Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Religion - Indonesia Follows Moral Compass: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Religion - Indonesia Follows Moral Compass: News

Article excerpt

New curriculum seeks to defend against religious extremism.

The country with the world's largest Muslim population is tackling growing concerns over fundamentalist violence by introducing a new curriculum focusing on moral and religious instruction - at the expense of science.

Government officials in Indonesia are worried about the increasing influence of religious extremism and attacks on Christian churches. More rigorous religious education, emphasising peacefulness and tolerance, will help to inoculate young people against fundamentalist preaching, they believe.

"Terrorism is not triggered by long hours of lessons on religion," said Mohammad Nuh, education and culture minister, at a debate in the country's House of Representatives earlier this year. "The growing acts of terrorism were basically due to incomplete religious education. Therefore, we need to add more hours for religious subjects."

The first group of Indonesian teachers will next month begin training in the new government-approved curriculum, which overhauls education for students of all ages and drops science and social studies as discrete subjects for children aged 6-12, to make time for religious and moral education.

Roy Gardner of the University of London's Institute of Education, co- author with Fasli Jalal of a 2009 book on improving schools in Indonesia, said that according to its constitution, the country was tolerant of all faiths.

"However, there have been many instances of attacks on the Christian Church," he told TES. "There are also concerns about the spread of fundamentalist groups and there have been an increasing number of controls introduced to ensure that the country follows more Islamic patterns of life. The hope that the emphasis on religion will lead to greater harmony between communities is laudable."

But the decision has meant that science has been dropped as a stand-alone subject in the early years of schooling. And the primacy of religious and moral education has led to some moralistic proposals for science teaching, which have been mocked by activists who oppose the new curriculum.

For example, in 10th-grade lessons for 15-year-olds, students are invited to study the regularity of atoms, elements and molecules as an example of discipline for them to follow in their own lives. "The new curriculum states that a 10th-grade student must learn to be disciplined like an electron, which always moves within its orbit," Retno Listyarti, secretary general of the Indonesian Teachers Union Federation, told The Jakarta Post. …

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