Sat, 15 Mar 2003

Schools reluctant to comply with education bill

Evi Mariani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Although born to a Muslim family, Hari, 25, spent six years of his studying time at a Catholic school. His parents enrolled him and signed agreements with the school, accepting several conditions, including the requirement to attend Catholic religious instruction during his time there.

"My parents thought the school was the best in town," he says. "Unlike these days, Catholic schools did not have any competition from state or other private schools back then."

Hari is just one of perhaps thousands of Indonesian Muslims who studied at a Catholic school, which for many years had the highest reputation for a good education.

Catholic schools require students of other religions to attend classes on Catholic instruction only.

At Tarakanita Catholic school, for example, students have to attend Catholic lessons, pray before and after class, participate in school retreats and several other spiritual activities.

"I think every citizen has the right to choose where to study. So we do not restrict our schools to Catholic students only. However, as our schools are special, we provide only Catholic classes for religious instruction," Sarta Ketut, head of the education department of the Jakarta-based Tarakanita Foundation, told The Jakarta Post.

The Tarakanita Foundation manages several Catholic schools in seven regions in the country.

Islamic schools are also doing the same thing. The Al Azhar High School in South Jakarta, one of the best schools in town, requires non-Muslim students to attend Islamic lessons, including Koran recitals.

"At present, we don't have any non-Muslim students. But several years ago, we had two Christian students," Edy Junaedi, the principal of the school, said.

"Before they enrolled we explained that Al Azhar was a special school that did not provide lessons on any religion other than Islam. We asked them to sign an agreement, and they accepted it."

Such a practice, however, may soon come to an end. The House of Representatives is currently deliberating a national education bill that is expected to be endorsed in May. Article 13 of the bill stipulates that all students have the right to receive religious instruction according to their beliefs from teachers of the same faith.

As a consequence, all religion-based schools that open their classes to students of other faiths will have to provide additional teachers of religion.

But religion-based schools like Tarakanita and Al Azhar are reluctant to implement the stipulation, arguing the move would obscure the original mission of the schools.

"Tarakanita school accepts the government-prescribed national curriculum, but as a private school we have traditions and a uniqueness. So we modify it according to our traditions," Ketut said.

Edy did not voice any objection to the bill, although he said hiring teachers to teach only a few non-Muslim students would prove inefficient.

"It would be better for them to find religious instruction outside Al Azhar and they could submit their grades to us," he said. "Or they could pay their own teachers of religion in the school."

According to Ketut, experts behind the bill misunderstand the concept of education. "Schools and teachers are not the only ones responsible for the education of children. Families and society also contribute greatly to that," he said. He said families were the most responsible for religious instruction.

Hari appears to prove his theory, for although he spent six years learning about the Catholic religion, he viewed the classes as history lessons. "At that time I took private Islamic lessons at a mosque near my home. After all, it is my family who forged my faith," he said.