Thursday, January 05, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, July 16, 2005


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

After a pause of superficial tranquility, the shocking string of attacks that rocked the country recently is evidence enough our society has not been able to fully escape from a culture of violence and division. Suspicion, hatred, and prejudice, it seems, still run deep in many communities, exploding with the spark created by a provocateur.

Who is to blame? Not only the attackers and the police but also educators must share culpability for these social disasters. As an agency of social change, education in this country has demonstrably failed to produce human beings able to voluntarily accept diversity as an element of strength and unity.

What to do? In the short-term, law enforcers must act swiftly to restore peace and arrest those responsible for the violence. In education, however, things move at a snail's pace, yet teachings can have a great impact in the long run. The present saddening situation in the nation is an example; it reflects the result of long-time pedagogical wrongs committed in education.

For example, while we have never officially declared that one major group is superior to others, yet it had been "declared" in virtually every sphere of life. Consequently, our society is now suffering from the malaise of prejudice, with some minority sections of the long-spoiled majority appearing uneasy and unable to wholeheartedly embrace the emerging paradigm of pluralism.

It is timely for changes in the way we look at our society, and one way to achieve this is through civic education in schools. The subject of civic education originates from Pancasila Moral Education, the core of propaganda during the New Order regime. It then evolved to Pancasila and Civic Education that also received criticism because of its spirit of indoctrination. With the introduction of the new competence-based curriculum, the subject has now been changed to Civic Education.

The names have changed but how deeply have the syllabus changes taken place? The text books seem fine, with many offering of interactive tasks coupled with thought-provoking issues. The spirit of pluralism, indeed, is embedded in all chapters such as Human Rights Implementation and Its Implication; Freedom of Expression; Values, Norms, and Laws; and People's Participation in Regional Autonomy, which develops the issues of local cultures.

An interactive method of teaching, where teachers facilitate students through a learning experience, is currently regarded as the most effective kind of teaching. A 2002/2003 study conducted by the Center for Civic Education in six provinces in the country shows that students trying out the method participated enthusiastically in the experience (Suzanne Soule, 2004).

The study showed that if this methodology and new content was embraced and systematically applied, the prospects for our students in the long-run would be promising. However, given the state of the country's poorly paid, poorly trained teachers, it is doubtful the exercises in text books will be followed up by any concrete teaching changes in the classroom. Teachers' economically impoverished conditions mean they often have little time or desire for professional improvement.
Teachers in public and private schools are also regarded as agents of the state who are obliged to carry out other official duties. All this means the official syllabus often ends up being taught in a shallow manner.

What to do then? A form of supplementary teacher training to engender pluralism would be helpful, and the experiences of other countries are worth considering. In Israel, despite its complex society with religious, ethnic, national and migrant divisions, and the undeniable tensions caused by the Palestinian situation, the role of voluntary organizations in providing extra teacher training to engender pluralism proved to be instrumental. And in India where caste has been the main stumbling block in efforts to promote pluralism, the role of NGOs has been virtually parallel to that of the state.

In Indonesia, there are also similar organizations, often with the support of multilateral agencies. But considering the vast archipelago with its ethnically and religiously complex society, they are just a drop of water in the ocean, meaning much must be done to support them and to encourage other responsible citizens to participate.

Of course, relying solely on the civic education subject to promote mutual understanding is inadequate. Promoting plurality requires serious efforts from teachers in all fields of study. And while we might not have high expectations of present teachers, we can find some hope in the students now studying at teacher training faculties.

Having teachers from racial and cultural majorities teach majority and minority students has deeply contributed to the absolute rule of the majority and the "forced obedience" on the part of the minority. Hence, balancing the number of teachers from both minority and majority groups is vital to help promote a genuine spirit of pluralism.

Local and religious leaders must get behind this idea. They, along with educators, should play a part in emphasizing the importance of preserving one's identity and fighting for one's right to play a substantial and meaningful role in the life of the nation.

In short, while emphasizing the teaching of pluralism will not stop the bombs or the violence straight away, it will slowly create peaceful coexistence within our incredibly diverse society.

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