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Proposed curriculum change spurs debate in Indonesia

A proposed new elementary school education emphasises ethics and religious knowledge. But many parents are nervous it will mean less time spent learning technology and science.

By Yenny Herawati for Khabar Southeast Asia in Madiun, East Java

February 02, 2013
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Indonesia's elementary school children will spend more time studying religion and less on learning science and social studies under a proposed new curriculum designed to boost tolerance and character education.

  • Public elementary school students sit in class in Klegen, Madiun, East Java on January 21st. The Indonesian government is considering doubling the amount of hours that elementary school students spend weekly on religious studies. [Yenny Herawati/Khabar].

    Public elementary school students sit in class in Klegen, Madiun, East Java on January 21st. The Indonesian government is considering doubling the amount of hours that elementary school students spend weekly on religious studies. [Yenny Herawati/Khabar].

If the government approves the curriculum, the changes will go into effect in the 2013/2014 school year. Hours devoted to religious studies each week will double from two to four, while science and social studies, currently four and two hours weekly, will be merged and reduced.

Minister of Education and Culture Mohammad Nuh prepared the revised curriculum in November 2012 and unveiled it for public feedback the following month.

"After we receive some feedback or suggestion, we will incorporate and then submit the new curriculum to the president," he told reporters in November 2012.

Impetus for the changes arose late last year with the discovery that many youth were involved in radicalism and fundamentalism.

"A new curriculum should improve our students' character through religious education," Agus Hermanto, chairman of a legislative commission on the changed curriculum, told Khabar Southeast Asia by telephone from Jakarta.

Minister Nuh emphasised that more religious education will ideally lead to a reduction in violence and vandalism. Implementation should begin gradually later this year, he said.

"If we delay, the stakes are huge for the nation's future generations," the minister told a press briefing on the 2013/2014 curriculum at the Education Quality Assurance Agency Office of Central Java in Semarang on January 13th.

The government has already spent more than Rp. 171 billion ($18m) on the new curriculum.

Morals vs. sciences?

During the public feedback phase, more than 780 individuals voiced concerns about the new curriculum on the ministry's website.

Many concerned citizens also expressed their views to Khabar.

Yuni Kartini, 43, a teacher at a public elementary school in Klegen, Madiun, said the proposed changes would suppress bright students interested in science.

"I can understand that it is important to introduce more moral aspects into our education system to prevent radicalism and fundamentalism. However, by reducing the hours we usually have to learn about science, it will be a significant change. Our students will be behind," she said.

Baidhlowi Syah, leader of Pesantren Ar-Mubtadinin in Madiun, said it is important to balance the teachings of science, morals, and religion.

"It is true that students must be prepared with a good knowledge of science, but also teachers need to teach religion in a good way. The curriculum should not encourage teachers to teach dogmatic religion including radicalism and fundamentalism," he told Khabar.

"However, I agree that students must learn more about morals in more hours," he added.

Hanung Prabowo, 37, said the proposed new curriculum would curb terrorism in the long run.

"As we know, a lot of terror suspects in Indonesia are relatively young," he said, "Therefore, if/when the new curriculum is implemented, it will be a significant deterrence to radicalism and fundamentalism and explain why they are dangerous."

Rahardiyanto, 45, said he wants his children to learn science and technology. "Technology is a key to success nowadays. For example, by having an ability to use the internet, you can run an online business," he said.

"Rp 171 billion is a lot of money to spend. Therefore, before it is really implemented, the policy needs to be revisited to determine whether this is good for our students or not," said Hariyani, 52, an activist with Children Human Rights (HAA) in Madiun.

Hariyani suggested that science content must be increased in the curriculum, while additional hours for moral and religious education can be made after school or through school activities.

"We can involve students in humanitarian activities and show them that it is important to help victims regardless of their religion," she said. "Many options can be utilised without reducing the hours for learning sciences," she said.

Reader Comments
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    • syamsul
      December 16, 2013 @ 09:12:54PM
    • Changing the educational curriculum needs to be done if we are to produce better future generations. The fact is, education so far has yielded a generation that is brutal, hedonistic, without courtesy, etc. Anyone who understands education would tell you that the education that has so far been in effect has not been able to produce the nation's best generation and that the experts appointed to fix it have never looked to Islam. This I need to say, as good as a concept maybe in trying to better the people, specifically the young generation, without drawing from Islamic principles will only bring disappointment. Disappointment in this world, and gaining nothing in the afterlife.
    • Sr Manta
      November 4, 2013 @ 04:11:01AM
    • Before I give my comment I would like to give some input to those who read this suggestion: There are three pillars within the identity of this nation erected by the Indonesian Father of Education: Ki Hajar Dewantara. These three pillars are: 1) In front, giving example, 2) From within, providing initiatives and working together, 3) From behind, providing spirit and encouragement. This means that education is done by teachers. It is clear, gentlemen! Add to it the resources and means to facilitate a student body! No matter how advanced a curriculum is, if the teachers are not honest and sincere in teaching and improving their skills and knowledge for teaching their students, especially in these electronic times, our education will end in disaster! Thank you. I am a Master's candidate for UPY Jogjakarta, PIPS program. I hope that all creatures that reside in the world and the astral plane will read this. Amen.
    • Helena
      August 22, 2013 @ 09:08:00AM
    • Soon we will be left behind by Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia etc. Other people are progressing, whereas Indonesia is headed who knows where. Only time will prove it because people only listen to the opinions of people around them; different opinions are ignored. When the time comes, we will know who was responsible.
    • wawan
      March 26, 2013 @ 09:03:17AM
    • At any rate, the curriculum will not be able to fix the students' character without good government policy. The character that has almost vanished completely is honesty, and with the decline of honesty comes the understanding that anything goes when it comes to achieving goals even if it violates the law and religious principles. A small example is the matter of passing a grade level. If the government sets an overall passing score of at least 60 but it turns out that students are unable to obtain that score in a situation where being held back a grade is a rare occurrence, grades will often be hiked up even if they don't reflect the students' capabilities. There should not be a minimum grade requirement for grade promotion and graduation but rather a character requirement. Moreover, cheating is rife in National Exams which is done to help students obtain the minimum passing grade. Consequently, students learn that the wrong way is permissible to achieve an end. Next is the matter of employment and higher learning where minimum requirements for school report scores will result in dishonesty on the part of the schools in issuing grades because they want everyone to obtain employment and be accepted into institutions for higher learning. Employers and institutions for higher education should not apply minimum scores from prior education but rather deal with it directly with test.
      February 4, 2013 @ 05:02:24PM
    • Actually, from the beginning we have misunderstood what education truly means. I remember when it was called the Ministry of Education now it is the Ministry of Education and Teaching. This means we should educate children first before instructing them in science and technology. Besides that, we can also read what was once known as Broad Guidelines of State Policy (GBHN) in which the direction for development was very good and it was clear what we wanted to achieve from stage to stage. Why was it abandoned when it was conceived by many of those who are in office today? We do not have a set budget and so spending is prone to spiking at any given time. This is harmful to everyone. Fightings between schools cause traffic disruption and innocent people may get hurt. Also, many other things do not reflect modern people. We do not need to worry about a planned change of curriculum because many of the nation's children are now professors. If it is to change we suggest that scripture lessons be separated from character lessons. Because if children have good characters, they would easily understand knowledge. Thank you.
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