Bangkok – The key to achieving reconciliation in Thailand's deep South is to get everyone to learn to live with the diversity of cultures that exist in the region, said a group of academics. And newly-appointed Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang plans to get the ball rolling by introducing a school curriculum that would meet the needs of the local population.
Mr Pornchai Matangkasombat, rector of Mahidol University, said the root of the problem in the Muslim-majority South lay in cultural and racial differences.
"Diversity is indeed an essential capital that many countries wish for, but cannot create. Thailand is lucky to have it, but unfortunately it is now used to create conflict in the country,'' said Mr Pornchai during a public forum entitled "Diversity of Cultures, Languages, Ethnicities…Path to Reconciliation" on Aug 4. The forum was organised by Mahidol University.
Scholar Nithi Eawsriwong said the worsening situation in the deep South took root from the problem of "being Malayu".
"It happened that the status of being Malayu has never been respected. The Malayu identity is not seen as being on par with other ethnic groups. Malayu people in the deep South are typically regarded by people in charge as a strange ethnic group who do not follow the global development trend,'' said Mr Nithi.
Malayu people have their own way of life and culture that Thai society should value, he said.
Mr Rattiya Salae, of Thaksin University, said the only way to win the hearts of Thai Muslims in the region is to keep every promise made to them and respect their rights and dignity.
In another development, Education Minister Chaturon said on Aug 5 that he would push through a proposal to have the Malay language incorporated in the curriculum of public schools in the South.
Besides incorporating Yawi, the local dialect of Jawi (Malay written in the Arabic alphabet), a Chinese-language curriculum for public schools in the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani, will also be put together.
"It's important to have a curriculum that reflects the needs of the local community. The three southernmost provinces are predominantly Malay with a high concentration of ethnic Chinese. Perhaps we should include local languages in the school's curriculum," Mr Chaturon said.
The ministry will also adopt the technique of teaching Thai as a second language to Malay-speaking southerners since Malay is the first language of many in the region.
Mr Chaturon, seen as one of the few doves in the Thai government, has wide support in the deep South. He has consistently pushed for policies aimed at reducing tension between the Muslim South and the rest of the predominantly Buddhist kingdom.
* Schools in South to teach Yawi (Bangkok Post, Aug 6)
* Accepting diversity in South ‘key to peace’ (Bangkok Post, Aug 5)