Education Ministry’s ‘haircut enforcer’ becomes unwitting target of students’ anger
Born into a poor farming family, Education Ministry’s deputy permanent secretary Dr Veera Khaengkasikarn may have spoken from experience when he said “your parents pay when you wear long hair”, during a TV debate this week.
After all, the cost of shampoo, haircuts and anti-lice medication is something many underprivileged rural families will be familiar with.
However, young-generation viewers disliked his comment so much that they began mocking him online. Photos of “hairstyles that block your friends’ view” went viral in the social media – ridiculing the criticism voiced by Veera on Monday.
Celebrities like Miss Universe Thailand 2020 Amanda Obdam and singer Jaruwat “Dome The Star” Cheawaram quickly joined the trend of flaunting bold hairstyles to challenge Dr Veera’s traditional view of what “good kids” look like.
Veera, who has spent decades working for the ministry, found himself under the spotlight for the first time – but for controversial comments rather than his contribution to education.
Shrugging off the barrage of criticism, Veera said he had been given a limited time to speak on TV and people may have misunderstood his comments. When asked to explain his view in detail, Veera said he just thought that certain flashy hairstyles, like mohawks and dyed locks, could distract students from their studies.
“I have seen the abusive comments on Twitter, but I don’t take them seriously. I’m laughing them off,” Veera said. “If you pay attention to just one sentence, you might get angry. But listen to the whole debate and you will understand what I meant to say.”
Student hairstyle row
This year, school students are pushing hard for the Education Ministry to relax hairstyle rules. Their campaign is highlighting rules and harsh enforcement – including teachers chopping students’ hair short – that students say violate their rights and foster authoritarianism.
The protest made headlines when the Bad Student group staged a thought-provoking stunt featuring a pupil in school uniform sitting on the pavement tied up and muzzled.
“This student has violated school rules by wearing hair that goes beyond her earlobes and has destroyed Thai students’ identity by wearing bangs. PLEASE PUNISH HER,” read the sign beside her. In small print were the words: “Stop imposing forced haircuts”. A representative of the group also joined the TV debate with Veera on Monday.
Bad Student is a group of school pupils who sarcastically describe themselves as the flawed output of Thailand’s “so-good education”.
Top official’s humble background
Now 52, Veera was born and raised in Nakhon Sawan. His farmer parents were so poor that he almost didn’t make it to secondary school.
According to his official biography, after he completed Pathom 6, his teacher pleaded with Veera’s father to let him further his education. The father gave his permission, but only if Veera passed the entrance exam in his hometown’s best school with flying colours. Veera took the exam and ranked 5th among nearly 400 candidates, thus winning a place at Latyaowitthayakom School.
After graduating in 1987, he enrolled at the Nakhon Sawan Teacher Training College. He threw himself into extracurricular activities, including debates, and was voted president of the college’s students club.
After he left the college, he got a bachelor’s degree from the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University and a master’s degree from the Naresuan University. Later on, he earned a doctorate in educational management from the college, which by that time was renamed Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University.
Veera joined the Education Ministry as a teacher in 1991. His first posting was in his home province of Nakhon Sawan, where he quickly climbed the career ladder. His last post in the province was as director of Nakhon Sawan’s Primary Educational Service Area 1.
In 2019, he was appointed inspector-general of the Education Ministry. He has earned several awards in his career.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk