Jakarta (Fides Service) – “We are deeply saddened and concerned. The passing of the Education Bill is a defeat for the very idea of education. The bill politicises education, penalises the autonomy of schools and broadens state intrusion in the field of education, to the detriment of civil society and the cultural and moral growth of young people. Moreover it could also bring with it interreligious tension”. This was said by Father Ignazio Ismartono, head of the Commission for interreligious Dialogue of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, with regard to a new Education Bill approved by the Indonesian parliament about a month ago and which comes into force on 12 July 2003.
Father Ismartono tells Fides more. “In theory from tomorrow every Catholic school must assume Muslim teachers to teach the Islamic religion to Muslim pupils. Since there are no sanctions, special regional rules are expected. The situation could vary in different parts of the country. Catholic schools will have to be more selective and exclusive, not out of their own choice. This is a defeat for the sector of education in Indonesia”.
The government’s Office for Religious Affairs has already given Catholic schools the names of 70,000 teachers of Islam who should be paid by the state. But the Church has refused, seeing this as an attempt to interfere in the internal management of schools.
Bishop Cosmas Michael Angkur head of the Commission for education of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, says the law is “unnecessary and a threat to religious harmony”. The Commission, very busy at the moment with meetings and new programmes, intends to open an “education observatory” in every diocese to monitor the situation and take opportune measures as the case demands.
At the moment in some dioceses Catholic schools follow the criteria of speaking with the parents before enrolment asking them to sign a declaration accepting the school curriculum. “Moreover – says Father Ismartono – some Catholic schools already have a Muslim teacher to teach the Islamic religion, not as an imposed figure but as a fruit of dialogue!”
The Bill has given rise to lively political and religious debate over possible repercussions on Indonesian society. One specific part of the text regards religious education. In article 13 it says: All students of all schools, private and state have the right to receive religious instruction in their own faith by teachers of the same religion”.
The Christian community immediately mobilised to protest against the law, seeing it as a threat to freedom of education and a danger for religious harmony. Public protests organised in May led parliament to postpone the debate until June and on the 11th of last month the bill was approved.
In Indonesia many schools are run by private institutions. Catholic schools welcome Christian and Muslim students and in some Catholic schools the pupils 90% Muslims. Christians say that religious instruction should not effect freedom of education guaranteed by Indonesia’s Constitution.
Observer say that behind the new Bill there are political motives at the expense of the quality of teaching and education of youth: in fact Muslim political parties see the bill as a way to increase consensus in view of political elections in 2004. PA (Fides Service 11/7/2003 EM lines 46 Words: 517)