friendship farming", etc. And now the village has retained their self-reliance.

It is fortunate that this village somehow managed to pull through the dilemma. How many more of the country's 55,000 villages are there that are trapped in the misconception and misguided road to "development".

7. Interdependence Orientation