Teaching religion at Indonesian Schools
by P Bambang Wisudo
Most female students of Hikmah Teladan Elementary School at Cimahi, a small town near Bandung – West Java, wear Islamic head scarves, jilbab, in their school days. The boys wear traditional Muslim dresses, baju koko, with its long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and rimless caps. They practice shalat at prayer times and recite Quran. However the religious environment don not eliminate free and fun atmosphere in the school.
That afternoon some students learned to recite Quran for their religious education class. The boys sat on the floor under wooden shelters beside a grass field. Big trees shadowed the spot from extreme heat of the sun. Fresh air breezed. Both girls and boys sit together. Sometimes they laughed or even played jokes with their friends. They were not afraid to make mistakes and to be punished.
“Children have to learn and practice religion in a relax environment. Don’t threat children with punishment and or make students afraid of making sin. Naturally children are in age of playing,” says MH Aripin, curriculum developer and teaching supervisor of Hikmah Teladan Elementary School.
Religious education in schools, Aripin said, should not be based doctrines and dogmas but should be based on rationality and freedom of thinking. In Islam, said Aripin, ratio is considered as the virtue of human being.The main task of schools is to encourage its students to fulfill its curiosity and to think freely.
“If religious education in schools are merely based on dogmas, then it will against its own mission,” says Aripin.
Hikmah Teladan tried to develop its own curriculum on religious education subject because the national curriculum on religious education is considered going to nowhere. Aripin concerned that Islamic religious education in Indonesian national curriculum wants to cover all aspects of Islam that is impossible to achieve. As consequence, religious education at schools only concerns with cognitive aspects and it has not relevant with the situation outside schools.
“Religious education at school has no means if the religious values have no authority in the society. Religion is just become stories and talked but outside the schools, the mosques, or the churches students see contradictive values. The people in this country are religious, its majority is Muslims, but at the some time this country is the most corrupt in the world,” says Aripin.
To respond the situation, the school decided to teach religious subject different from the national curriculum. The religious education subject at the school focuses on the practices of Islamic prayer and Quran recitation. The school established a new subject called character education. As its references, the schools does not use books based on Islamic teaching only but also uses moral books with Christian and Western.
In three months Aripin and the teachers struggled to find a way how to adopt Jaime C Millers’s 10-Minute Life Lessons for Kids into character class. In a grade five class, a teacher distributed work sheets for her children with a story that Allah creates the sun, air, and water. He asked the children to mention the 10 important things that man or woman can not live without them. When he said “play station” as an example, spontaneously they yelled, “Astagfirullah” as if they were shocked by immoral behavior. As consequence, the children could not freely wrote the 10 things they consider the most important and special things in their life. Later, they refused to scratch out the nine things they had chosen and leaved just one thing they consider the most important. They said it was sin to scratch out the things that were made by Allah.
The students could only express their opinion freely only after the teacher changed the story by omitting the word “Allah”. In the work sheets he wrote that people could not live without sun, air, water. He told a story that a Chinese was found dead after he had played on-line games three days without stop. The students could quickly write the 10 things they consider the most important in their life and they didn’t face big difficulties to starched out nine of the things they had chosen. The answers and the reason were varied and interesting. A student mentioned Allah, another student mentioned family, other wrote play station. Then each student stood in front the class and told the most important thing in her life.
“My family is very important for my life. I can not live without my family. If I have no family, I will be sad and alone,” said a ten year old girl Riska Fadiyah.
Aripin said that it did not matter Allah was equated with family, grandmother, or play station in this class. The most important in this lesson was to encourage the students to decide and to give reason. They could hear and learn each other. “Morality should be taught in schools based on free thinking and not merely on norms,” said Aripin.
In Yogyakarta, Salam Playgroup and Kindergarten decides not to bring religion in school. The school refuses to provide religious subject for its students and replaces it with religiosity subject. The school always starts and it is closed with prayer without refer to any specific religion. She said that the school does not want to mix between school and religion affairs. Education on specific religion, she said, is the domain of parents or families, not schools.
“Not all things should be taught in school. We have no right to take over the parents’ responsibility to raise the children. Furthermore, it’s no use to teach religion in schools if the religious values are not practiced in the families,” said Sri Wahyaningsih, coordinator of the school.
Salam decided to teach religiosity instead of teaching certain religious subject. Some children from religious schools moved to the school because they had been stressed or over-burdened with religious subjects. Puan, a six year old girl, moved from an Islamic elementary school to the school after she had stopped to go to school. Three months she was under psychological treatment because she was too afraid to make mistakes, sins, and afraid of eternal punishment. Salam gave her a new environtment.
“Over-indoctrination of heaven and hell can make children too afraid to make mistakes and to be punished by God. This can make burden for their mental development,” said Wahya.
When the children plant seeds or observe plants, they can relate the life with God as the creator. One day an ant bit a child. She cried and yelled that she didn’t like it. The ant is evil, she said. This incident adopted by a teacher to talk about religiosity that all things God created things its own roles and utilities. “Ants collect crumbs. Imagine if there is no ants, then this world will full with crumbs,” said a teacher.
At first some parents asked the school to teach religious subject but the school refused. After a long discussion and when the parents saw the facts that the children did not loose their belief although they did not get religious education at school. Naturally, the children prayed according to their own religion before and after they had lunch. When a Muslim boy did wudhu, washed parts of the body before praying, and practiced shalat his friends observed him. All parents now agree with the school decision not to teach specific religious subject to the children.
“Don’t give burdens to our children with dogmas and feed our children with too much religious knowledge that they can not digest.
Religious education at schools, according to Executive Director of Wahid Institute Ahmad Sauedi, tends to undermine dogmas and technicalities on rituals, and does not encourage students to think. “In low grades, religious education should focuses on values instead of dogmas,” Suaedi said.
Suaedi acknowledged that national curriculum on religious education, especially Islam, are not based on knowledge how religion should be taught in school from early childhood to high schools. If children were burdened with too much religious duties, and threatened to get into hell if make sins, it will be disturbed their growth. Children can grow healthy if they are encouraged to develop their moral judgment.
He underlined the importance to brought concept of diversity and tolerance in religious education. When his daughter Dian Novita was at fourth grade, Suaedi felt disturbed by her daughter’s home work. Her teacher gave her a question whether she would if her friend from different religion was sick. She answered that she would visit her at hospital and would pray for her. The teacher said it that was no problem to visit but never prayed for her.
“I agree that students have rights to get education according to their own religion but at the same time they have to get be prepared to live with others. We should teach religion inclusively and it’s the duty of the government to improve the curriculum and re-train the teachers,” said Suaedi. ***