Thu, 30 Aug 2001

End-of-year school holiday

When new ministers of education and religious affairs were appointed about two years ago, immediate changes were made to the academic year. There were some newspaper reports on objections, but few enough to make me wonder if such could be perceived as anti-Islam by some religious conservatives.

To shorten the end-of-year school holiday to two weeks and extend the fasting month holiday to nearly five weeks hardly reflects an acknowledgement of the children's academic task. I know of no one who would disagree with the assertion that the quality and content of the Indonesian curriculum at elementary, junior high and senior high school levels is over-burdensome, does not adequately prepare the children for productive lives, and tends to border on ideological brainwashing. Given Indonesia's ethnic diversity and need for unity, this latter is understandable to some extent.

At the time the change was announced, much was written about the need, during the fasting month, for children to reflect upon their everyday attitudes to morals, ethics, religion, and for introspection. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the daily "activity" of many, if not most, children involved sleeping and watching television, albeit observing the subuh and magrib (the early morning and evening Islamic) prayers, and proudly fasting.

Consider some practical matters. The establishment of a two- week end-of-year holiday has the effect of turning it into a second Lebaran, with crammed transportation and horrendous traffic jams, resulting in severely limited time for families to reunite with other relatives before school starts again. There is also the vexing bureaucracy that relates to the need to register and re-register at new schools for those children who are moving up. Again, the nitty-gritty of obtaining materials and tailoring of new uniforms is no small, time-consuming chore.

Intellectual honesty is a quality necessary for a person to admit an error and to correct it if possible. My experience tells me there are but a few people around who can lay claim to that. However, there is a new, pervasive atmosphere of reason in the country right now.

Dare I hope that someone, somewhere will surprise me and many others with, at least, a compromise equalisation of the two holiday periods? And, please, now. I am assisting two children who are due to move to new schools at the end of the 2001/2002 academic year -- it would be encouraging to see schoolchildren's welfare moved up on the list of national priorities without additional cost.