Information & Technology

Thai students fear cruellest cut as Education Ministry leaves hairstyle rules up to schools

Education Minister Treenuch Thienthong has scrapped her ministry’s rule on student hairstyles – a rule that youngsters have long complained about. However, her decision has been panned instead of praised by many students, who believe it will land them in even bigger disciplinary trouble.

“She has let all hell break loose on children’s heads,” a powerful students’ group complained on Twitter.

The Bad Student group said that by scrapping the rule the Education Ministry is passing the buck. Now, nobody can blame the ministry when schools impose strict regulations on how their students wear their hair to class.

“Short, high and close to the head will be back for boys, and girls won’t be able to wear their hair beyond their earlobes,” the group warned.

What has the minister done?

On January 16, as Thailand celebrated National Teachers’ Day, Treenuch signed an order cancelling the Education Ministry’s 2020 regulation on student hairstyles. Citing advice from the government’s legal advisors, she said that as the ministry’s top executive, she had the power to set policies for education agencies to follow.

This week, Treenuch went public about the cancellation of the rule and declared she was preparing a fresh guideline for schools on student hairdos.

The draft guideline says students can wear either short or long hair, but it allows schools to set their own rules in line with their mission or context. It also says that schools can consult stakeholders and promote participation in the formulation of the hairstyle rule.

What did the 2020 rule say?

Enforced on May 1, 2020, the Education Ministry’s regulation on student hairstyles prescribes short bobs or properly tied-up long hair for girls and close crew cuts with shaved sides for boys. Students were barred from getting their hair dyed or permed, and no beards or moustaches were allowed. Exemptions could only be made on grounds of religion.

Will the latest move backfire?

Move Forward Party MP Suttawan Suban said Treenuch’s decision paves the way for some school principals to become more authoritarian, dictating how their students wear their hair.

“The minister’s move reflects the fact that she does not really care about students’ rights,” Suttawan said. “Her move is a backward step.”

But Amporn Pinasa, secretary-general of the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC), argued that Treenuch’s move aims to give schools and other education stakeholders flexibility and power to decide how students should wear their hair.

“It’s about decentralization and flexibility,” he said.

Posting on Facebook, Treenuch insisted that her action would lead to the proper formulation of rules on student hairstyles that suit the context of each school.

For instance, schools will be able to take into account students’ opinions when making a decision on their hairstyle policies.

Students’ fight for freedom

While students across the country have long complained about the way they are forced to wear their hair, they have had to bow down to this restriction for generations. However, a stunt staged on a Bangkok pavement by Bad Student in 2020 sparked public awareness that enforcement of hairstyle rules sometimes went too far. As a result, calls grew for students to be given greater freedom in deciding how to wear their hair.

Backed by public support, many students began defying their schools’ hair rule while some even protested outside the Education Ministry.

Discussion among the authorities followed, but students who were expecting more lenient regulations were dismayed when the Education Ministry simply stepped out of the fray.

What’s next step for Bad Student?

Bad Student is now calling on the Education Ministry to immediately order schools to stop formulating their own hair rules and thereby violating what it calls young people’s fundamental right to self-expression.

It also demanded that the Cabinet amend the Children Protection Act to ensure the protection of students’ dignity. Reports are rife of teachers humiliating students whose hairdos don’t match the strict criteria by chopping their hair or otherwise ruining their hairstyle so they have no choice but to cut it short. These punishments are usually meted in full view of other students.

“The Cabinet should get serious about protecting students’ rights and ensure they have a say in decisions made by school committees,” Bad Student said.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service