Sunday, October 24, 2010

Editorial: This quick fix for schools is failing our children

EDITORIAL
This quick fix for schools is failing our children

Published on October 21, 2010

Plan to declare English as second language in classroom ignores real problem: huge class sizes and outdated teaching methods
The debate on whether the Education Ministry should declare English as the second language in schools does not address the root cause of the problems in Thai schools. The real issue is the quality of teaching, not just of English but of all the subjects that students need to learn to be equipped for the future. Thai students already spend several hours on each subject per week in the classroom. What remains highly debatable, however, is whether schools give their students the quality time essential to learning.

The attempt to declare English as the second language in the classroom is an admirable thing and shows we are concerned over the low quality of learning. Knowledge of English undoubtedly broadens students' opportunities for learning. But it does not take a grand ambition to place English as the second language to solve the problem. Educators can tackle the issue effectively if they themselves are willing to learn and remain open-minded.

Every Thai student already studies English, but the average level of proficiency is highly questionable. Many teachers have not received training to improve their skills, or access to new knowledge. Some simply don't have the language skills to teach English. This means that many of our students are stuck with unqualified teachers day in, day out.

Although educators often claim they want to prepare students for the fast-changing world, most Thai schools still operate in the same way as their predecessors half a century ago. Typically, up to 50 students are crammed into one classroom and subjected to robotic learning by rote. Teaching methods have barely changed over the years. One change we can expect to see, though, is a drop in the quality of teachers, as their low pay means that teaching is no longer a coveted profession.

The authorities are scrambling for a quick fix. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, they prefer to announce a big-budget programme under a "sexy" title. But spending money alone will not guarantee satisfactory results. It is a shame that money is being lavished on education but producing nothing for our kids.

Rather than debating the terms of our English teaching, educators should take a direct route to improving learning by, first, focusing on limiting the class size for each subject. This puts the priority on ensuring every student receives sufficient attention from teachers. The method of learning by rote does not inspire students to excel at subjects for which they show aptitude. The current classroom environment fails when it comes to promoting either multidimensional learning or students' self-esteem. Students are often judged simply on their ability to memorise lessons, meaning that those with other talents can feel discouraged and left out.

Teachers should also receive constant training, because we owe it to our students to provide them with the best possible schooling. Improvements could also be made if public schools drew more on the resources of progressive or international schools, which are more up to date with techniques.

Meanwhile, an open-minded attitude is essential among teachers and school principals; learning is a never-ending process. Efforts to get retiree native English-speakers to assist in Thai schools have been unsuccessful largely because of the cold reception from teachers who are more concerned about their turf and ego than their students. These teachers should be sacked.

Teaching our children to become good "global citizens" should also be on the agenda. For instance, they should be taught about conserving energy and the impact they can have on the environment. But responsibility and citizenship are not sufficiently addressed. Instead, youngsters only hear adults asking for their rights but refusing to be accountable.

And most importantly, students should be given belief in their capacity and ability. Rather than promoting youngsters' self-actualisation, schools tend to punish students who don't perform well in the robotic model of learning. Meaningful knowledge is sidelined in favour of teaching students to fit into a mould by achieving good grades.

Thai students need to learn more about their geography and history to see how this physical and cultural background has shaped them. This will then enable them to understand themselves better. In contrast, currently they are usually forced merely to memorise information without learning how to think with it.
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October 25, 2010 02:57 am (Thai local time)
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Portraying Asia as the villain will backfire on the US

Opinion

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EDITORIAL
Published on October 14, 2010

American politicians using China and India as scapegoats for job losses are playing a dangerous and divisive game


Political spin with a short-term focus can leave the public mired in misinformation. Unfortunately, US politicians are trying to capitalise on ordinary Americans' anxiety over an unemployment rate of 9.6 per cent by scapegoating China and India as the cause of job losses.


The tactic is designed to connect with Americans during the mid-term elections, as economic recession tops the list of the country's concerns. However, the misleading election propaganda could create misunderstandings with the US's trading partners, especially those in Asia, which is being portrayed as the villain.


Over the past few weeks, a series of political ads on television has singled out China and India for costing America jobs. For instance, Zack Space, the Democrat Congressman for Ohio, who describes himself as "standing up against a Chinese government that has devastated American workers", accuses his Republican opponent of supporting free-trade policies that have caused a loss of US jobs to China. Earlier this year, Bill Halter lost a Democrat primary in Arkansas after his rival's TV ad featured South Asians thanking Halter for sending jobs to India.


Political messages like these can leave a negative impression among American's trading partners. The attacks on Chinese workers are counterproductive to the American attempt to pressure Beijing to re-value the yuan and thereby reduce the price-competitiveness of Chinese products. India's government recently expressed its disagreement with the US decision to raise the visa fee for Indian workers in the US. None of this bodes well for the US's effort to double its exports in the next five years to create some 2 million new jobs at home.


In short, such political misinformation will not improve the US economic situation. Jobs in India and China outsourced by the US may not be adversely affected by such sentiments, as their number is likely being exaggerated by the politicians.


More importantly, these messages foster anti-foreigner sentiment among ordinary Americans at a time when they are suffering from the recession. They can easily buy into the belief that they are entitled to vent their anger towards "outsiders". But blaming outsiders is no solution for a society that promotes the harmonious co-existence of people from different races. Minorities among America's rich mix of different ethnic backgrounds could in turn become scapegoats in a hostile atmosphere of blame.


Like anywhere else in the world, less competitive companies and industries in the US will find it difficult to survive. As such, American workers deserve better solutions from their politicians, such as new retraining programmes, rather than being given a caricature of workers overseas stealing American jobs.


The fact is that the motivation of several multinational companies for relocating their plants overseas has not been to capitalise on cheap labour but rather to penetrate foreign markets. Japanese and American automakers have set up assembly plants in Thailand mainly so as to sell their vehicles in Thailand and Southeast Asia.


American politicians should also make their constituents aware of the realities of global trade. Americans need to be reminded that they are also benefiting from this intertwined business environment, as cheap imports to the US benefit consumers, boost domestic consumption and curb inflation.


Many foreign companies have also made their presence felt in the US and created jobs for the locals. For instance, India-based pipe producer Welspun recently decided to expand its operation in Little Rock, Arkansas. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart stores in China contribute to the performance of its headquarters in the US.


Instead of looking for scapegoats, US politicians should be focussing on real solutions to their employment problems - for instance, working with other countries for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of global trade talks. And instead of accusing each other of being too sympathetic to China or India, and promoting a hostile environment of confrontation, Republicans and Democrats should instead urge their constituents to learn more about people from different backgrounds. As the Chinese proverb says, "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win every battle."






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October 14, 2010 09:57 am (Thai local time)
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

end of telegraph service

OFF THE BENCH
Witness to history, telegraph service set to shut down
Published on April 19, 2008
Jeerawat Na Thalang
The Nation

During a recent visit to the Central Post Office on Bangrak Road, officials there proudly told me about the history of the post office building, which has been deemed to be part of the nation's cultural heritage.

"There's a bomb underneath the car parking lot," an official said, pointing to the parking space in front of the building. The bomb was dropped during World War II but it did not explode. Officials didn't know how to retrieve the bomb without setting it off, so they left it there after the war ended.

The monolith building was designed according to old European architectural styles and its floor is decorated with tiles from Italy. The tiles may have darkened over the years but they give a vintage look to the interior of what is known as both the Bangrak Post Office and the Central Post Office, Bangkok South.

The building has witnessed the fast-changing pace of communications technology, from the old days when postmen wore neatly ironed shirts with shining stripes and rode bicycles to deliver mail to more modern times when people on different continents can communicate via email within seconds.

From next month, this old building will witness another historical event in the evolution of technology. The telegraph service will cease to exist, with a new generation turning to new methods of communication like e-mail.

Telegraph was once one of the most popular ways to send quick messages. People used the telegraph wire to deliver hot news, such as the results of a job interview, news of a recent death or claims for debt payment. At its peak, from 1987 to 1992, more than 500,000 messages were sent by telegraph each month. But that number has declined to some 8,000 this month. CAT decided to close down the service because the cost of maintaining it was not worthwhile.

The telegraph service came to Thailand in 1875. At that time, both the French and the British offered to construct telegraph lines in Thailand. The French offered to connect the line to Saigon, while the British wanted to run a line from Bangkok to Tavoy, Burma. King Rama V eventually turned down the offers from both countries and decided that Thailand would construct its own line. Thailand launched its first line in the East, connecting Bangkok and Samut Prakan. The service was later expanded to Prachin Buri to connect with the Indochinese line in Battambang in Cambodia and Saigon in Vietnam. Later on, the service was expanded throughout Thailand.

The telegraph was in fact part of several historical events. On January 17, 1928, the Post and Telegraph Department launched the international radiotelegraphy line for the first time by using a short-wave transmission machine to send a signal to Berlin. King Rama VII sent a telegraph to the Thai ambassador in Berlin saying:

SIAMESE MINISTER BERLIN

GREETING AM GLAD TO BE ABLE TO SEND FIRST MESSAGE DIRECT BANGKOK BERLIN RADIO

PRAJADHIPOK R

During World War II, the international telegraph service - which came through Manila - was halted in December 1941. Later on, the Thai government tried to negotiate the re-launching of the service via a neutral country. On April 6, 1942, the international telegraph service was reopened as the service was connected via Geneva, Switzerland.

Postal staff said that when they were students at the Post and Telegraph School, Morse Code class was their toughest because they had to memorise how to send the code accurately. An urban legend at the school had it that some telegraph experts could receive and memorise four messages at the same time before delivering them all later.

Officials said they received incomprehensible messages frequently, which they suspected were sent by lovers. Unfortunately, quite a number of the messages sent were death notices.

"It combined the art of finger-tapping and the accuracy of the code," said Saneth Pangsapha, the 59-year-old head of the Bangkok South Post Office in Bangrak. He demonstrated how to tap the code with his flexible wrist. "Telegraph is very classic. It requires both technical skill and a human touch," he said while complaining that his wrist has turned "dusty" because he cannot move his fingers to tap the code as fast as he used to.

These days, the telegraph service section consists of 25 staff members, a reduction from some 300 when the service was more popular. The telegraph section is located on the upper floor of the Bangrak Post Office. Morse Code is no longer applied. Officials use a computerised system to send telegraphs.

Consumers can, however, fill out the telegraph forms, which they can collect from the ground floor of the post office. Pieces of the brown paper form available in a box obviously shows that the form has not been reprinted in years.

Many years ago, the telegraph office wanted to change the image of the telegraph service. "People were frightened when they received a telegraph. They thought chances were good they were about to receive death news," said Kanissorn Tongsap, another post office official. The post office introduced the idea of telegraphs sent for "friendship and goodwill". However, the campaign was not quite successful as people turned to other types of technology to send messages, such as SMS.

Thailand is not alone in closing the service, as other countries have also ended the service recently. "The other factor forcing us to close the service is that spare parts needed for telegraph equipment are no longer available," said Kanissorn. Some countries such as France, however, used telegraph services during the Iraq War because the services were deemed safer. Who knows, the abandoned telegraph poles along several main roads may be dusted off and used again.

Members of the public are invited to join the telegraph exhibition in the final week of April at the Central Post Office in Bangrak.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Internet can be beneficial if used correctly

EDITORIAL
Published on July 24, 2010

The government wants to improve online access, but it must ensure that content and quality are promoted too


Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to make the cost of Internet access more affordable for Thais as part of the government's plan to bridge the digital divide. But the plan to give Thais more online access should be conducted through a multi-pronged approach.

The objective should not only focus not only on access to the Internet, but on how Thais should be able to utilise the benefits of online information. People must be able to capitalise, not only for their own good, but for others, too.

Internet access does not guarantee to make us smarter. Writer Nicholas Carr has made an interesting argument that the Internet can make you dumb. In his book "The Shallows", he says that the Internet can make us less attentive, reduce our capacity for deep thought, and thus make us less intelligent.

It is debatable whether the Internet will make you smarter or dumber. But the benefits of online information will certainly depend on how users apply that information. If Thais use the Internet to source information to enhance their knowledge and worldly view, that can only be a positive benefit.

That will not be the case, as Carr argues, if the Internet distracts our attention with unnecessary alerts and e-mails. His argument goes that people who multi-task tend to be less creative and productive than those who concentrate on one thing at a time. We should not be slaves to Internet distractions, but we should learn to use it wisely.

The rapid rise of the Internet in Thailand shows that Thais are eager to become a part of the global online community. Yet many Thais are not fully aware of "netiquette" or the danger of compromising their Internet passwords. A recent controversy over a social website is a case in point.

Reducing the fees for broadband alone is not enough to ensure that we become smarter. Users should be aware of the limitations of information that goes online, and be cautioned about the lack of verification for certain information that can appear and disappear online in a short space of time.

Knowing a second language is also a plus for Internet users. English is currently the most popular online language, followed by Chinese and Spanish. It will not hurt if Thai Internet users strive to improve their proficiency in some of these international languages.

Besides, online information in the Thai language remains limited. Therefore, if the government wants to promote the good use of the Internet, it should encourage users to search for information by promoting an online library in Thai, so that people can upload quality literature and educational material. Literature with expired copyright should be available for a new generation to read and appreciate in numerous languages. The beauty of the Thai language is certainly hard to find in modern pulp fiction.

Information technology provides a massive opportunity for those who can appreciate the benefit that comes with it. An increase in online access can help Thailand to become an information society. No one should be left out of this opportunity to learn through this medium. Finland recently became the first country in the world to make broadband access a legal right for its citizens. Other countries with capacity may soon follow suit. Thailand cannot fall behind.

Of course, there are many who prefer traditional media for learning and communication. But if the government wants to promote Internet access, we should ensure that the taxpayers' money that it plans to invest for broadband will make us all smarter.
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September 10, 2010 01:09 am (Thai local time)
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EDITORIAL Is Japan losing faith in Thai economy?

Published on September 3, 2010

Political turmoil, unskilled labour, Map Ta Phut chaos may be reasons why investors are looking elsewhere


Thailand could lose out on new Japanese investments; we need to identify what is wrong with our business climate and urgently put things right.

According to Watchara Panchet, the Thai Trade Representative, it is possible that Thailand could miss out on a new wave of Japanese foreign investment. Watchara was commenting after a recent Japanese trip during which he was told that Thailand is not on Japan's list of public-private partnership (PPP) priorities. The list encourages Japanese investors to engage in infrastructure development projects in other countries.

Watchara, quoted by Thai Rath newspaper, says that Tokyo has listed nine countries under its PPP initiative, including our Southeast Asian neighbours Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. He admitted it was alarming indeed to find out that Thailand was not part of Japan's immediate foreign investment plans.

Japan has long been one of the biggest investors in Thailand. Over the years, the Japanese investment record here has been demonstrably impressive, with long-term interest a priority factor, along with a solid commitment to continually transfer technology to local staff. One of the successes has been the Thai automobile assembly industry, which has successfully developed because of the presence of Japanese car companies since the 1970s. At that time it became too expensive for Japanese investors to keep certain manufacturing facilities at home, so they looked to promising investment opportunities abroad - of which Thailand was one.

Since the yen has strengthened recently to 84 versus the US dollar, it makes sense again for Japanese investors to look overseas. With the yen rising to a 15-year high, the Japanese now see continuing cooperation with developing countries as essential to maintaining competitiveness.

Aside from relocating industrial plants to more competitive locations, the Japanese government's cooperation in infrastructure projects also provides opportunities for its companies to engage in infrastructure development in emerging economies. Other Asean members such as Vietnam and Malaysia are aware of this and have been vigorously attracting Japanese investment, because they see technology development as national priorities.

If Thailand is really losing its charm for Japanese investors, that would be bad news indeed. Over the past 40 years, Thailand has successfully followed Japan's "flying geese" development model, and has taken great strides up the technological ladder. Thais have become familiar with the Japanese business culture, and have welcomed the employment security that this culture has traditionally brought with it. The new wave of Japanese investment suggests that Japanese businesses are moving towards environment-friendly operations, energy efficiency and effective waste management. These are areas in which Thailand has a strongly shared interest with Japan.

Thailand may now have to ask the question: What has gone wrong in the economic relationship with Japan? Possible answers include under-qualified human resources - an issue often raised by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, and a reason why some investors shy away from these shores. Another recent factor is the unpredictable political environment which, as we have seen, has been severely disruptive to business operations. Yet another problem is political and legal indecisiveness in dealing with issues that are critical for foreign investment. The most obvious current example is the stalled expansion of the Map Ta Phut industrial estate.

Watchara's Japanese counterparts told him that Thailand's absence from the PPP list is because the two countries already have well-established business connections, and the Japanese feel that Thailand might not require new initiatives in the form of PPP. Watchara replied that Thailand is still open for foreigners to participate in industrial and infrastructure projects.

If the exclusion of Thailand from Japan's PPP list is indeed because our existing business and economic ties are well-established and solid, then we might not have to worry too much about losing out to our regional competitors. But if the case is otherwise, then we need to find out why Japanese investors might be losing confidence, and then urgently put in place measures to rectify the situation.

The answer to the above question will tell us not simply how to continue to attract Japanese investment; it should also reveal more deep-rooted problems in our economic environment and existing business practices. If we can identify the symptoms, we must then come up with solutions as to how Thailand can still attract sustainable investment that is not detrimental to the environment and which creates meaningful, long-term employment opportunities for Thais.
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September 10, 2010 01:00 am (Thai local time)
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This is still a land of bitter division

EDITORIAL

Published on September 8, 2010

Thailand's economic figures look good, but we will remain a country of extreme wealth and poverty until our politicians develop a conscience
The benefits of the recent economic recovery are not being distributed to the majority of Thai people. An Assumption University poll released last Sunday shows that people who earn less than Bt10,000 per month have found their income decreasing. In short, income distribution is still a major challenge that the government must address.

The good economic figures this year have been founded largely on the vibrant export sector, but in the Assumption poll, respondents from 12 selected provinces said they had earned less compared to the previous quarter. Most said that their income barely covered their expenses. Two-thirds of them have no monthly savings at all.

The survey results give a more realistic picture of the Thai economy. The government has been excited at the economic growth figures but makes little effort to understand if this growth is actually meaningful to ordinary people. The Thai economic structure is still a failure, with the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. As well as this, there is insufficient effort to foster contribution from the better-off sections of society to enable everyone to grow together. The massive budget earmarked to empower rural people is likely to be ill-spent.

Instead of superficial economic figures, the government should focus on providing educational and employment opportunities to the people who need them most, in order to ensure that long-term economic prosperity is attainable by all, especially for those in rural areas. If we cannot do this, an increasing number of people will continue to migrate to the big cities, exacerbating the problem of urban poverty.

Recently-released figures from the Finance Ministry reaffirm the size of the problem. Overall income distribution is now much worse than in 1992. The top 20 per cent of the richest people in Thailand account for 54 per cent of the country's combined revenue, while the poorest 20 per cent account for only 4.8 per cent of the country's total income.

Of Thailand's 64 million people, only 9 million submit tax payment forms to the Revenue Department. Of this number, only 2.3 million actually pay taxes, while the other 7 million are exempt from paying taxes because they receive tax benefits. Of the 2.3 million taxpayers, only 60,000 pay the highest progressive tax rate of 37 per cent.

These figures prove that only a small middle class is contributing to the welfare of the whole country. It is also worrying that Thailand is now ranked internationally as the 50th worst country in terms of income distribution.

These problems are unlikely to be solved if the Thai economy continues to follow this direction, where the people with good connections get all the opportunities, leaving the rest out in the cold. Thailand could easily move up from its shameful position on the worst income distribution list, but it's going to take great political will and sacrifice on the part of the wealthy to achieve this.

While the big cities have been growing, the rural areas have been largely ignored. Politicians in rural provinces don't care about sustainable, long-term initiatives to improve the well-being of their constituents. They think only of personal short-term gain when they should be developing their constituencies to make communities more self-reliant. These politicians are a burden on the state and the people. They aim only at seizing funds that will compensate them for money spent during the election season. They become richer while leaving their constituencies poorer and more dependent on handout money.

The Thai political crisis stems largely from this uneven income distribution and unfair access to opportunity, especially in education. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said many times that the government will bridge the gap to reconcile the division in the country. So far, no concrete action has been taken. What we have seen is the old vicious circle of massive spending approved for big projects in which a small group of businesses receive lucrative concessions. Development budgets are designated to rural areas but fall into the hands of corrupt politicians and officials. Little is being spent to enhance the strengths of the people of this country. The result is that many people leave their homes to do menial jobs in cities while also relying on government subsidies and welfare.

Political reform will never be successful unless this uneven wealth structure is corrected. The failure to distribute wealth and promote local strengths and competitiveness will only lead to future political conflict. Corrupt politicians should be ashamed of living in palatial houses in the rural provinces while many in their own constituencies are struggling with grinding daily poverty. A prosperous and sustainable society can only thrive if there is cooperation and fair access to education and economic opportunity.
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September 9, 2010 06:44 am (Thai local time)
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

video link from Nargis typhoon in Burma

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thai children are still being denied decent education

EDITORIAL
Published on August 31, 2010

As other countries progress, our teachers remain disillusioned and our students lag behind their peers


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been touring several American states to raise public awareness about the importance of education. He has said on multiple occasions that education is a civil rights issue. His goal is to ensure that every American child is provided with the opportunity to obtain a quality education. He also notes that the quality of teachers is one of the most significant factors in this goal.

One of the challenges facing US public schools is how to attract qualified graduates to teaching, given the current low remunerative return compared to other professions. Good teachers are unsung heroes in any country, and unless the problems they face are not resolved, the education system will continue to suffer.

The statements by Duncan, a former chief executive officer of Chicago public schools, are true indeed, and should be noted here. Thai education ministers tend to focus on grand projects in their efforts to reform Thai education, with emphasis on infrastructure and procurement of equipment. However, they should really be concentrating on the quality of teachers and ensuring that good teachers are properly rewarded.

There are always good teachers who want to make a difference, but eventually they tend to be discouraged by a system where the majority - who resist change - accuse them of trying to rock the boat. Traditionally, the education departments in most colleges tend to require the lowest examination scores. The result is that students in most of our public schools are stuck in big classrooms with deadwood teachers who hardly receive any training to improve their teaching methods.

The lack of incentive for people to become teachers starts with the failure to instil a sense of desirability to enter the profession. Duncan rightly points out that good teachers should receive praise and commensurate compensation for their work. But this is not the case. Good teachers are barely even recognised.

Due to the low pay for teaching, suitable candidates tend to choose other areas of study such as finance. Those that do end up in schools cannot put all their effort into teaching students in class because they have to earn extra income from tutoring the same students in cram schools.

In fact, the Thai Education Ministry has a massive annual budget, but it is never spent wisely. The large class sizes in public schools are never reduced, and the quality of teachers hardly improves. Not many Thai schools have an effective system to evaluate teachers, and the government is failing to address the issue of making the system more attractive for the best graduates.

While well-off parents can send their children to expensive international schools that offer international-standard curricula, the public schools are still forcing rote learning on students. In short, we are denying our children equitable access to good education.

It's time the government understood that quality education is the most important factor in driving a country forward. A recent Newsweek survey to find the "Best Country in the World" ranked South Korea as the world's second best nation for education after Finland. Singapore ranked fourth after Canada, while Japan came fifth. The magazine said South Korea had made an amazing leap from the 1960s when its national wealth was on a par with Afghanistan. "Today, it's one of the world's richest nations, in large part thanks to its focus on education," the magazine reported.

Unfortunately, the Thai government has so far taken no leadership role in reforming our education system. While US Secretary Duncan gladly took his portfolio because of his passion for improving education standards for American children, the Thai Education Ministry is seen as a third-rate consolation job for politicians. No education minister has demonstrated any significant initiative or determination to prepare the younger generation for a changing world. Our children are not simply lagging behind in terms of academic achievement, but also in social awareness and responsibility. What we have seen so far is the education budget consumed by programmes for building infrastructure and information technology without addressing the issue of how these facilities can teach our children.

It's time for a sea change in the way we educate our children, otherwise this country will never reach its true potential.
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August 31, 2010 09:54 pm (Thai local time)
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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Economic outlook leaves no room for complacency

EDITORIAL
Published on August 26, 2010

Indicators for the second half of the year do not seem so rosy; businesses must now look to sustainability


The public and private sectors should not be complacent at the buoyant growth rate in the first half of this year. The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) earlier this week warned of deceleration in growth as the demand for Thai goods overseas is set to slow down.

The Thai economy grew by 10.6 per cent in the first half of this year largely due to robust export demand. But that demand is unlikely to be sustained in the second half. The quarter-on-quarter growth during the remainder of the year will be zero or even fall into the negative zone.

The latest forecast should serve as a warning to both the government and private sector that they should, from now on, operate with caution to ensure that the country can withstand the pressures of a changing business environment. There is no room for overconfidence. This should be a time for reflection on how to create sufficient immunity in the Thai economy.

The recent signs of deceleration in demand for Thai exports show that unless our products are of high quality, foreign importers will quite happily shift their orders to other countries where they can find better quality at competitive prices.

Instead of calling for a weaker baht in order to boost exports, Thai manufacturers should now be turning the strong baht to their advantage by investing in upgrading their products and moving up the technological ladder. They should not be looking at producing the same old products in the desperate hope of competing with others through lower prices. The government should also be encouraging those with potential to invest overseas, which would indeed help reduce the current strength of the baht.

Neither should Thai manufacturers and exporters continue to count on labour-intensive industries, because they will certainly lose out to emerging regional competitors with cheaper costs, such as Vietnam and Indonesia. The desperate calls for the Bank of Thailand to intervene on the baht shows that a number of these exporters are still benefiting from lower production costs, in comparison to other regional economies. However, if these manufacturers can transform to producing unique, quality products, they will be gain greater immunity from the fluctuations in foreign exchange.

The Chinese market, which has contributed to the robust export growth, is set to contract. The global economic slowdown, especially in the US and Europe, is likely to have an impact on Thai exports to the Chinese market. Entering the mid-term election season, the US market could be more vulnerable as there are increasing calls from US politicians for trade protectionism to protect their constituencies.

However, businesses should not see the expected deceleration in growth as entirely pessimistic. First of all, it should give pause for thought as to whether the recent robustness has been a matter of economic luck or strength. And to consider the factors that will sustain good growth in the future.

Unfortunately, the Thai economy has been heavily dependent on the export sector in boosting growth, while the other three engines - consumption, investment and government spending - haven't functioned to drive the economy in a sustainable manner.

Sole reliance on the export sector will expose the Thai economy to external risk, which can be disruptive. For instance, the fluctuation in demand can seriously affect the workforce, especially for those in the labour-intensive industries.

Decelerating growth statistics will not matter so much if businesses can continue to operate competitively. The recent concern among many about the slowdown in export demand shows that the success of their businesses is often judged purely by the numbers. But the key question now and in the future will be sustainability.

The other challenge to address is whether the recent high growth has translated into a more even spread of wealth. The statistics show that this may not be the case. Farmers have certainly not seen an overall improvement in their well-being, as agricultural production has contracted as a result of drought and plant disease which has affected output of paddy, rubber, sugar cane, cassava and maize.

If this uneven wealth distribution is not tackled effectively, the recent surprisingly high economic growth rate will be meaningless to the majority.

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August 29, 2010 09:38 am (Thai local time)
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Free Handouts will always be open to abuse

EDITORIAL
Free handouts will always be open to abuse

Published on August 18, 2010

Tax money should be better spent on raising the minimum wage and on education to teach self-reliance

The Abhisit government has kicked off its debt-relief scheme to help debtors who have suffered from exorbitant interest rates. The scheme is part of the administration's populist programme, with which it hopes to woo voters, especially in the rural areas. The intention behind the scheme may be fine, but an increased number of populist policies may adversely affect the country's fiscal position and the morality of the people.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva apparently is trying to connect with poor debtors amidst criticism that he is out of touch with the grassroots. Some 1.18 million people with combined debts of Bt122.67 billion are registered with the government.

But the implementation of the debt-relief programme, along with other policies, may instead wreck people's motivation to work hard. It may leave them wrongly thinking that the government will always rescue them. If not handled properly, this scheme could also create a moral hazard among lenders.

Debt relief is the latest in a series of government "bail-out" policies for the poor, including free transportation and utilities. The government has basically resorted to the same kind of initiatives that proved to be powerful tools to attract votes for fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Unfortunately, these policies cannot be sustained. They also create many opportunities for corruption. And they do not help bridge the gap between the rich and poor, as statistics have shown that the wealth gap has widened over the past decade - despite the fact the populist policies came into full force over the same period.

People in rural northeastern provinces are still living in poverty and many have had to sell their land. But many of the poor remain ignorant of the concept of self-reliance or self-sufficiency because the government's easy-money programmes have instilled the wrong perception among them. They believe, it seems, that they can always ask for more.

Politicians like populist policies to reach poor voters because they generate short-term political benefits. They don't care that tax money is most often wasted in these schemes. But bad habits are difficult to break. People, once given free handouts, crave more. The sad news is that eventually they will lack the motivation to work hard and stand on their own two feet.

This debt relief scheme must be handled with caution and monitored with diligence. The government must ensure that those who are willing to work hard will benefit from the programme, while those who squander the money that is given to them will not easily get away with their wasteful habits. There is no other way to ensure that people recognise the value of hard work. They cannot be permitted to wait for easy money every time election season comes around.

In this context, a minimum wage rise would make more sense than more handouts, as it would reflect the actual situation in the labour market. The supply of labour is lower than the demand, but the current minimum wage of around Bt150 discourages many Thais from taking on low-paying jobs. Instead, employers are forced to hire foreign migrants, which results in the creation of a new set of problems, including human rights abuses.

The disbursement of the budget on populist policies will result in future budget crises, as many of these programs are not simply one-off schemes. Human folly means they will always require continuation, and will thus force future governments to commit to the same. The government has pledged to balance the budget within five years. But if it continues its spending spree to appease voters like this, it is unlikely that a balanced budget will happen in that timeframe, if ever.

The government should learn a lesson from the populist policies that previous governments doled out. No country will move forward if the majority of the people refuse to work hard but simply wait for government assistance. The tax money of those who do work hard - and, in some cases, of those who are honest enough to pay taxes in the first place - should be better spent instead of being exploited for politicians' benefit.
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August 29, 2010 09:35 am (Thai local time)
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Billionaires could give advice on use of their money

Opinion

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EDITORIAL
Published on August 8, 2010

Ploys to avoid aid dependence would amplify their laudable generosity
Recent news about the pledge by 40 US billionaires to donate half of their fortunes to charity should inspire many to follow the trend of giving back to society. According to international news agencies, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet think fellow US billionaires should donate most of their vast fortunes to charity - and they recently revealed that 40 are set to do just that.

In a statement released by www.givingpledge.org, 40 of the wealthiest families and individuals in the US have committed themselves to returning the majority of their wealth to charitable causes. They include CNN founder Ted Turner, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Hollywood director George Lucas as well as Buffet and Gates. The Giving Pledge, announced six weeks ago, is the brainchild of Gates and Buffet to persuade the rich to give more to charity.


The move should be trendsetting, indeed. It is an admirable cause to give back to society. It is not shameful to be rich. After all, these billionaires, such as Microsoft mogul Gates, are exemplary models of the successful businessman who worked hard and excelled to become one of Forbes richest people.


However, the joy of giving has proved to be more precious than the joy of receiving. And Gates, along with some philanthropists, have found such joys by donating fortunes for the cause that they have been passionate about. Gates, for instance, has been actively involved in the global campaign to tackle health issues. His foundation finances millions of vaccinations in developing countries and contributes to research for a new medicine to prevent HIV/Aids.


In fact, it makes sense for businesses to give back to society as it's part of the concept of corporate responsibility. After all, many have earned profits from the goodwill image that the companies successfully established among their customer base. The giving back will affirm the image of the companies or the investors as businessmen who care. Any billionaire, or anyone at all, cannot live happily if their neighbours are still suffering bad health or poverty.


Although quite a few Thai billionaires have also made their way into the Forbes rich man's club, it does not take a billionaire to take this initiative. Everyone can participate in the process of giving back to society, either by donations or their labour. Everyone can find the cause that he or she is passionate about, be it health, education or the environment, and participate in the campaign by volunteering or looking at every opportunity to make contributions to support the cause. The experience will definitely be fulfilling and rewarding.


At any rate, charity is not a magic solution to solve global issue. The more challenging question is how the money will be spent to enable people to stand on their own feet. The fact that a number of least developed countries are still struggling with poverty, in spite of decades of billions of foreign aid, shows that development is not possible without rural empowerment.


Flows of millions of aid dollars can also instil a negative perceptions among recipients, that they will be forever dependent on donations and others' money, wrecking their will and inspiration to be self-motivated and self-reliant. Unfortunately, some aid organisations or nonprofits have misspent this donated money in some developing countries without realising the real needs and potential of the local people. Some donations fed the need for foreign aid even more. This has resulted in an increasing dependence on foreign donations among some of these countries.


Therefore, let's hope that these shrewd businessmen/philanthropists will use their business skills and top-notch management to ensure that their money will be spent to serve the root cause of the problem that they intend to tackle. Eventually, the recipients' self-reliance and being free from charitable donations will measure the success of their philanthropic project. Otherwise, these donors will have to re-evaluate their strategy if the recipients still crave more charitable money. If that is the case, their donated fortunes will be nothing but a lost investment.


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August 29, 2010 09:32 am (Thai local time)
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Young People Need Protection from Bad Soaps

Opinion

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EDITORIAL
Young people need protection from bad soap operas
Published on July 21, 2010

Producers and parents are both responsible for allowing children to watch inappropriate TV content


The rating system on Thai television should be effectively enforced to ensure appropriate content for viewers. Although the rating system exists, the airtime of some programmes with inappropriate content for children and youth is before many youngsters' bedtime.

At a recent seminar by the Christian Council of Thailand, panellists voiced concern that many Thai soap operas are broadcast too early, and that most of these soaps have content that is not appropriate for children. For instance, many contain graphic or violent scenes of sexual assault on women. In addition, the theme of these programmes doesn't offer anything to provoke constructive thought, as most of them are about female characters cat-fighting over a man.

If we agree with the values that these soaps portray, then here are the characteristics they will promote, based on what we have watched:

We will tend to make decisions from emotion instead of rational thinking, as virtually no Thai soaps show how protagonists overcome a difficult situation by rational judgment.

Most soaps are about people who seek an easy fortune, because that's what many Thais desperately wish for. Thai soaps don't value hard work, either, as virtually none are about how a hard-working person can become rewarded or successful at the end of the story.

We should not continue to be complacent about this. These soaps have a strong influence on our children, especially with television now accessible to almost every household.

The seminar panellists voiced concerns that children under the age of 8 are most vulnerable. Children at this age cannot properly distinguish drama from real life, and many will imitate what they see. If these children are allowed to watch programmes with violent content or verbal abuse, day in day out, they will eventually come to believe that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. Under such circumstances, it doesn't take a great stretch of the imagination to realise what will happen to these individuals and our society. In a recent incident, a student hanged himself after copying a scene he saw on a TV show.

This is not to suggest that Thailand should employ rigid censorship on television. But what we are asking is that the appropriate rating system is applied and more space is allocated for children's programming.

TV producers tend to claim that they cannot produce quality, or children's, programmes because these types of shows cannot attract sponsors, unlike the soap operas with their emotionally-charged themes.

The only solution therefore, is that the rating system be strictly enforced to ensure that adult soaps are aired at appropriate times. If we let the free market rule on TV, people will have a tendency to watch lurid, low quality programming.

Low quality TV may be a factor in our increasing cynicism and inability to tolerate others or to articulate arguments or express our opinions. We are an attention-deficit people who seem to prefer punchlines and sound bites that we agree with, rather than facts, information and alternative opinion. Much has been said about how this medium can have a bad influence on us. Now it's time to look at what other options are available for audiences.

Ironically, while Thai censors are highly sensitive about the content of certain movies, they allow Thai soap opera producers to air inappropriate scenes direct to young viewers at home every day, even though these soaps are more influential than movies. They let TV producers get away with such content, but censor thought-provoking themes that feature in many movies.

Surely this should work the other way round: Low-grade TV programmes should be subject to more scrutiny because they appeal to a mass audience that is impossible to regulate.

Parents should be vigilant in controlling what their children are watching. Sadly, many parents let their children watch these soaps because they themselves are addicted to them.

Producers have a responsibility too, to write scripts that instil desirable values such as honesty and hard work. Many Korean and Japanese soaps have successfully done this, through smart story lines. It's about time that Thais followed suit. Otherwise we may end up becoming what we watch.
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August 29, 2010 09:26 am (Thai local time)
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Editorial: Mango Diplomacy(inspired by Dr Singhal's link)

Opinion
EDITORIAL
Promote fruit for good health and better business

Published on July 28, 2010
Thailand is blessed with an abundance of fruits, but we often take them for granted without realising their true value
During US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan, she pledged to assist Pakistan in exporting mangoes to the US. The export of this sweet fruit is no small issue. If the US opens to Pakistan mangoes, it could help reduce anti-American sentiment.

The press hailed this mango story as "mango diplomacy", even though no Pakistani mangoes have made their way to the US yet. Clinton didn't make any commitment on the deadline, but her positive gesture shows that one cannot underestimate such diplomacy. In fact, it is a shrewd effort.

Pakistan doesn't view the mango as simply an export item. In fact, the country takes pride in this national fruit. It is believed that mangoes originated in South Asia before Buddhist monks and Persian traders took the plant to other parts of the world, including Thailand, where our version of the fruit is perfect served with coconut milk and soft sticky rice.

The mango commitment is important for US diplomacy with South Asia. Pakistan saw the possibility of the US market for their mangoes after the US agreed to take Indian mangoes three years ago, in exchange for allowing Harley-Davidson to sell its motorcycles in India. Although the initial sales volumes for both mangoes and Harley-Davidsons were not robust, due to tax and other technical issues, the deal generated goodwill between the US and India.

The mango news comes as Thailand faces a glut of various fruits on the domestic market, including rambutan, mangosteen, durian, lychee, longan and coconut. The Commerce Ministry forecasts that this year's production of many fruits will increase over last year - rambutan, for example, from 271,000 to 285,000 tonnes, and lychee from 53,200 to 82,800 tonnes.

This is good news for Thai consumers, as they can enjoy our flavourful fruits at a more affordable price. But it's bad news for farmers, who are facing depressed prices as the supply of fruits is far above the demand. Perhaps now is the time to help absorb the supply of our home grown products.

We can take our pride in our great variety of fruits in the same way Pakistan and India do their mangoes. Thai fruits are second to none in terms of taste and quality, and are now more affordable for the majority of Thais. A decade ago, the prices of many home-grown fruits such as durian, mangosteen and lychee were too high for many people. But nowadays, anyone can enjoy these fruits without having to rob a bank.

We should continue to promote home-grown fruits not only as products, but to promote health. Fruits have a much higher nutritional value than processed foods and junk foods. Let's face it, our ancestors did not face the obesity problem we are facing today, because they ate fruits for dessert or a snack, instead of candy, chocolate or potato chips. We can all promote our fruits by including them in meals, instead of processed products with a high sugar content - most of which are generally more expensive than home-grown fruits.

Besides the health factor, we should be thankful that our home-grown fruits have generated revenue from trade - another good reason why they should be promoted. There should be direct links between farmers and consumers in every area, to absorb the supply while cutting out the middlemen who force farmers to sell produce to them at too low a price.

In the meanwhile, the government should make a greater effort to promote our national pride in order to boost exports of these products around the world. After all, how can we promote our fruits overseas if we cannot promote consumption domestically?

It shouldn't take too much effort to persuade people to enjoy these flavourful fruits. Thailand is blessed with natural produce, yet we sometimes take things for granted, while others don't take their fruit so lightly. Witness how Indians and Pakistanis often argue over who grows the best mangoes.

While Thais may leave the mango debate to South Asians, we can close the argument over who grows the best durians, rambutan and lychee, among others, by promoting the consumption of these "secret weapons".
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VIP Treatment




I was back to Jhuwani again for the third time during my two-month visit. This time, I accompanied READ Nepal’s trip to bring a group of VIP guests, including Mr Deependra Bickram Thapa, Secretary of Education Ministry who is equivalent to Assistant Secretary of Education in the US, and Dr Chheweng Namgal Lama, General Secretary of the Social Welfare Council, the top official in the council which is in charge of nonprofits, to visit three libraries supported by READ. The three libraries were selected because they have successful sustainability projects. Besides, these three also received the funding by Norway recently. I was quite familiar with these libraries because I have been involved in the survey of community needs. Therefore, I was happy that the officials at this high level agreed to visit these libraries which are seven-hour drive from Kathmandu.
This is the first time that the top government officials have visited READ libraries. And I was impressed by the officials’ easy-going style. They didn’t mind sitting on the floor of the libraries. The weather that day was very hot and the road was muddy and bumpy. But they didn’t complain and they spent time to look at the libraries and talked to local people about their needs. At the end of the day, they committed to assist READ Nepal by for instance providing small grants and tax measures.
These two pictures were taken during our visit to Harnari Library. You can see the Secretary of Education on the right side of the picture, wearing light blue shirt. On the other picture, if you look carefully enough, you may see me sitting among the crowds.

Life in Nepal: Lord Buddha is Nepali




Caption (1) Inside Patan Museum (2) Lumbini
Somehow, I used to believe that Lord Buddha was Indian. But after my recent visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, I was enlightened. Lord Buddha is Nepali because he was born in Nepal, even though the place where he was born not so far from India. The birthplace of his mother Maya is not far from the Lord Buddha’s birthplace. Now I am absolutely convinced that Lord Buddha is Nepali. I saw the exact location where he was born.
In fact, Thai Buddhists didn’t think much about the nationality of Lord Buddha. In Buddhism, we have been told to focus more on Lord Buddha’s teaching not his life. I never thought much about Lord Buddha’s history. But I must confess that I was very excited to see his birthplace.
I was lucky that I accompanied READ Nepal’s staff to a community resource center’s training in Butwal, which is around 1 hour and a half from Lumbini. On a Saturday’s afternoon after the participants went on a field trip, I decided to take a personal journey to Lumbini to see where Lord Buddha was born.
There I saw traces of old stupas, constructed by the Great King Asoka who was a devout Buddhist. There were many new temples constructed by various embassies in Lumbini compound. One of the highlights is of course Thai Buddhism temple. But I could not walk or rickshaw (I didn’t have a car) to Thai temple site on the day of my visit because of the heavy raining. It was impossible to walk or rickshaw through the muddy road on that day.
Although majority of Nepali are Hindu, the presence of Buddhism influence in Nepal is still widely evident. There are many Buddhism temples; most of them are Mahayana school. Thai Buddhism belongs to Theravada. In fact, I can also relate to Hinduism because Thai students studied Ramayana, a Hindu scripture. Therefore, I learn about Hindu God and Goddesses and, in fact, many Thais also worshiped these Gods. My Nepali friend here was surprised the extent to which Thai students have to study Ramayana. She told me that Thai students seem to study more Ramayana than Nepali students are required to because she told me she was required to study only two pages of Ramayana during her school years but I remembered that when I was a student, I had to read almost the whole (more simplified) text of Ramayana. (I assume that because Nepali curriculum is based on British education.)
Another must-see destination of whoever interested in Buddhism is Patan Museum in Patan Dhoka, which is 30-hour drive from Kathmandu. Located in an old town of Patan, the museum is simple yet spectacular. There are statues of Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya or Buddha who will come in the future.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Life In Nepal (Back to Kathmandu)



Caption: A Jhuwani lady that we surveyed her. You can see goats wandering around. When I touched its forehead, the goat loved it and he acted like a tamed dog. These goats don't know what people raised them to eat!



Dear Friends, I would like to thank you for reading my blog. Here’s what’s happening next. To cut a long story short, I decided to take public bus back to Kathmandu after spending four days in Jhuwani.
Nepali bus is convenient and cheap. Non air-con bus costs me around 10 dollars from Chitwan (the closest spot to take bus from Jhuwani). I entered the bus station which is nothing but a field where many buses were parking around 9 am. I was supposed to arrive Kathmandu on 4 pm. But it was not the case, I arrived Kathmandu after 10 pm because of unexpected landslides at two locations on the winding roads on the hilly mountains.
When the traffic stopped along the small road winding along the mountains, there were two assumptions: first, there may be an accident and the locals stopped the car that caused the accident and smash the driver (I’ve seen it twice. It’s common) or landslide. On that day, the bus, along with other vehicles, stood still for hours. When the traffic people managed to remove the dirt and rock from one side and the traffic started to move, there was another accident where rocks from the dug vehicle were accidently dropped into the vehicle passing on the opposite side. The driver was unconscious. The traffic stopped again, waiting for the ambulance to get the unlucky driver.
Overall, I was fine. When the bus stopped, the passengers left the bus or vehicles to stretch their legs. There were several dozens of people walking around. My only problem was that I could not find proper toilet. When I asked where I could pee, local people pointed to woods on the sideway.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Life In Nepal: Back to Jhuwani



After one month of orientation workshop, READ Nepal’s staff members, including me, went back to Jhuwani to conduct survey and focus group discussions.

We prepared written survey and planned to include some local people in our volunteer team. Surveymonkey does not work here because not many had an internet access. One of the people I met didn't have a clue on what is computer.

On the first day, we met with a group of community people to orient them of the objectives of the survey. Some were not skeptical, questioning our motives. They said none would reveal their assets. Some questioned why the representation of the lower caste people was low in the meeting. The other was still in a bad mood because one of his cows was suddenly dead one day before.

Eventually, they were cooperative. We told them that our goal is to build community libraries and the community people would decide by themselves the persons to run the library or what to do with the library. We were there just to provide support. facilitate the assistance. Besides, I think people should be convinced that we were there to listen to them. My presence might light up the mood a bit because I looked like a stranger from the other planet, I was the only foreigner and I made them languge at my clumpsiness many times.

Before the survey, we made a social mapping in each village. A couple of dozens of village people gathered up at a meeting place help us draw the map of their village and who are residing in those houses. This social mapping is quite effective in surveying the economic status for our sampling because here everyone knows everyone. They can tell you how many cows their neighbors have, for instance. Then, the village people would select the random sample for us. A village has some 50 households. Our survey is one to five. Therefore, we conducted some 10 surveys by visiting to different households in each village.

Then, we conducted focus group discussions with smaller groups of people such as women’s group and librarians to find out what are the issues they face and what can be done to improve. I have been familiar with some people because I have been here before and also I met some of them in other places during the previous trainings. Two local people whom met me during my previous visit one month ago greeted me with “You are fatter!.” Yes, I told them that blame it on Nepali Dalbhat. Here, I eat more than I did in the US. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner at 9.30 pm. Nepali had dinner quite late. Although I get used to skipping dinner, I joined their dinner because I didn’t want to miss the discussion. By the way, unlike Western culture, telling people fat does not have a negative meaning. It is a matter of fact, I think.

I accompanied local people to visit people door to door in three villages. Nonetheless, I must confess that this is the toughest trip I had so far in Nepal. One day before this Jhuwani trip , I just came back from a two-day visit to Banepa. There, I had “King Curd”, the locally-made yoghurt that was contained in a pottery to keep the temperature cool. Nepali don’t keep King Curd in the fridge. I tasted it and found it very tasty that I finished a very big bowl of King Curd on my own. (even Nepali was surprised by my greed!). It was the best yogurt I’ve ever had. But the next day, I had a very painful stomach age. It was the day that I had to take off for my Jhuwani trip.

I was hesitant to go to the hospital after a librarian told me that her husband mysteriously passed away after being admitted to the hospital after having stomachache. So, I took Augmentin medicine that my sister told me it would kill whatever germs I may have. It worked in killing the germs in my stomach but it made me weak all day that I felt asleep many times during the first day of our meeting with the community. I thought people saw it but they seemed to forgive me. When I apologized, they said they thought it was natural to fell asleep because I didn’t understand Nepali language. Besides, the weather was very hot and humid. The next day, I decided to stop taking the drug. I would not have a chance to sleep because I had to walk all day. It was raining, which cooled down the temperature. But walking on the rice field with mud and smell of dongs of goats and buffaloes was quite an experience. Stay tuned for what happened next in the next post.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Editorial

Opinion
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EDITORIAL
Is it too late for us to mend our corrupt ways?
Published on July 7, 2010 Corruption is now accepted as a part of everyday life. If we don't do something to combat it, it will become a part of our national character.

A recent survey by the Thailand Management Association (TMA) and the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University illustrates a deep-rooted problem in Thai society. The survey, conducted from May 10 to June 21, shows that most respondents believe that corruption and nepotism remain the critical issues that will drag the development of Thailand away from the desirable vision that we wish to achieve in the future.

In spite of every government's pledge to fix the problem, corruption and nepotism are as prevalent as ever. Allegations of corruption are headline news on a daily basis but very few cases are pursued to a final conclusion. The failure to take serious action encourages people to continue to abuse their power, leaving those who refuse to condone such malpractice, and those who speak out against it, out in the cold.

Although the survey was conducted in the midst of the political crisis, a majority of business people say their main concern is not politics. In fact, many say that, in spite of the deep political differences, the economy still has the potential to grow. Seventy per cent of 378 respondents from leading companies say that in spite of the political turbulence in the second quarter this year, the overall economic prospects next year remain positive.

However, eighty per cent of respondents say their real concern is that prevailing corruption and nepotism will destroy Thai competitiveness. They believe that most business dealings in Thailand are not conducted in a straightforward manner.

These comments from the business sector cannot be taken lightly. The survey results tell what is going wrong in our society, and illustrate the fact that widespread corruption and nepotism are the seeds of the political crisis and conflict.

Of course, none of this is new in Thailand. Due to weak law enforcement, culprits are hardly ever brought to justice. Our legal institutions are weak, too. But this must be addressed urgently. Thailand is competing with other countries where transparency, efficiency and effectiveness are being promoted in business practice. Eventually these values will translate into a lower cost of production.

The elimination of corruption and abuse of power must be taken seriously. Otherwise, the government's plan to reform the nation will not succeed. At the same time, the private sector must vigorously support and take part in this effort. Private companies, especially big conglomerates with political connections, must demonstrate responsible ethics. It is true that, over the past decade, the bigger firms in Thailand have grown bigger, while many small and medium-sized companies have been squeezed out because they do not have the political connections enjoyed by the conglomerates and multinationals. It's the big fish who get the big government contracts while the small fry are left to flounder.

The business sector should also be serious in its effort to make a social contribution. Almost 90 per cent of the survey respondents note that good corporate governance among local companies is nothing more than lip service.

Nothing concrete has been done to promote social and environmental causes. Mostly such activities are merely public relations stunts. At a minimum, corporate governance must be observed by the authorities to ensure that companies are not prospering at the expense of the public. For instance, "environmentally friendly" practices must not be compromised.

The public can play a key role in eliminating such abuse of power and malpractice. Many shady politicians and businessmen are widely known to engage in dubious activities, but they are still able to operate freely without any social sanction. Perhaps we need more whistle-blowers to bring them to book.

The worst aspect of the corruption issue is the growing acceptance of it in society as a whole. It is truly disheartening that an increasing number of Thais view material wealth as the ultimate symbol of success, and that any means to achieve wealth and power is justifiable. We are basically a corrupted people who value material gain over righteousness. We are all to blame for this, and if we do not change our ways soon, the characteristics of corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power will become ingrained permanently in our national psyche.
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July 7, 2010 01:03 pm (Thai local time)
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Monday, July 5, 2010

dalbhat and my nepali friends




If anyone knows how to attach more than two pix in one post, please let me know.

Here, I post the pictures of my work colleagues at READ Nepal. Left is Sanjana, the country director, and the other young lady is Aastha, the rising star whom I work closely with. They are having Nepali’s most popular dish called Dalbhat. You can see the combination of rice, bean and special treat of today is mutton. You can see the bottle of water and we share. READ Nepal’s staff members eat together every day. And hey… to enjoy Dalbhat, you don’t need fork or spoon!


The second picture is an entourage of a bride at a Hindi temple in Nepalgunj. I wanted to show you the picture of the bride but she didn’t look very happy. So, I better keep her picture in my personal collection. Nepali wedding is colourful and red is the key. And they perform the wedding ceremony in a Hindi Temple. This summer is the most popular season for wedding. So, I have run into many wedding events while I visited the temple. In fact, I will officially attend a wedding of my Nepali friend who works for READ Nepal when I come back from my field trip next week.

The Blog I Never Published




I must confess that there was a blog that I wrote in the first week of my visit. But eventually, I decided not to publish it. My feeling then would not be different from a previous Clinton School who wrote what she felt overwhelmed by what she experienced in Nepal. I thought I went through the same experience.
And here’s the wisdom that I got from my visit to Kopan Buddhist Monastery in Kathmandu. A guru said people felt angry or upset when they travelled because they had certain preconception about what they expected to see. And they will naturally be upset if things didn’t turn out the way they expected. So, here I am trying to be open-minded and learn.
I re-read that blog again and I decided to keep it in my personal folder. It came from my true feeling at that moment. But it was not that I felt now. The more I stay here and travel around, the more I feel grateful for my experience here. Here’s the picture of my adventure to the far west.
The first picture shows the” downtown” of this hilly Dadeldhura. I told you in my previous blog that this is my favorite place. The infrastructure here is not good. But people are very nice and friendly. Their mushroom soup is tasty. The weather is cooler than other parts I’ve visited because it is located on the mountain.
The second picture is only some 10 minutes by drive from the downtown. We drove up further up the mountain to see the spacious area where I saw herds of sheep and goats around. Standing on this mountain top, I want to shout, “I am the king of the world.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

More pix from Nepal




First pix: Nepali ladies are colourful. I met these two lovely women while our car stopped here for on the way from Tikapur to Dadeldhura. I am fascinated by the bright colours of Nepali ladies. Most of women I met wore bright colour such as red and pink. And they paint their houses in bright blue colour. Thus, rural Nepali is quite a colourful sight.

Second pix: When I visited this Tibetian Temple, there was a rainbow on the sky. Quite a spectacular sight! I'm blessed.

Trip to the Far West of Nepal




Last week, I went to the far west of Nepal, next to the Indian border, to travel to three community libraries sponsored by READ Nepal. I flew Buddha Air, a small Beech Aircraft. Surprisingly, there are a quite a few local domestic airlines in Nepal with interesting names such as Buddha Air, Yeti Airlines and Sita airlines. Yeti is a name of a monster in Nepali methodology, while Sita is a character in the ancient Ramayana oriental literature as well.
From the aircraft, I could see tops of mountains whose peaks were emerged from the clouds and an amazing landscape. Perhaps eight of the top highest mountains in the world are in Nepal. Therefore, everywhere I went was hilly area. Many tourists loved to come to Nepal to do trekking.
I went to visit libraries in the rural area to collect information about how community libraries operating in Nepal. I spent 5 days to visit to 3 libraries because of the distance. Besides, the roads were are bumpy and winding. The “highways” are shared by herds of goats, muttons, buffalos and sheep. No kidding, the driver had to try to avoid hitting running goats and buffaloes which LOVED to stay idle in the middle of the roads. I also saw a big snake lying across the road at one point.
The first leg of my visit is Kolhapur which is close to the Indian border. Along the roads, I saw a variety of huts and cottages. The one made of mud suggests the very poor status of the residents. Nepal is still a caste society. Dalit, the lowest caste, is basically deprived of many opportunities Some boys and girls in the rural area married at very young age, say 12. During a visit to a Hindi temple, I ran across into a wedding party. But for the entire 5 minutes that I was observing the ritual, the bride looked grim and didn’t smile. I asked my friend why the bride looked so tense, and my friend said that many brides in the local never knew her future husband until days before the wedding day.
The second leg of my visit is Tikapur, which is a 4-hour drive from Nepalgunj. Tikapur could be a popular tourist city because it has a lovely lotus lake and natural park. But I wonder how many tourists, especially the foreigners, would come this far to the city. Besides, summer may not be best season to come to Tikapur if you don’t like the heat. The temperature here is over 40 Celsius. I was soaked with sweat. No complaint, though. I enjoy the privileges to become few among foreigners who had a chance to see the beautiful and vast lotus pond.
The last leg of my trip is Dadeldhura, which is located on the mountain. Dadeldhura is a small rural town with more than 150 international and local non profits registered in the city. I nonetheless doubt how many of them were active. A UN vehicle parked outside my guesthouse never left its parking spot during my two-night stay there. I saw the offices of NGO everywhere but none were in the office. Nonetheless, I think Dadeldhura is an interesting place due to its unique tribe culture. Its landscape is superb. Standing on high cliff, you can see Greenery Mountains of Nepal – a la National Geographic style.
On the way back, I stopped at the Indian-Nepali border market in Nepalgunj. I arrived there around 6 PM but the market was still buzzing with people and activities. The most popular public transport here is very eco-friendly: horses, buffaloes and donkeys. So, these buses left their dongs everywhere. There were Indian wholesale shop houses selling beautiful embroidered fabrics and vendors selling delicious food such as fried curried puff and sugar cane juice. The sight and smell of these foods were so tempting that I had to forget about diarrhea (Joe would not approve because there are flies everywhere. But what the he…!!). I confessed that I had double shots of sugar cane juice which cost only 10 rupee per cup (One dollar is equal to 72 rupee.) Guess what happens to my stomach in the next few hours!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BP Oil Spills Beyond National Boundary

EDITORIAL
Destruction of nature will come back to haunt us
Published on June 17, 2010
The BP oil spill is a dire reminder that environmental protection is an issue for which we are all responsible

There was concern that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could cause political tension between the US and the UK, after US President Barack Obama called BP "British Petroleum", even though the company dropped the name long ago. The fact that the president identified the company directly with Britain led to debate across the Atlantic on whether this environmental catastrophe would spill over to affect the "special relationship" between the US and UK. There were concerns that Obama might be stirring anti-British sentiment. Obama later tried to defuse the issue, with British Prime Minister David Cameron under pressure to defend his country.

Obama quickly called Cameron, saying he was not trying to blame Britain for the disaster. Obama was quoted as saying that he had simply reacted furiously to BP's delay in capping the leak sooner. BP is nowadays considered a multinational company that has business interests around the world

There was also the question of whether the potential political row had been overplayed. In fact, such sentiment might not actually exist.

The real issue here is not the national identity of the company, but the fact that the environment is an issue of concern to us all. Oil spills like this affect wider eco-systems, and are an issue that all countries have to address.

The disaster shows that environmental damage is never really limited to any country's boundaries. The impact of this disaster on the environment will be massive. The oil spill not only affects the beaches along the coasts of Alabama and Florida, it adversely affects the quality of the natural habitat in a much wider area. Scientists have said the amount of oil gushing out of the well is far higher than previously estimated. The US Geological Survey has calculated that as many as 40,000 barrels a day could escape before containment efforts are finally successful.

The spill is also having a severe impact on the human economy, as it affects shrimping and fisheries, as well as tourism. As for the US coastline and its eco-system, sea birds are being decimated and the thick oily sludge is destroying beaches. It's a disgrace that we can damage the environment in such a way by our carelessness.

The quest for new energy resources is a response to greater industrial development and the rapidly growing demand for fuel. This is true the world over, especially in fast-growing economies like India and China. The big question is how we can maintain our need for consumption and at the same time utilise resources in a sustainable manner.

This episode has shown us yet again that industries must function responsibly to avoid their operations leaving a lasting impact on the environment. But are we capable of learning this lesson? Sadly, the answer is probably not.

Here in Thailand, although there are other immediate concerns, the government must remain vigilant in imposing and enforcing environmental regulations and safety requirements for industries. New sources of green energy that are sustainable and leave the least impact on the environment must be promoted and supported

We all are accountable for the environment and we should all be mindful of our consumption and the effects of the energy that we waste. If we cannot do this, an increase in consumption and the growth of industries will not be sustainable. We will be left only with a polluted environment that is not contained within our national boundaries.
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June 17, 2010 11:26 am (Thai local time)
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

EDITORIAL: A society at war with itself: Yes, that's Thailand

Published on June 10, 2010
We thought we lived in a tolerant and peaceful country, but apparently that is no longer the case
Thailand ranks 124th in the recently released Global Peace Index (GPI) of 149 nations, way down in the lower half of the survey. The figure reflects the country's unsatisfactory performance and political violence. Overall, the GPI report suggests that the world has become less peaceful over the last year, despite a drop in the number of armed conflicts. But uneven economic development is also a source of conflict, as evidenced in Thailand.

For Thais, the ranking should not come as a surprise, as we have seen so much instability in recent years. Thailand was once a peaceful nation. However, the political conflict and general confrontational atmosphere, as well as the insurgent violence in the deep South have changed that perception. It is unfortunate, as we have long prided ourselves on being tolerant advocates of peace.

The release of the report is timely. However, peace cannot be brought about by any one party alone; it requires cooperation and effort from all in society.

The GPI report says that societies that are peaceful also perform exceptionally well in many other ways. They have higher per capita income, high levels of personal well-being, more freedom, they perform better in terms of economic sustainability, and appear to have a more equitable distribution of social spending.

For the second year running, New Zealand is rated the most peaceful country in the world, with Iceland climbing back up to second place, after dropping from the top slot in 2008 to fourth place last year. Japan ranks third. Fifteen of the top 20 countries are western or central European states, and all Scandinavian countries are listed in the top 10, suggesting that small, stable, democratic countries are the most successful models for development. At the same time, Iraq was found to be the least peaceful country for the fourth year running, followed by Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan. Russia ranked 143rd.

The GPI report added that what is important is not whether peace creates economic success, rather the realisation that what creates a peaceful society also allows for a fuller expression of human potential, and in many diverse forms.

The challenges are global. They include economic management, environmental sustainability, and measures to tackle a wide variety of social ills. Conflict often arises from the failure to adequately address the cause of discontent and create remedies. The GPI report says that this can be seen in the breakdown of the Copenhagen climate-change talks, burgeoning government and private-sector debt, the lack of regulation of the speculative aspects of the financial system, and our inability to even articulate good capitalist models that aren't totally based on consumption.

Meanwhile, the conflict in Thailand can be attributed to the country's ineffective economic management, which has led to a disparity of income distribution and opportunity. As a result a significant number of people feel they have been unfairly treated or even victimised. The red-shirt movement thus arose as people in rural areas have been unfairly deprived of economic opportunities. It is not simply a question of economic failure or disadvantage, but a feeling of being unjustly treated over a long period of time. In comparison, during the financial crisis of 1997, when a large number of Thais were left unemployed, there was no social unrest because those affected didn't feel that they had been systematically treated unfairly; the crisis was the result of financial mismanagement that affected people across all social classes.

Another challenging issue for Thais is that of limited resources. The issues of sustainability and the irresponsible consumption of resources have increasingly become issues of conflict in Thailand. Increasingly, communities will require industries and individuals to be more accountable for their consumption.

Peace requires an understanding of the problems and the sustainable solutions. As the GPI reports says, peace "is a proxy for many other things that create the optimum environment for humanity to flourish. These can be defined as the structures that create peace and the social attitudes that support it".

Peace is a key to co-existence. But peace will not come from passive action; it requires everyone's contribution. One cannot ask for peace without contributing to the process and playing a meaningful part in enriching society. We can start the process at the individual level by trying to understand ourselves and others, trying to seek and apply wisdom, and trying to use our potential to the full.
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June 10, 2010 04:16 pm (Thai local time)
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PIx of Elephant and Flat Standley Doll in the jungle. you can see the rhino's a..)




Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Simple Life in Nepal

Life is simple
Dr Christy Standerfer would be proud to learn that the facilitation techniques that she taught us in school have come into play in the rural area of Nepal. Yes, we started the facilitation by asking the participants to set up the ground rules for the meeting. And we encouraged the active involvement of the participants by asking them to divide in groups, writing their expectations of the meeting as well as the roles and responsibly of the sub-committees that will be formed. And yes! We made a nice tea break. I thought it would be under control throughout.. until the rains came..
The sound of rain dropping hard on the zinc-roof of the facilitation hall made it impossible for us to hear anything. So we had to suspend the workshop.
But Nepali people took it easy. It’s not a big deal ! We could have a nice break! A local vendor in a nearby hut was asked to serve us nice Nepali milk tea during our “extra monsoon tea break”. When the rain stopped, we resumed the workshop only to face another unpredictable factor.
Pigeons disturbed the workshop by knocking the zinc roof so loud that we could not hear what the participants were talking. One of our staff had to go out to shoo them away by throwing rocks to the roof of our hall building. No worry.. no animal masscare here. We just wanted the birds to fly away.
Under the hot sky which made us all sweat very hard that my white shirt now turned permanently yellow, I found what happened here funny that I could not hold my laughter. How on earth could Peter Block be able to imagine that a bird could sabotage a facilitation session from the zinc roof-top. Otherwise, he should have included in the appendix of his book.
Otherwise, our workshop went well according to our plan. The participants wrote good comments after the meeting. Moreover, although this is the harvesting season where the farmers would rather spend time working on their rice field than sitting in the two-day meeting, around 30 participants showed up during the two-full day workshop. The workshop was done in Nepali but I could feel the energy of the meeting through their gesture and active participation.
I like working with READ Nepal because the organization is a real community based. All of READ Nepal’s staff are local people, which is a plus for the organization as they reached out to the communities and closely involved with the communities throughout Nepal. The staff went outside the capital city very often. During our trip, we had dinner with the community people. Malaria was not the pronlem as our small guest in Jhuwani provided us with cuty mosquito net.
Life is tough but the experience was worthwhile. During this trip, I rode the elephant for the first time in my life. And it was not scary as I thought it would be.
READ Nepal recently received a funding from Norwegian government to implement the rural and literacy development project. The workshop applied Best Practice such as facilitation format and micro-finance credit model of Grameen Bank. I believed that everything happened for a reason. And now I know that it’s not co-incidental that I was assigned to read “Price of a Dream” which is based on Grameen Bank, during my Communication Class.