August 24, 2011

The Trouble with Tablets in Thailand

Does Video Game Violence Make Kids Weird? (pictured left: my son terrified of a booth babe)
I guess I don't know that much about Thailand, because when I heard that Prime Minister Yingluck was serious about the one tablet per child policy, I expected a different kind of criticism from Bangkok's elite. For example, I figured some astute observers would say things like, "How do we know the company that gets the contract won't be involved in dubious dealings with the Shinawatra family?", or "Why buy tablets when many kids in the impoverished schools in Isan don't even have a decent computer?", and perhaps "How are we going to pay for this shit?"

However, the criticism has been of a more culture warrior variety with critics arguing that children will have access to violent video games and porn. The Nation quotes from concerned citizens about tablets:

Not only do teachers of the target students have to be prepared for the use of the new technology, but parents should also learn how to use the tablets and understand the technology so they can monitor students' use of the tablets and prevent them from accessing improper websites and games.

"Office of Basic Education Commission secretary general Chinnapat Bhumirat said schools would have a screening system to block students' access to the Internet as they would have to use the schools' intranet. We want this screening plan to be practical, but people are worried that it won't be, because children learn about technology very quickly [so they may be able to avoid the screening system]," said the head of the Child Safety Promotion and Injury Prevention Research Centre, Adisak Plitponkarnpim.
Now, I may have been scolded once or ten times by my wife for allowing the boys to play Grand Theft Auto on my iPad. However, I believe that the concern over video game violence is misplaced. Bangkok itself is a pretty crazy city, where you can find prostitutes, meth dealers, and horrendous motorcycle accidents right outside your front door. Additionally, Bangkok is not like Western cities, where the violence is isolated into ghettos, barios, and other areas to steer clear of. In Bangkok, you will see new high-rise condos teeming with young professionals overlooking a slum made of aging wood and corrugated metal roofs. The humanity is pretty in your face no matter what socioeconomic bracket you fall into. So, I believe the getting upset about violent video games seems to be the least of the troubles.

Additionally, businesses in Thailand always complain about the lack of IT skills in the Thai workforce. While just handing a kid a tablet certainly isn't going to solve the problem overnight, investment in IT education isn't a bad bet for the future. Crazies and weirdos were around before video games, so it's probably better to invest in things like training for law enforcement to deter crime rather than fearing the occasional scheisse porn site that pops up on some kid's tablet. Besides, if these kids don't have access to digital media, they'll be stuck reading the ridiculously bizarre magazines that populate Bangkok's newsstands for their entire childhood.

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