More Religion, Less Science in Indonesia School Reform

Indonesia has recently implemented a curriculum reform in over 6,000 schools which instantly generated backlash owing to lack of preparations and the removal of Science, English, and Information Technology as separate subjects.

At the primary level, 11 subjects were reduced into 6 subjects while class hours were raised from to 26 hours to 30 hours every week. The teaching of the English language and science was merged with priority subject areas such as Bahasa Indonesia, nationalism and religious studies. Additional two hours were allocated for religious studies. At the senior high school level, students were required to join the national scouting organization for their extracurricular activity.

Primary school students in Indonesia. Photo from Flickr page of Abdul Rahman (CC License)

Primary school students in Indonesia. Photo from Flickr page of Abdul Rahman (CC License)

The focus on civic and religious education is meant to develop the youth’s “sense of morality and social responsibility.” In particular, the reforms were conceptualized to make students “tolerant and peaceful” in response to the growing problem of violence in schools.

New teaching methods were also introduced aside from promoting a curriculum that adopts the “integrative thematic concept.”

Mirzatus Solikhah summarizes the content of the school curriculum reform program:

The new curriculum fulfills three main components of education: knowledge, skill, and attitude. Knowledge is proved by the lesson in general. Skill is from their practical lesson like sports and attitude is reflected by implementing the additional time for religion subject.

The immediate impact might be the displacement of English and IT teachers:

English and IT (Information and Technology) teachers might lose their job.

In order for the reforms to work, the government must address the following issues:

At least there are three important things must be fixed. They are the textbook, teacher training; education governance.

But teachers complained that they were only given five days of training. Textbook shortages were also reported in several provinces. Jennifer learned about the problem in the local paper:

The local newspaper just published a story today that most of the students in targeted schools have not even received their textbooks. When asked, the ministry’s response was: get creative, search the materials on the internet, and photocopy them!

M. Faruq Ubaidillah is happy that the reforms will give students more time to focus on fewer subjects:

…this gesture will lead students to spend their time effectively and efficiently in the class during the teaching and learning process. They have no need to focus on such many subjects which only make them baffled. Isn’t better to have fewer subjects with more focus rather that many but less focus. Furthermore, English can be learned outside the school time.

But Harry Wardana didn’t approve the removal of Science and English as separate subjects:

If you take a look at most modern nations, they’re really putting preposterous concern on advancement of science and technology. They believe that the advancement on science frontier will reset what it is for a nation to dream about. And sadly our government doesn’t speak the same language, literally and figuratively.

What a depressing mental landscape.

Thalia also believes that the dropped subjects are essential components of basic education:

Curriculum 2013 puts attitude on the higher priority than skill competencies and knowledge.

I wonder if the government forgot that for reaching the bright future good attitude must be accompanied by knowledge. Moreover, those subjects are very important for children's development.

Agita Sesara asks if the government and schools are ready to implement the various reforms in the new curriculum:

…this will be a very fundamental change. This is not just a matter of eliminating subjects, but a complete alteration of the core teaching methods of the current pool of teachers. Will the teachers be able to keep up with the changes?

Are all the resources and personnel involved in education ready to adapt? If the answer is no, then the change will be nothing but an empty gesture.

International Education 2012 mentions the accusation made by some groups that the reforms were done to justify the offering of more religious topics in the curriculum:

…critics of the proposal do not think that a curriculum overhaul is the answer. Some teachers worry that government and religious leaders are oversimplifying the problem and are using terms like “character building” and “morality” to justify more religious education.

Perhaps to appease critics, the government vowed to hold a “Curriculum Census” next month to assess the impact of the reforms. It also allotted more funds for the training of teachers in preparation for the nationwide implementation of the reforms next year.


  • Mike Moody

    What a sad mental landscape, indeed. I cannot see how religious education can replace or even substitute science education and English.

    At this point, why not replace chemistry lessons with alchemy? This is really sad news indeed. And I find the statement “English can be learned outside of school” deeply worrying. Outside of school becomes a matter of unstructured, private tutoring which places a financial burden on most families which I’m sure not everyone can afford.

    Being a reporter and article writer myself, I’m glad to see that whenever I come here you always bring the latest and most cruical information to the table. I’m really grateful for that, keep up the good work!

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    • PESEDE

      well on the other hand it s also important to learn in school not only bout facts but also bout living in groups, dealing with others, debating issues….life is no calculation, and how would love be if you would only talk bout it in the sense of brain chemistry….? and it s right that they plan to reduce violence of pupils….my ideas to stop bullying at school are
      1) a network of students showing trust and talk with other students when there are any problems without telling it the whole class
      2)pupils who help especially students who are new to the class or school
      3)teachers who are there to talk bout difficulties in 4eye-talks that remain secret
      4)psychologues at school
      5)to forbid handys and smartphones at school that there s no bullying against students not having the newest or “coolest” ones
      6)no more public grade results
      7)project work against bullying and discrimination
      8)more communication between students and teachers about how pupils feel

      • Mike Moody

        Thank you for answering my comment, Pesede. I more or less agree with your points about bullying, so I won’t bore you with paraphrasing with what you’ve already written.

        On the other hand, was I implying that life is a calculation or that love is only in the sense of brain chemistry? Or that school should teach only facts in general? I think you’re reading much more into my post than there actually is.

        With that sad, I don’t see why religious studies should be made compulsory to every student, especially as a separate subject. By all means teach religion and nationalism as part of literature or philosophy where they belong. But make it a subject of debate and a matter of choice. Superstition and guesswork belong to the early infancy of our species and should be treated as such. Schools are on the other hand an institution of knowledge, debate and reality. Supernatural claims hardly have anything to do with any of that.

        I’m a strong proponent of religious freedom but for me that means that my kids aren’t forced to study any religion at school from public money unless they choose to. Make it available, but don’t force it on peolpe. Am I asking for too much? Perhaps. But then, it seems a fairly simple wish to me.

        Thank you again, Pesede. You have a wonderful weekend.

        • PESEDE

          ok….thanks for your long and enlighting response to my comment too…
          yeaa you re right I somehow interpretated too much into your comment but I still think that religion lessons make pupils stop bullying and feeling that they are all one community

          i both experienced: philosophy lessons in school and some kind of religion lessons in church we have in our christian community in my village. I did not want to join these religion lessons first but than I realised that it was really inspiring and there was a big difference to philosophy lessons since in the community you saw the perspective of love and helping each other instead of only debating as you often do it in so called logic subjects philosophy belongs too…
          in literature lessons you re so often forced to analyse and you don t have your free choice to look from an other perspective on the short stories or let me say bibles or qorans text.. ! In religion lessons I think you would have more freedom to see it from any perspective you want to and you could do what you want with the text cause than it s not bout narrative perspectives but bout what you feel bout the words… and I do not think stories are written to be analysed but to be loved and hated, make you feel feared or lonely and so on..
          In addition my personal opinion is that there are issues that can t always be explained by logic, so we need subjects like arts, poetry slam, and last but not least religion…Pupils are somehow forced to do sports, arts, math and other subjects in school too even if they do not necesseraly need them later, so they are forced to do subjects that will make them suit to the political system and the market to improve economy in all countries around the world..They get grades and even if it does not help them anyway they have to show that they run slower than others students cause schools forces them to do….As you know we re far from letting pupils choose all subjects!
          That is why I simply think noone should be forced to pray or join a religion but you should have the right to join religion lessons since in a religion lessons you still experience more freedom of emotions than in literature analysis and logic/philosophy! …
          Nevertheless I can understand your idea to let students choose if they wanna do philosophy or religion but I do think that logic/ philosophy leads more to bullying than it prevents it while religion is showing pupils that they are all the same, no matter how good they are in debating and concluding.
          Additionaly I do think that psychology is the subject that suits better in our society these days than philosophy does

          • Mike Moody

            Once more, thank you for taking the time to answer my points. Let me also try to address the ones your brought up:

            I’m not sure about religion stopping pupils from bullying. My impression is that bullying is ingrained in religion, or well, monotheism, in general. The belief in one God implicitely discriminates believers in another God which ultimately has led to the countless schisms, sects and heresy hounts throughout history. And that’s not to mention the fact the the justification for slavery can be found – and had been used back in the day – in the very Bible Christians hold true as the word of God:

            They asked who could question the Word of God when it said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9).

            Most religions also have an innate fear or revulsion of the feminine reproductive organ what with revering women who have given birth to holy man in various means but through the birth canal. I think I don’t need to cite examples (Buddha’s mother, Mary, several of the Olympian Gods.)

            The discrimination against people not baptized until about a decade ago saying that the souls of unbaptized children go to hell or or those that commit suicide has also left a lasting scar on cultures across the world.

            And who could be a bigger bully than the Christian God himself? Creating humans inherently sinful and then commanding them to act otherwise — the sins thus committed later on cured with the revulting human sacrefice of his own son? Or to put it more eloquently: “Created sick, commanded to be sound” — on pain of eternal death and torture in hell? Something which by the way is child abuse at its worst I might add.

            No, I think I don’t won’t be looking for the cure for bullying amont the religious, thank you. And believe me, I could go on like this, but I think I got my point across.

            Well, love on the other hand is another issue. At any rate, I fail to see it in the ghastly image of an ever-watchin omnipotent creator who has to kill his very own son to redeem a sinful people he had created in the very first place.

            Where I do see it however is among those selfless, socially responsible and loving individuals who, for example, donate a pint of blood. They’re not afraid of some supernatural power that will strike them down on judgement day if they don’t do it. They’re genuinely humane, nice people. Now that’s the love I appreciate and enjoy around myself.

            Freedom of argument about religion is an oxymoron I’m afraid. Religions tend to have a holy book that was dictated by a supreme being. Now I’m afraid you’re out of luck: that is either the word of God, or not. If it is, there is very little space for argument I’m afraid. Defying the word of God is not tolerated by any religion as far as I know and let us not pretend it is. I for one, wouldn’t like to argue about the contens of the Qoran with the Ayatollah Khomeini. No, I don’t think that would be a wise choice on my behalf. The closest we got was a fiction alluding to the Qoran by Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses) and he was almost murdered – several of his translators were on the Ayatollah’s religious orders. Talk about bullying and freedom of speech.

            I’m afraid to say that we do not get our morality from religion, religion gets it from us. Without love and compassion for one another, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Or do you think the Jews got to Mount Sinai thinking that theft and murder were the things they liked best only to find out it wasn’t kosher anymore? No, they hadn’t got there in the first place if they hadn’t known love and affection in the form of compassion and humanity.

            This is all I have time for, maybe I’ll respond to the last part of your post another time – I’m busy at the moment. I hope you see now why religion is not tolerated in schools in modern parts of the world and why it shouldn’t be. Community and love are independent of religion and if anything, they thrive without the ever-watchin eye of a celestial dictator.

            I hope I wasn’t too harsh but I’m in a hurry. I’m very thankful for your insights, it was very eye-opening to read your views. I also respect your experiences and opinions but I wanted to throw mine out there. Free argument and a pleasant exchange of minds is always welcome and enlightening as you put it. =)

            Thank you so much Pesede and have a wonderful weekend,

          • PESEDE

            ok…I think I got your point and I think I now saw that people think differently bout religion lessons…maybe it s really better to choose cause someone who strictly separates between love and religion and who thinks it does not stop bullying would not profit of it..
            Thanks for your words making it clear….I just think people think differently about it now and it depends on how it is tought…maybe a mixture of subjects and project work are the future of schools education

        • PESEDE

          and have a wonderful week-end too!


    I think religion is not bad but they need to go also with science. If they didn’t find enough knowledge about technology they never sine in their life and they didn’t find proper utilities in education.

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