Wed, 19 Mar 2003

Focus on education not religion, say protesters

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

About 2,000 teachers from Concerned People for National Education (MPPN) rallied outside the House of Representatives on Tuesday to urge legislators debating the education bill to focus on improving the education system, not religion.

"Education laws should support the national mission, which is to educate people as stipulated in the preamble of the 1945 Constitution," said protester B.N. Marbun, a former member of the National Commission on Human Rights. "But instead, the bill focuses more on faiths."

MPPN spokesperson FX Harbelubun said religion was a private matter, which the state should not interfere with.

A bone of contention is Article 13 of the bill, which stipulates that religious classes must be taught by teachers with the same faith as the students. The article would mean Christian schools with some Muslim students would have to provide Muslim teachers for religious studies.

The bill, scheduled to be passed on May 2, has sparked protests from organizations such as the National Catholic Education Council, the Christian Education Council and the Plural Society Group.

House Speaker Akbar Tanjung welcomed the protesters -- mostly from Catholic and Christian education institutions -- in front of the House. He told them the schedule for passing the bill was flexible.

Minister of National Education Abdul Malik Fajar concurred, telling The Jakarta Post that, "I think the schedule is flexible and we are still accepting submissions from the public. But I think the bill has included input from the public."

The working committee is scheduled to convene to discuss the bill on March 20.

Working committee head Anwar Arifin told the Post that it would focus on synchronizing the draft bill formulated by the House and the response from the government. "But we will also discuss the recent protests."

Meanwhile, Mochtar Buchori, an education expert who is also a member of House Commission VI for education, told the Post that the national education system should focus more on education rather than strengthening beliefs.

"Families should be the first institutions that forge children's faiths," he said. "However, at present, formal schools give religious lessons that do not touch on the essence of beliefs."

He said schools should give students the opportunity to learn values in every lesson.

"What is happening now in the education system is the accumulation of meaningless knowledge," he said. "And the education bill will not improve the system."