Mon, 14 Apr 2003

Bill on education is like a time bomb, critics say

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Public demands for a revision of the education bill have been increasing with a call for the House of Representatives to delay its endorsement in order to avert a major rift in society.

Rev. I. Ismartono, spokesman of the Bishops Conference of Indonesia (KWI), Solahuddin Wahid of the largest Muslim organization Nadhlatul Ulama, education observer Muchtar Buchori agreed that the current bill on education had too many flaws.

"It's a time bomb (for the country) that could explode some time in the future," Muchtar said on Sunday.

The bill's substance had focused too much on religious matters in a bid to curb increasing immorality in the country, he said, while adding that such a move was wrong, as the current immorality was a result of the country's bad political system.

He said that morality education would be fruitful if four factors were met -- knowing what moral values are, understanding them, having commitment and implementing them in our lives.

"But, if even one of these factors is omitted, we will create a seed of hypocrisy," he said.

Muchtar, also a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), called on all parties to sit together to talk about the ideal guidelines for the education system to develop the nation rather than politicizing education.

The most controversial issue in the bill is Article 13, which stipulates that all students have the right to take religious classes from their own religion regardless if a particular school is Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. All religion-based schools therefore would have to hire special teachers to give religious instruction to students who were, for example Buddhists at a private Hindu school, and also to provide special places of worship for each religion represented within its student body.

The bill specifies that a school would be required to provide religious teachers if students from one religion numbered more than ten.

Meanwhile, Ismartono said if the House pressed ahead with the endorsement of the education bill in May, the bill would reflect an arbitrary process of dominant political parties.

"This bill has put the future of our children at risk and could disrupt the nation's unity. It would not be proper if it were endorsed," he said.

He also said the bill would force private schools to discriminate against students based on their religion.

For example, if the bill is passed, many Catholic schools, which often have many Muslim students, would be forced to limit the number of Muslim students to below ten to avoid the obligation of providing Muslim teachers and special facilities, Ismartono said.

"It's better if the schools and parents talk about how to provide religious teaching rather than to make such a contentious law," he said.

Solahuddin said that the House should listen to the many voices who say that the bill had lost its focus on education and given more attention to religious education.

"The friction in society has been very high because of the education bill. So the House should not force it through. Why should we endorse the bill if it is not applicable?" he asked.