Inter-school violence and the value of life in Thailand
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Inter-school violence and the value of life in Thailand

by James Goyder

When I was school boy violent threats, generally of a far fetched nature, were a matter of routine, but occasions on which anyone came to actual physical harm were few and far between.

The most extreme example I can remember is when someone on their way to a school disco had their arm broken by a notorious local character who was widely referred to as ‘mental Mickey’. At the time it was a big deal, charges were pressed and the subject was addressed in a solemn school assembly.

There was another occasion when someone saw fit to taunt a car full of passers-by from the safety of the back seat of the school bus. Unfortunately for him the incident occurred a couple of hundred metres from his stop and when he got off the bus he was accosted by a group of irate young men and received a black eye for his troubles.

These isolated incidents are the most extreme I can remember from those 15 years of full-time education. Admittedly I grew up in a relatively rural area in the south of England but if fights between rival schools were occurring regularly elsewhere they seldom made the news.

I could be completely confident that on the numerous occasions when I offended one of  my peers and was told I was ‘dead’ there was no chance whatsoever of him actually following through with his threat. In schools in Thailand the threat of violence is obviously far more real. Here are a selection of stories which have made the English language news:

Boy, aged 9, killed in Thai school gang shooting

Guns and gangs not child’s play

Vocational School Shooting Leaves 1 Killed and 2 Injured

Three teens arrested for fatal brawl

Vocational Student Killed in Brawl

Another vocational student wounded in gunplay

Bystander knifed, 17 arrested in new student rioting flareup

I have also witnessed numerous reports on the Thai news which have not made it into the English language media, including CCTV footage of a teenager being kicked to death by a gang in an internet cafe.

The issue has predictably provoked a lot of soul searching amongst authorities in Thailand. Principals of affected schools have repeatedly been called to parliament and solutions, including a rural retreat for rival gang leaders, have been proposed. It has also been suggested that the schools themselves are to blame for deliberately engendering an academic environment which can lead to students displaying certain tribalistic tendencies.

Education is clearly the key to solving this particular problem but I do not think that rivalry between schools is necessarily a bad thing and pupils should not be discouraged from feeling a fierce affinity to their place of education.

What concerns me the most about all these instances is the utter disregard for human life. I cannot think of a single example at any of the schools I attended of a peer dying and if something like that had happened the entire local community would have been devastated.

The majority of these attacks were premeditated and involved young people carrying knives and guns with the express intent of using them to harm another person, regardless of whether they set out to kill or not they must have been well aware that this was a possible outcome.

The issue extends beyond instances of inter-school violence. Whether it be riding a motorcycle at high speed without a helmet or having unprotected sex, young people in Thailand seem to have a far more relaxed view of risk than their Western contemporaries would.

In the West human life is regarded as absolutely sacred but in Thailand it is not held in nearly such high regard. The never mind / mai pen lai attitude which has helped the Kingdom develop its reputation as the  ‘land of smiles’ appears to also extend to existence itself. Perhaps a syllabus on the subject of ‘the value of life’ should be added to the Thai curriculum because this could the most important lesson that any young person could learn.