Top 10 Reasons Why Thai University Students Should wear Uniforms

I was abducted by a goblin last Saturday and was forced to write a very uncharacteristic piece. This is the article I wrote under extreme duress. 😉

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We’ve heard so much fuss about the rules on Thai university student uniforms. To wear or not to wear (the uniform). Too outrageous or right on (Aum Neko’s campaign against mandatory student uniform rule). Really, I’ve gotten quite sick of hearing about this trivial issue, so I want to settle it once and for all. I’m even doing something uncharacteristic of me and being brief—sort of. Here are my Top 10 Reasons Why Thai University Students Should Wear Uniforms.

1. Almost all Thai university students love student uniforms. If you think I’m pulling this out of thin air, here’s the evidence. A Suan Dusit poll conducted just last week (14-17 September 2013) showed that 94.4% of 1,293 university students in greater Bangkok think student uniforms are “necessary” to maintain the order and their identity; 70.96% think they should wear the uniform everyday they attend classes.

If that doesn’t convince you of Thai university students’ love of uniforms, I don’t know what would. A poll asking soldiers about their uniforms would be hard pressed to produce such an impressive percentage. In a general election, 94.4% would be the mother of a landslide that even the late Saddam Hussein would envy. And given it’s the students who wear the uniforms, there isn’t really any need for more reasons beyond No. 1. There is no doubt that the 94.4% of 1,293 university students in greater Bangkok speak for all university students in Thailand. But for the benefit of skeptics, I’ll go through Reasons No. 2 – No.10 just to show the abundance of compelling reasons. Beat the dead horse, I will.

2. Uniforms promote social equality among students. I’m sure most Thai university students never think about different social classes among their peers. Inequality never crosses your mind even if one of your classmates drives a BMW to campus or is dropped off by the family chauffer in a Benz S-class series, and you take a non-aircon bus. It doesn’t matter that your girlfriend wears Prada and a Gucci watch and you are adorned with a Jansport backpack. We are truly equal in our uniforms. And when you see students from other supposedly lesser universities, you never look down on them for not having enough brains to get into your university. You cannot help feeling the camaraderie from sharing the status that comes with the uniforms.

3. Uniforms teach students about discipline, duty, tradition, respect and honor. That may sound like a lot to expect from simple white and black outfits, but you’d be surprised by the depth and breadth of their meaning. Learning to dress the same teaches discipline (think a complex version of getting in line). A sense of duty is inculcated in appreciating that although on some days you may not feel like wearing the same outfit as others, it’s your duty to do so (like putting on a work outfit and shoes instead of just sweatpants and flip-flops to go to work). Tradition is handed down by people born before you, and if wearing student uniforms didn’t kill them, it probably won’t kill you.

Honor is a high form of respect and universities are institutions of higher education. Notice the word “higher” before education? Wearing a uniform is a way for students to show higher respect for their higher institution (like how people used to dress up to get on the plane—to show respect to the lofty vehicle—pity people don’t show that kind of respect any more). Also, not everyone gets to go to university and wear the student uniform, so show some pride! (OK, add pride to the list. Come to think of it, modesty and courtesy, too.)

4. Not wearing uniforms doesn’t make Thai students any smarter. Truer words have never been spoken. We can count with one hand and are still left with four fingers Thai universities that have made the list of the top 400 universities in the world. Thai university ranking won’t skyrocket or nose dive just because Thai students are no longer wearing the uniforms. Uniforms have nothing to do with learning, so why not wear them at least for Reasons 1-3? Too bad there is no ranking of the world’s top university uniforms, or Thailand would… Oh wait!

Thailand: No. 1 in sexiest (female) student uniform

Thailand: No. 1 in sexiest (female) student uniform

5. Thai (female) student uniform is the sexiest in the world. So there! Sure, none of our universities rank among the world’s top 100, 200, or 300, or Asia’s top 40. But Thailand is No. 1 in the sexiest female student uniform in the world. Eat dust, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, and the rest of the top 100-200 universities that don’t even have student uniforms! As far as I’m concerned, this reason alone should render all the reasons that follow and all that come before superfluous. But I already promised 10, so let’s continue.

6. Uniforms remind Thai university students who they are. Think how easy it is to become confused and forget who you are when all kinds of people in your country also wear uniforms: police officers, military officers, nurses, bank clerks, office workers, security guards, office cleaning ladies, pilots, flight attendants, waiters and waitresses, bus fare collectors, taxi drivers, to name just a few.

The professions most at risk of being confused with students are probably bus fare collectors and waiter and waitress trainees. They are nearly indistinguishable but for the university pin and belt buckle, and in some cases a tie, on the student uniforms. Thanks to these little adornments, Thai university students are saved from total confusion. Imagine the cognitive chaos, if university students were allowed to wear casual clothes—no one would be able to tell them apart from other regular young people who don’t go to university, including those 2-year-college vocational students who skipped school. The horror!

7. Uniforms remind Thai university students of their unique national identity and heritage. Besides Thailand, there are only three other countries in the world that require university students to wear uniforms. (I suspect the survey must have left out North Korea.) But quite frankly, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have nothing to Thailand’s university student uniforms. Granted Vietnam may have their lovely au dais but the Vietnamese au dais haven’t been voted the sexiest student uniform in the word, have they? University student uniforms (especially the female ones) are hence Thailand’s de facto unique and unparalleled national identity and heritage to be passed on to the next generations.

8. If students can’t even follow the simple uniform rule in university, how will they cope in the real world? For instance, will they wear shorts or sweatpants to work? Or jeans, pyjamas and flip-flops? Will they be able to follow simple rules like coming to working on time and when to take lunch? Will they know how to take orders from their boss or will they—gasp—refuse to follow the boss’s orders? Used to getting their way as students, they might start campaigning against this or that at work, and that’ll be the end of society.

9.  If Thai university students are allowed to wear casual clothes, what stops them wearing bikinis to class? This is a proverbial slippery slope. It has been known to happen during summer at universities in the West. Given Thailand is in the tropics, there is a real risk of that catching on. And who can guarantee it’ll stop at bikinis? There are all kinds of inappropriate outfits Thai university students could start wearing—or not wearing, like underwear. (Granted they might already be wearing G-strings now but at least that’s underneath the uniforms.) And what if this excessive freedom becomes contagious and infects teachers too? Think I’m over the top? Think again. This has happened. Freedom has gone so out of control in America that a school in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA, had to make a new dress code requiring teachers to wear underwear and female teachers to wear bras and prohibiting them to wear cut-off jeans, flip-flops, spaghetti-straps, and—God forbid—spandex!

10. Thai (female) student uniform is the sexiest in the world. Oh, I already mentioned that? Well, it’s worth repeating anyway. Why, even teachers in their forties can look adorably sexy in one. In the picture below, the two female students are actually lecturers at Thammasat University where the latest student uniform controversy started. (One of them posted the picture on her Facebook to remind the students how lucky they are to have the opportunity to wear the uniform because not everyone has a chance.) Given how adorable these two lady lecturers look, I’m starting to think it should be mandatory for teachers to wear student uniforms too. It might even increase class attendance.

I’m thinking of another possibility. If you’re bored with the usual French maid or nurse outfit, why not give the Thai student uniform a try?

Lovely Thammasat University lecturers in student uniform, Source: Thai Rath

Lovely Thammasat University lecturers in student uniform, Source: Thai Rath

Note: Thanks to Prach Panchakunathorn for his article (“Top 10 Worst Reasons” – in Thai) which gave me an inspiration to make this list.

This article was originally published on SiamVoices, Asian Correspondent on 22 September 2013. (See some interesting comments there.)

11 responses to “Top 10 Reasons Why Thai University Students Should wear Uniforms

  1. Haha, this debate has been going on for years. Personally, as a former farang English teacher in BKK, I’m all for the uniforms. Some of the things my female students changed into for private tutoring sessions in the evenings were uhhh… well… distracting to say the least.

  2. As one of only four backward countries in the world when it comes to university thinking, it doesn’t surprise me that 8 out of your 9 reasons (can’t even find a tenth nonsensical reason?) are utter, utter garbage. Still, just in case you fun article was supposed to be even remotely serious, let me tell you why….

    1. Everybody likes their smartest and most expensive clothes as they make them feel good. For most students that don’t come from Bangkok that will be their university uniform.

    2. TRUE – your only valid reason in a country that is so unequal, and where people can’t afford expensive, fashionable clothing. It is, in fact, the only reason why (at this time) university uniforms are (and should) be here to stay.

    3. The example that students are set teaches them discipline, duty, tradition, respect and honor – not what they are forced to wear. If your leaders don’t (and they don’t) show these qualities, then they will never be passed on! I should say though, that learning to respect institutions that on a year by year basis not only allow, but tacitly accept, the ritual humiliation and torture of freshers as being normal and acceptable, do not deserve that respect and honor anyway.

    4. Wearing uniforms certainly hasn’t helped with achievement either (1 in the top 400). Especially seeing as university is the place to begin to throw off mindless conformity, learn to think for yourself and mature – not continue to be treated like a child.

    5. Really? You think that being 1st out of four is worth celebrating? Or you think that sexualizing young women is s good thing? Still, from experience, most parents don’t mind their pre-pubescent girls being dressed up as slutty dancing girls; so being proud of your young adults walking around dressed as whores doesn’t surprise.

    6. I’m not sure that people would forget who they are, or get confused. They might, however, stop treating anyone below the age of 25 who isn’t wearing a uniform as a problem, and everyone who is wearing one as a solution. Just why should university students stand out as being special anyway? What exactly have they done so far in their lives other than mange to get from one corrupt branch of the education system into another?

    7. Would this be the Srivijaya & Khmer unique identity and heritage, or the join WW2 on the wrong side (yep, even to the point of declaring war) identity and heritage that they should be proud of? Neither, I suppose, as that would mean actually teaching people about anything other than the Ayuthaya and Sukkothai periods in Thai history. Maybe being attired as ladies who provide sexual services is the identity and heritage we’re after here then!

    8. The whole country seems to be incapable of following simple rules like turning up on time, doing what their boss tells them, not throwing trash on the floor, or stopping (and going) when traffic lights are certain colors. It’s not like university uniforms have helped with these little things so far have they? Maybe it’s the lack of consequences (especially education-wise) of any of their actions from birth to graduation that actually cause these already existing problems though.

    9. It may be tempting to point out that because American teachers are stupid that Thais are gonna be worse, that stupid American teenagers means Thais will be worse. This is NOT true at all. In Thailand, you do still have a culture, an idea of what is acceptable, and what is not. Or have you seem a lot of bikini clad women in temples that I don’t go to? So, if temples can have a dress code, but not a uniform, universities can too.

    10. The same as point 5.

    Seriously, sometimes your articles are thought provoking and incisive, but this was banal, childish rubbish. Either that, or it was so tongue in cheek that I missed it!

  3. Reblogged this on Thailand Footprint: Impressions left by the books, people, places and music of Thailand and South East Asia and commented:
    A reblog of a post by Kaewmala from September 23, 2013, on her web site, thaiwomantalks.com . I am not totally sold on Twitter but one reason to belong to the twitterverse is to follow: แก้วมาลา Kaewmala
    @Thai_Talk
    She is a Thai woman writer as well as a self proclaimed provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics. Kaewmala is smart, sassy and never boring. But don’t forget your thinking cap. Thinking is required when reading anything by Kaewmala. Once again, if you like quality tweets, follow her on Twitter @Thai_Talk . She is also the author of Sex Talk – In Search of Love and Romance

  4. I’m not a woman, and I’m not staunchly for or against school uniforms in general, but you may find the film The Wave worth watching. All of this reeks of fascism, and the only defense seems to be, “Well yeah, but those inside the group love fascism,” which is just proving the anti-uniform argument correct, and is self-evident no matter which side you take. Okay, so the group gets bigger (94.4% of students as opposed to maybe the top 25% coolest cats), but that doesn’t really change the element that we’re talking about – it just shuffles the oppression onto others. Hey, maybe that’s all well and good. It certainly has carried the last century.

    Maybe I’m too sensitive when it comes to fascistic elements in schools.

  5. Personally I think reason #2 would do it for me. People are often distracted by the stuff other (wealthier) people have, when they should be concentrating on their books.

  6. Kaewmala, It’s possible not all the Footprint readers recognize your style and nuance. Much obliged for allowing the reblog. I enjoyed reading your Top Ten List, twice. And the top picture is now my screensaver ;o) Best, Kevin Cummings

  7. Thanks all for sharing your feedback here. As somebody said (don’t remember who), once the words have left your mouth (or your keyboard) they are no longer yours. I respect my readers’ reading. However a reader chooses to read my given article, it’s really up to him or her. In this particular case I can see why some don’t read it the way I intended it to be read. To me, if a reader loves this piece I win, or if a reader hates it, I win – as long as it triggered the reader’s analytical thought process. (Another plus, I’ve learned that irony or deadpan humor isn’t always well received.)

    Cheers to you all, 🙂

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