Heads bowed and legs tucked behind them, a class of 10th-graders sits in silence on a wooden floor. On a platform at the front of the room, two Buddhist monks intone prayers before leading a 10-minute talk on ethics.
At the end, several students shuffle forward on their knees to offer bowls of food.
The weekly Buddhist ethics class is part of a pilot project that uses everything from meditation to dancing and singing to curb troubling levels of violence in Thai schools. Involving parents, teachers, school administrators, and religious figures, the effort aims to instill tolerance and discipline in students, as well as instructors.
For students, the project helps them blow off steam and temper their emotions. A few of the children in the program were caught brawling earlier this year. That's all history now, says one of the boys. "These activities help us. We know each other better. Otherwise, if we see a face we don't like, it can end in a fight."
One of seven schools chosen for the Thai project, Khemaprirattaram is a century-old secondary school in a Bangkok suburb that blends into the rice-growing hinterland. Its student body of 3,070 is a mix of local families and transfers from other districts, and has its fair share of troubled students, says principal Japruek Srilert.
He says the project's emphasis on social activities not only discourages violence in the playground but also motivates failing students. Two years ago, 100 students a year dropped out of school. Since the project was launched last September, the only students who left were transfers, he says.
Teachers are learning about positive forms of discipline, too, and how to respond to bad behavior.
"Some teachers misunderstand how to deal with violence, and they inflict violence on students. This increases the problem," says Mr. Srilert.
Indeed, the project is as much aimed at teachers as it is troubled students. While Thailand banned corporal punishment in schools in 2000, one of around 90 countries worldwide to do so, some teachers flout the ban. Researchers say that male teachers can exploit their authority over students. …