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Cablegate: Southern Thailand: Conflict, Conflicting Goals

VZCZCXRO6785
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2226/01 2451058
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 021058Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8146
INFO RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7414
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 9930
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 5748
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1879
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0084

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002226

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS; NSC FOR WALTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR PREL PTER TH
SUBJECT: SOUTHERN THAILAND: CONFLICT, CONFLICTING GOALS
HURTING EDUCATION AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

REF: BANGKOK 2149: NARATHIWAT BOMBING

Sensitive but unclassified; please handle accordingly. Not
for internet distribution.

1. (SBU) Summary: Issues of identity, language, violence
against teachers, and quality of instruction are some of the
key challenges facing the educational environment and its
impact on life in southern Thailand, according to academic,
government, and NGO interlocutors we engaged in southern
Thailand in late August. An exodus of qualified teachers
after the separatist conflict began a more violent phase in
January 2004 reduced the quality of education in state-run
schools, and many well-to-do Buddhist families now opt to
send their children to school outside the region. The
majority of Malay Muslim parents choose to send their
children to private religious schools, most of which now
teach both religion and the state curriculum while receiving
state funds, though concerns about the quality of instruction
and the sufficiency of vocational preparation remain. This
is the second of three cables reporting on key issues
affecting Thailand's Deep South emerging from an August 16-19
trip to Thailand's three southernmost provinces. The first
(reftel) touched on the lingering impact of the June 8 mosque
massacre in Narathiwat; septel will address the nature of
violence and perceptions of a lack of justice in the deep
south.

2. (SBU) Comment: While insurgent attacks against teachers
grab the headlines, the problems with the educational system
preparing (or not) the next generation of southerners to
succeed in a modern economy run deep. Central Thai
authorities see education as a way of molding Thai citizens;
Malay Muslim parents prioritize affirming their Muslim
identity in their choice of schooling. The different
educational approaches are symptomatic of what many perceive
as the RTG's resistance to accepting the Malay Muslim ethnic
identity within what it means to be Thai. End Summary and
Comment.

Education System Failing Southern Students
------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Our interlocutors emphasized the educational
challenges many Malay Muslims face in the South. Students in
the three southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani
consistently score at the bottom of Thailand's 76 provinces
on educational tests/indicators, Natthaphong Sirichana,
Vice-Governor of Narathiwat for social and economic issues,
with primary oversight of education, told us August 18. Many
Malay Muslim students finishing the first six primary years
cannot read or write Thai properly, Natthaphong lamented. He
attributed the poor performance to two primary factors:
students struggling with two languages; and frequent school
closings due to the ongoing violence.

4. (SBU) The primary educational focus for most Malay Muslim
families is reinforcement of their children's Muslim
identity. The chairman of the Narathiwat Islamic Committee,
Hajji Abdullozak Ali, told us August 18 that education was
the biggest issue for Muslims in the South, even more
important than living conditions. Vice-Governor Natthaphong
asserted that only 20 percent of Muslim students in the three
southern provinces attend state schools. He noted that most
parents send their children to private Islamic schools
because of their strong emphasis on religious education.

5. (SBU) Note: The vice-governor's figures do not appear to
match official statistics from the Ministry of Education,
based on our understanding of the Buddhist-Muslim population
split in the three provinces; see statistics below in para
12. The private schools receive a per-student subsidy from
the state, allowing students to attend for free. Most
schools now teach religion in the morning and the state
curriculum in the afternoon. Far fewer students attend the
entirely private pondok schools which offer only religious
instruction.


BANGKOK 00002226 002 OF 003


6. (SBU) The ongoing violence, particularly the history of
attacks against teachers since 2004, has weakened the quality
of instruction in the South at the primary school level and
the total attendance numbers at university level. In
addition to violence frequently interrupting school, 119
teachers have been killed in the three southernmost provinces
in the past five years, with 52 of the casualties taking
place in Narathiwat province, according to the head of the
Narathiwat Teachers Federation, Sa-nguan Intharak. Fifty of
the 52 in Narathiwat were Buddhist; the two Muslims were
killed trying to protect Buddhist colleagues, added Sa-nguan.


7. (SBU) Shortly after the surge in violence began,
approximately four thousand teachers took advantage of a
government offer to leave the Deep South and relocate
elsewhere, thereby diluting the quality of instruction.
According to Sa-nguan, presently 80 percent of Narathiwat's
teachers are from the province. Sa-nguan was pleased to
report that no teachers were killed in Narathiwat in
2008/first half of 2009, which he attributed to defensive
driving and weapons training provided under the
Queen-sponsored Village Defense Force project.

8. (SBU) Buddhist families that can afford to are voting with
their feet. Sa-nguan said that Thai Buddhist families in the
south who can afford to send their children to private
schools in Songkhla do so, primarily out of fear of
harassment by Malay Muslim students. Sa-nguan,s own son has
been picked on at school for not being a Muslim, but he said
he felt the need to set an example for the Buddhist community
by keeping his children in Narathiwat schools and not taking
an offer to relocate elsewhere in Thailand.

9. (SBU) Since the violence escalated, many fewer students
from Thailand's mid-South attend university or tertiary
vocational education in Pattani and Yala. The mayor of Yala
township, Phongsak Yingchoncharoen, told us that before 2004,
Yala was the educational center of the South. Over the past
five years, however, overall enrollment has dropped by ten
thousand annually. Prince of Songkhla University enrollment
has gone from a 70-30 Buddhist-Muslim mix ten years ago, to
50-50 five years ago, to 30-70 currently, according to
several professors, as Buddhists from elsewhere in Thailand,
including the mid-south, looked elsewhere for higher
education options.

Ideas for improvement: technology, textbooks, language
--------------------------------------------- ---------

10. (SBU) Vice-Governor Natthaphong and two local education
officials with him in the meeting stressed that limited IT
resources in Narathiwat schools would further handicap their
students at the university level. Natthaphong presented a
wish list of requested educational assistance from the USG,
mentioning USAID, student exchanges, and Peace Corps teachers
to focus on scientific education, the teaching of English,
and libraries. He added: "the poor don't need money, they
only need the opportunity."

11. (SBU) Natthaphong's assistant emphasized that, to be
successful, RTG plans had to comport with local traditions,
because most Malay Muslim parents insisted on sending their
children to Islamic schools. Teacher Federation head
Sa-nguan also believed that the government needed to change
its view of education in the Deep South, notably by producing
textbooks that accurately teach the Koran and the history of
Pattani. He said that most Islamic schools, including the
pre-school/primary level "tadika" program, currently procure
textbooks printed in Malaysia that offer, in his view,
inaccurate instruction in fundamental tenets of the Koran and
of local history that breed misunderstanding and mistrust.

12. (SBU) Several of our interlocutors emphasized the impact
of language on education for Malay Muslim students.
Vice-Governor Natthaphong said that because most students in
the south speak mostly Malayu at home, their Thai language
skills are lacking, and this limits their educational and

BANGKOK 00002226 003 OF 003


vocational opportunities. This sentiment was echoed by
Pakorn Prichawuthideth, director of the Narathiwat Community
College and member of the Narathiwat Industry Council and
Chamber of Commerce. Islamic Committee Chair Abdullozak Ali
said that formal RTG recognition that the people in the south
are Malay-Thai would be an important first step, coupled with
a corresponding RTG decision to allow formal education in the
central Malay dialect. That in turn would broaden
opportunities for study and work for southern students, as
well as facilitate communication with Indonesia and Malaysia.
Currently, many southern students were forced to go abroad
because they could not compete with students from Bangkok for
entrance into Thailand's universities.

Southern Private school statistics
--------------------------
Type schools students
State schools 921 209,482
Private religious/state 287 167,998
Private religious only 277 25,603
Pondok 398 25,000 (est)
(Tadika centers 2014 230,656)

Source: Thai Ministry of Education
JOHN

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