American International Journal of Social Science

ISSN 2325-4149(Print), ISSN 2325-4165(Online) DIO: 10.30845/aijss

Ethno-Religious Violence and Education: The Impact of Social Milieu Decisions in Southern Thailand
Sudarat Tuntivivat, Akis Kalaitzidis

In our quest to answer the age-old question of whether “two or more self-differentiating culture groups coexist within a single political structure” (Connor, 1994) researchers has been interested in the role of education mostly as a driver for radicalization (Waghid, Y. and Davids, N., 2015, Tahir, 2017). In our research, we find that in the case of southern Thailand’s ethno-religious conflict the decision to attend private Muslim schools is only partially driven bythe conflict itself. In the decisions to attend public schools or a private Islamic school the insurgency was far lower in the minds of teachers, parents and administrators while educational quality and social milieu indicators were more pronounced. Since the colonial rivalry between France and Great Britain turned Siam, present day Thailand, into a buffer state, the Thai Buddhist state and the Malay Muslims of southern Thailand have been locked in ethno-religious conflict. Siam‘s buffer function was consolidated during the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909, which officially brought the former Malay sultanate of Patani under the control of the king of Siam, ultimately leading to an on-going struggle to establish an independent Malay Muslim sultanate state (Harish, 2006, Liow 2009). Presently, from a total of about five million Thai Muslims, approximately 4 million live in the southern most provinces of Thailand (Gilquin, 2005: 39-40). The Islamic separatist campaign resurgence during period of the US War on Terror in 2001 vastly escalated in 2004 when the insurgents attacked a military installation and twenty schools, followed by massacres by government security forces during the Krue Se Mosque and Tak Bai incidents months later (McCargo, 2014; Pongsudhirak, 2006). Since the current round of violence erupted, approximately 6,321 people have been killed—among those, 182 teachers and 526 children (Deepsouth Watch, 2016). Over the past 12 years, insurgent groups have burned one in three public schools, or 297 out of 876. Pattani province has the highest number of incidents with 133 schools burnt, followed by 83 schools in Narathiwat Province, and 81 schools in Yala Province (Ministry of Education, 2015). This conflict was expected to greatly decrease children‘s opportunities to inclusive and quality education. A cursory look at the dropout rate of public schools in the three southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat basically confirms that at the height of the violence, the majority of the pupils stayed home (Office of the Higher Education Commission, 2010; Office of the Minister, 2014). Yet, when we conducted our personnel interviews the conflict was far lower in the minds of teachers, parents and administrators when it came to educational opportunities for the people in the region. The administration‘s‘ frame of mind indicates that, although violence was one of several variables affecting student attendance in public schools, it was not the determining factor. In fact, while the violence hit its peak, students were simultaneously moving from public schools towards private Islamic schools (called Pondoks), and this parallel movement cannot be explained simply by the existence of violence. Our on-site interviews highlight the complexity of parental decision regarding the education of their children and points to the lack quality instruction, and cultural insensitivity on the part of Thai schools as the culprit for these changes. At face value, the numbers do not look good for the minority‘s children. The Malay Muslim students have the lowest level of educational attainment; only 9.20% of Muslims have completed secondary education, including those who graduated from private Islamic schools, compared to 13.20% of Buddhists (Human Rights Watch, 2010). Moreover, the government educational system in the three southern border provinces is currently being undermined by the destruction of public schools by separatist Malay Muslim groups and poor quality of private Islamic schools (Office of the Higher Education Commission, 2010; Office of the Minister, 2014). Although past research explores the ongoing unrest in Southern Thailand from the perspective of ethno-religious conflict (Askew, 2007, 2008, 2009, Engvall & Anderson, 2014; Funston, 2010; Joll, 2015; Yusef, 2007, McCargo, 2010), Islamic education management (Porath, 2014, Liow, 2009b, Wisalaporn, 2009); multicultural education management (Farrungsang, 2008; Sungtong, 2012) school leadership (Brook &Sungtung, 2015) and education reform (Liow 2009a, 2010; Nitjarunkul, Sungtong, &Placier, 2014), there is no prior research written about the effects of the social environment on compulsory education in the conflict areas of Southern Thailand. Although some may simply label this conflict as -relative deprivation? in which the marginalized react with rebellion, our findings are more consistent with instrumental explanations of violence, in which communities do not base their education choices solely on the existence of violence. Considering the importance of education on a person‘s political views—not to mention whether or not they become religiously radicalized—has made education a battleground in Thailand. It has been argued that the Thai state has used education as a -weapon of mass assimilation? (Feigenblatt, at al. 2010), but this view ignores the very complex relationship between the Thai state and the southern Muslim communities. One example is McCargo‘s work (McCargo, 2010), which sheds light on the complexity of Islamic Councils which have been transformed not only by radicalism or their potential for it but also by in the political leadership‘s relationship to the Thai military. In this context, the decision to attend or not an Islamic school is itself an important political decision. What then are the most important parameters for such decision? It is the contention of the authors that because of the separatist violence in southern Thailand, research has ignored the equally-as-important effects of the social milieu upon the decision to pursue education or not. A string of interviews conducted in these regions provides a clear example of how complicated such decisions are and cautions research that uses a single causal variable to explain the shortcomings of compulsory education in Southern Thailand. Clearly, the limited number of interviews conducted is a restriction on assigning causality, but our findings could serve as indicators for further research.

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