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Schools learn to adapt to political rallies

During the past two months, thousands of schoolgirls in Bangkok, Thailand, have seen political demonstrations manifesting almost at their doorstep.

“I walk past demonstrators every morning,” said Wanassanan Ruangdej, a Mathayom 5 student of the Satri Witthaya School.

Her girls-only school is just a stone’s throw away from the Democracy Monument, where the People’s Democratic Reform Committee have camped out for a few months.

The demonstration has affected her life, of course. But she has no complaints.
“They rally outside the school’s compound. No one raids in. So, I can live with it,” Wanassanan said.

Since the demonstration started, Wanassanan has needed to get out of a public bus farther from the school’s gate and walk a longer distance to the school.

Her teachers have changed course syllabuses in a bid to put all necessary content into a shorter timeframe, too.

The school’s director Benyapa Kongrod said she had shortened each class session from 50 minutes to 40 minutes in a bid to ensure that students still had the same number of class sessions.

“We have 10 sessions per day, instead of eight. We have even canceled the flag-raising ceremony in the morning to save time for the children’s studies,” she said about preparations to deal with the political rallies’ impacts.

Although the PDRC demonstration is relatively peaceful, schools sometimes have to suspend class out of concerns for their students’ safety amid the possibility that violence may erupt.

“We have assessed the situation on a daily basis,” Benyapa said.

She is always hoping for the best. If possible, she hoped to minimize class cancellations.

Class cancellations are sometimes ordered at the very last minute. So, her students are advised to stay on alert and keep abreast of announcements that often spread through social media.

Saengrawee Wajawoot, the director of protest-affected Rajavinit School, revealed that she also took similar steps.

“We have reduced time for each class session by five minutes from 50 to 45 minutes,” she said.

She added that her school also used social-media and phone communications in announcing the class suspension, when the need arose.

“Through such communications, the message can be sent out to all concerned in less than two hours,” Saengrawee said.

She added that her school opened its cafeteria at 6 a.m. to ensure that students who need to come early have places to dine and rest. Some children, after all, feel they need to leave home early to ensure that they arrive at school in time even in the face of ongoing protests.

“We have taken many steps to deal with the ongoing situation,” Benyapa said.

She then was quick to add that the school also expected its students to take good care of themselves in regards to other tasks they have to handle such as the Ordinary National Educational Test, the General Aptitude Test and the Professional Aptitude Test, whose scores are among key university-admission criteria.

On her part, for the students’ safety, Benyapa has required all class sessions to end by 2:30 p.m. Out-of-classroom activities that can be suspended, such as sports events, have already been postponed twice.

“And we have asked all students to leave the school by 4:30 p.m.,” this school director said.

Just like the Satri Witthaya School and the Rajavinit School, the Matthayom Wat Benchamabophit School has been impacted by the political protest. Near the latter school is the protest ground of the Students and People’s Network for Thailand’s Reform.

Chalor Khiaochalua, director of the Matthayom Wat Benchamabophit School, said he was always closely monitoring the political situation.

“Our school is very close to the Government House,” he pointed out. Due to this, the school has seen many political rallies before.

“That’s why our school always begins our semester one or two week(s) ahead of our schools. This means we won’t have serious impacts if we later on have to suspend classes,” Chalor said.

Probably because his school has only male students and because it has been familiar with demonstrations, Chalor has no policy to require students to its compound early.

“Class can run till 5 p.m.,” he said.

Puttipong Pisitbannakorn, a Mathayom 6 student, said he has studied here for six years already.

“Of these six years, I have seen protests going on nearby every year except when I was in Mathayom 1,” he said.

Another Mathayom 6 student, Siva Pakwinam, said he had no worry about class suspension.

“It’s good for me. I have more time to prepare for my university entrance exam,” he said.

So far, he has empathy for younger students who needed to focus on class to excel academically. “For them, it may be hard,” he said.

By Tanpisit Lerdbamrungchai

(The Nation)