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.
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.