Opinion: Destructive criticism of struggling English teacher says more about cyberbullies than Thai education system

When the Ministry of Education officially launched its online distance learning channel (DLTV) on Monday, the internet was not happy.

Under the new trending hashtag #เรียนออนไลน์ (#onlinelearning), many took to social media to express their frustrations over the overall quality, format, and accessibility of the curriculum, criticising the government’s inability, yet again, to adequately assist children and citizens in their time of need.

To understand Thailand’s education system, one needs only to watch some of these videos — yes, it is astonishingly flawed and needs major reforming.

One particular English teacher has become the face of this online discussion and debate — but not particularly for the right reasons.

The teacher, Anchalee Pratansub — referred to as Kru Wang (palace teacher) — from Wang Klai Kangwon Palace school of Huahin, could be seen fumbling with her words and speaking in unintelligible English while conducting her English class to 6th graders.

The video went viral, with netizens resorting to cyber-bullying, mocking, and humiliating her English while complaining about the negative impact it will have on the future of Thai students’ English proficiency skills.

Some internet comment suggested that Kru Wang’s English is so bad, she should be a student and not the teacher. A portion of her speech even made it into a trending sound effect on Tiktok, with many users recording themselves lip-syncing to her imperfect, laughable English. Overnight, Kru Wang became both a scapegoat and a laughing stock.

Sympathy for Kru Wang soon drew in, prompting a new trending hashtag: #saveครูวัง (#savekruwang) on Twitter. Soon after, the internet was split in half.

“Is Twitter having fun? Kru Wang is very tired,” a former palace student of the teacher posted on Facebook.

“Do you know how much work it takes to prepare and record a lesson?” another user wrote, “all these insults to us teachers are very discouraging.”

The majority of the internet was unconvinced.

“Let’s all welcome Kru Wang to the real world. If you have shitty teaching skills, then you deserve all the ridicule.”

One Twitter user responded to the new hashtag, “You are not just teaching the kids in the tape, but also hundreds of thousands across the country. Providing erroneous education is unacceptable; your ‘sacrifice’ and ‘best efforts’ are just excuses that can’t be justified.”

“If you can’t take it, this game is not for you!” another Twitter user wrote, “If you’re not happy, that’s your personal issue. But, if education fails, the future of the country will get worse too!”

But isn’t ridiculing and dismantling others symbolic of a failure in the system too? Can you justify trying to improve a situation at the expense of someone else, especially when they hardly did anything to deserve it? Will the future of Thailand really improve by mocking someone else’s shortcomings?

In a way, this debate has also pointed out another emblematic, profoundly entrenched problem in Thai society — the culture of senseless bullying and ridicule. And seriously, this also needs major reforming.

One can reform the education system without creating a joke out of someone else’s accent and tearing them down.

Here is a productive scenario: netizens express their dissatisfaction with the overall quality of the lesson and teacher; point out what it is precisely that they have a problem with — is it the accent? Pronunciation? Grammar? Propose a solution if they can.

This is called constructive criticism.

Here is an unproductive one: netizens come together to laugh at someone else’s shortcomings; create memes and challenges with their faces plastered on them without their permission, forever implanting it online; disrespect their profession and dismantle their self-worth and confidence and later try to justify their behavior by saying that they’re just trying to improve society.

This is called destructive criticism.

It is senseless, unintelligent, and unnecessary and goes on to say more about the bully’s mindset than the real issue.

It misses the point entirely, takes away from the more important discussion that needs to be had, and negatively contributes to an unjust, offensive stereotype when it comes to Thais speaking English.

What kind of message are you trying to send these kids exactly when you are discriminating against someone’s inability to speak English or conduct their first online teaching class properly?

Here are a few of them:

Don’t even try because even if you have tried your best and still don’t get it right, society will not forgive you.

If your English doesn’t sound like the white folks do on television, you’ll become a joke.

When you see a problem that needs fixing — don’t focus on the issue, just mock and tear someone else down.

Whoever accepted Kru Wang for the job made an incredibly poor decision (and perhaps shouldn’t be qualified to make that call in the first place).

That is the government’s fault and responsibility, and we should continue to talk about it — constructively.

Kru Wang is a part of the system, but so are we.

(Added clarification in paragraph seven to indicate that the opinion that Kru Wang should be a student and not the teacher is the opinion of internet user, not the author’s)

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