Wed, 07 May 2003

House set to endorse education bill on May 20

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Ignoring public opposition to the national education bill, the House of Representatives has set a May 20 date for the endorsement of the controversial law.

The date was set on Tuesday during an internal meeting of the House's education commission.

Anwar Arifin, deputy chairman of the commission, said after the meeting that his commission would ask the House's steering committee to approve the proposed schedule.

"All commission members unanimously agreed on the date for the endorsement. In this case, we are united," said Anwar, who also chairs the working committee discussing the contentious bill.

He denied that different groups remained opposed to the bill, saying critics had accepted the bill after receiving explanations from legislators.

He also asserted that the bill would not harm the interests of any group in society.

The latest rally against the bill took place on May 2, which was National Education Day.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle faction in the House had asked for the bill's passage to be delayed and suggested that commission members hold further discussions on the contents of bill, saying national unity was at stake.

There have been fears the bill will divide the nation along religious lines, with non-Muslims opposing the legislation and Muslims favoring it.

The controversy comes after people of all faiths in the country united to protest the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

Many critics have lashed out against the bill for allowing too much government intervention in school affairs.

But the main point of contention is Article 13 of the bill, which requires schools to provide religious instruction to students in their own faith, regardless of the denomination of the school.

Opposition to this article has been prompted by financial and ideological considerations.

Financially, schools would have to spend more money to hire teachers to provide religious instruction to students of different faiths.

From an ideological point of view, it is feared the requirement would change the character of private religious schools.

Anwar said lawmakers had revised Article 13 to ensure the religious teachers would be paid for by the government.

"The religious teachers will be provided by the government or the local administration in the regions."

Anwar also denied accusation that the inclusion of "religious matters" in the education bill was an "act of state intervention", saying it was simply an effort to fulfill the rights of the people.

"This is a result of the reform movement. The rights of people have become our concern," he said.

Separately, 28 members of the Forum of the Koran Reading Community in Greater Jakarta and West Java demanded that the House endorse the bill immediately.

During a meeting with a member of the House's education commission, Chatidjah M. Saleh, the delegation emphasized that they believed the bill was in line with the rights of the people.