Violence between vocational students from rival colleges has become an increasingly regular occurrence on the streets of Bangkok. Previous attempts to curb the violence, such as boot camps and the threat of college closures, have made little impact. The latest plans, which focus on students’ appearances, have met stiff opposition from various agencies, including the Ministry of Education.

On Wednesday, August 5 members of the Association of Private Technological and Vocational Educational Colleges of Thailand announced they would no longer accept students with tattoos and stretched pierced ears. Chairman of the association, Jompong Mongkolvanich, emphasized ‘We won’t admit children with tattoos or large pierced ears in the 2016 academic year as in many cases ill-intentioned people try to apply to get a student cover’. The 200 private vocational colleges within the association would also enforce uniform regulations more strictly and expel any students found engaging in violence, using drugs or carrying weapons.

These latest proposals have been criticized for being shortsighted and having little chance of solving inter-college violence. Worse still, these measures could result in ostracizing more young people. The announcement met strong opposition from Education Minister, Mr Kamchorn Tatiyakawee, and Secretary-General from the Office of Vocational Education Commission, Chaipreuk Sereerak.

Kamchorn emphasized fundamental shortcomings in the latest proposal. “You cannot judge people by their physical appearance. Some students who have tattoos are good kids. You cannot deny them the chance to study,’ he said. Secretary-general of the Office of the Vocational Education Commission (OVEC) reinforced the Education Minister’s stance and confirmed that no vocational college under the control of the OVEC would enforce this ban because all students deserve access to education.

The private colleges association’s proposals are in stark contrast to the education rights of the 1999 Thai Education Act which clearly state, “all individuals shall have equal rights and opportunities to receive basic education”. If private vocational colleges do carry out their threat to ban students with tattoos, it will be against Thailand’s commitment to Education for All (EFA). The World Declaration on Education for All was adopted by Thailand and 150 other nations in 1990. The objectives of EFA are to provide free primary education, expand access to education and promote skills development for all young people.

Regulations that focus on students’ appearances are unlikely to provide any long term solutions. If anything they will further increase the sense of institutional loyalties which underpin much of the violence. Furthermore, banning students with tattoos will block access to education for thousands of students, sending more young people into society without the necessary skills to find meaningful employment.

Tackling youth violence in Bangkok requires a strategic, multiagency approach similar to those adopted by other cities that have had similar problems. Long term solutions also need to address vocational education shortcomings, reform Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and raise the stature of vocational education.

It remains to be seen whether opposition from the Ministry of Education, the OVEC and other agencies will encourage the Association of Private Technological and Vocational Educational Colleges of Thailand to rethink their proposal

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Daniel is an English Literature graduate from the University of London who has spent the past 20 years living and working in Southeast Asia. Passionate about education, health care, sustainable development, equality and human rights, Daniel is a regular contributor to Asian Correspondent, Ajarn, The Educator and Bangkok Post.

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