Ibrahim Keela, a 25-year-old youth activist and student, shares his thoughts with AK Rockefeller about the institutional challenges on education and livelihood. He hails from Yala, a province in south Thailand.
Thailand’s ‘Deep South’, or referred as ‘Patani‘ by most southern ethnic Malay-speaking Muslim population, encompasses Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces. This region, which shares a border with Malaysia, is torn by conflict. The local population see regular confrontation, almost weekly, bloodied clashes between Patani insurgents and the military of Thailand, not to mention the human rights violations and torture committed by both sides. More than 6,500 people, mainly civilians, have lost their lives in the conflict.
Despite the challenges, young people continue to advocate for peace, self-determination, rights and their identity.
Youths are ostracized by the system
Zashnain: Good afternoon Ibrahim. I’m curious about the situation in Patani especially about the challenges facing young people. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Ibrahim: I was born in Yala. I graduated in Information and Communication Technology, from the Prince of Songkla University. Currently I’m studying Computer Science in India.
Zashnain: The Deep South has been experiencing conflict for quite some time. Yet we don’t hear much about the livelihood challenges faced by marginalized young people in the land of Patani. What problems are youths facing when it comes to education and securing employment after completing their education?
Ibrahim: In Patani there are many schools. The curriculum system is made by the Ministry of Education from Bangkok to use for all student in Thailand. But in Patani they are different, such as language, history and culture. They must learn and study in the Thai education system, using the Thai language when they go to school. The language is a problem for them. They don’t understand, and can’t apply it in their daily life.
Thai education system don’t make a person dare to think, to speak out. It’s all about remembering theories and memorizing materials from the class or teachers. Teachers are busy, measuring reports and can’t educate the youths on the Patani language.
Most students are studying either in academic or pondok (Islamic). After they graduate, some of them who studied in pondok, they can’t apply for jobs because they don’t have certificates.
And students who graduated at universities can’t seek jobs in Patani too.
The failure to understand
Zashnain: Why do you think the Ministry of Education has failed to accommodate to the concerns of Patani youths?
Ibrahim: In my opinion, Thai education system isn’t stable, just like the government and constitution. The road map for education and reforms aren’t continuous. Patani youths and students hope for a good system and education, according with their daily life, culture, language and their histories. But in the present education system it don’t say anything about diversity of people in the country, of course in Patani also.
In this curriculum they make Melayu writings use the Thai language characters and letters. This made the people worry about their language, culture and rights in daily life and for the future.
When Patani student go abroad for study they are monitored by Thai authorities. And when them back some student can’t stay or get jobs in Patani. Also in Thailand too. Because the Thai government think these students will want freedom.
Many students go abroad, to many countries such as in Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Britain. When they return to Patani, some officers or army will go to their homes. Its this suspicious attitude of the Thai government towards Patani students.
Students want a good education system but this can’t apply in their homeland. The number of Patani graduates in Prince of Songkhla University is 80%. It is located in Pattani province. There are about 1,500 student each year, in one university in Pattani. There is also the Yala Rajabhat University in Yala, Princess of Naradhiwas University in Narathiwat and Fatoni University in Pattani. Around 7,000 students who graduate each year. But the jobs are not enough for them. So they move to Malaysia and Bangkok to look for work. I know this because I used to talk with many students who work outside of Patani.
In villages, people said good person don’t smoke, and people do the right way. But they will monitored by the government. When bombs explode, they (authorities) go after them. Its like a joke but its real. Many drugs come after military come into Patani. Now many youths are addicted to drugs.
Anyway my friends who are working outside, they want to come back home but with that reason they decided to stay in Bangkok or Malaysia, or go abroad. For their safety and a good salary.
A state of unhappiness
Zashnain: So when Patani students study overseas they will be monitored by the government. How do students feel about that?
Ibrahim: When I asked my friends, they say “What did we do wrong?” They are not happy.
Zashnain: Are there many Patani graduates who are jobless or not with work that suits their knowledge?
Ibrahim: Yes. Right, the system don’t serve them with jobs. It has failed from the beginning. We believe that education will lead us to opportunities, and we work to a better livelihood.
But the government don’t teach or support the people to be able to determine the future for themselves. It’s like the price of fruit or rubber. Many people in the south work in agriculture, in the rubber plantations. And we can’t determine the price or the market for rubber. The system does not integrate for us. I think people must have rights about their education. We must be able to determine our future, by ourselves.
Zashnain: Is the junta consulting Patani youths about their issues, needs and concerns? For example, talking to youths about what is needed and how to collectively solve the problems?
Ibrahim: They have made space for discussion. For talking. But there’s no integration of open views. When Patani youths say what they need, the government don’t accept. There are student and youth groups, such as PerMas (The Federation of Patani Students and Youth). But safe space isn’t available. We can’t speak about everything. About what we need.
Zashnain: What is your aspiration for Patani young people who need jobs and education?
Ibrahim: I hope the youths can get good education according to what they need, and a good life. For me too.
Follow Ibrahim on Twitter: @himpatani