Fri, 09 May 2003

Education bill has many defect, says PDI-P faction

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction called for a revision of the controversial national education bill on Thursday, arguing that the draft still had many shortcomings.

"The bill has many articles that are not completely clear, which need to be dealt with," said PDI Perjuangan legislator Hari Akhmadi, a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission VI for education.

He said several articles in the bill were no better than articles in the current Law No. 2/1989 that the draft was supposed to replace.

"If the revision is not better than the old one, it should be revised" said Hari.

All factions but PDI Perjuangan have thrown their support behind the controversial bill which the House plans to endorse on May 20, which is National Awakening Day.

Hari particularly pointed at the bill's Article 25 on academic freedom.

"The bill only outlines academic freedom for lecturers, not for students, while the existing law (No. 2/1989) regulates academic freedom for both lecturers and students," he told The Jakarta Post.

"We've received a lot of input from the public, including from former education minister Fuad Hassan, who told us that the bill still had many unresolved issues," said Hari.

"We do not want to endorse a bill that will not be enacted into law later on," said Hari, citing Law No. 32/2002 on broadcasting which was endorsed late last year but will not take effect until 2005.

Most recent debates on the bill have revolved around Article 13, which requires all schools to provide religious lessons to students according to their respective faiths.

The bill has been the subject of heated debates among religious figures, education experts and politicians. As a result, the discourse only focuses on the religious issue instead of the substance of the bill, which is supposed to improve the much-criticized education system.

While it has won support from hard-line Muslim groups, the bill has drawn strong opposition from non-Muslim communities and moderate Muslim groups.

Ulil Absar Abdala, a moderate Muslim scholar, told the Post on Wednesday that there were many other religious lessons available from sources outside of school that could contribute more to someone's religious life.

"A Muslim studying in a non-Muslim school does not always have to end up with a conversion to another religion, or vice versa," Ulil said.

Golkar faction chairman Marzuki Achmad said on Thursday that the bill had reached its final stage and no substantial revision would be needed.

The Nation Awakening Party faction (FPKB) and the United Development Party faction (FPPP) also stated their support earlier to endorse the bill as is.

Asked about the date for endorsing the bill, both Hari and Marzuki said it should not necessarily be on May 20 as set earlier by the House commission deliberating the bill.

"The official schedule for the endorsement is June 17," said Marzuki. Hari said that it would still be acceptable if the endorsement took place after the scheduled date.

"Our major goal is to have a solid law, instead of merely beating the deadline for endorsement," said Hari.