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Is Radicalism On The Rise In Indonesia's Public Schools?

A new survey conducted by the Ministry of Education and Culture found a surprising number of students supported ISIS and the implementation of nationwide Sharia Law.

Tolerance is losing ground in Indonesia's public schools. The Ministry of Education and Culture surveyed students, teachers, and principals in four schools, two public, two private, about their views on pluralism, diversity, and religious tolerance. The results were surprising.

"The results showed that 8.5 percent agreed with the idea of changing Indonesia into a Sharia country and 7.2 percent agreed with the ISIS movement," Nur Berlian Venus Ali, a researcher at the ministry, told


Nur Berlian conducted the research at schools in Salatiga, Central Java, and Singkawang, West Kalimantan between July and September of 2016. The ministry conducts surveys on religious tolerance once a year to contrast views between private and public, tax-payer-funded schools. Public schools are supposed to uphold the principles of Indonesia—which constitutionally protects pluralism and promotes diversity.

But time and time again, the nation's public schools fall short of these ideals. The SETARA Institute, a Jakarta-based NGO that focuses on democracy and religious intolerance issues, surveyed high school students in Jakarta and Bandung, West Java. They found similar results. According to the SETARA survey, 8.5 percent of the students who responded thought the nation should scrap the Pancasila—which protects six religions—in favor of a constitution based on religion. That's two surveys that found that one in twelve Indonesian students preferred Sharia Law to the country's current system of government.

Wait, you say, this doesn't mean the students are learning these views at school. The SETARA Institute looked into that and it turns out that, yeah, a lot of them are picking up these views from their teachers and peers. More than half, 57.6 percent, said they didn't attend any religious studies outside of school. About the same, 48.1 percent, said they received all their religious education from religion teachers in school—which hold class for about two hours a week.


"Schools, normatively, are supposed to shape students' characters," Ismail Hasani, the research director of the SETARA Institute told VICE Indonesia. "But schools are not an empty public sphere. They are a public space contested by ideological powers in the context of Indonesian politics."

In other words, schools don't operate in a vacuum. If religious conservatism is rising in certain corners of the country, then it's going to rise in classrooms as well. The SETARA Institute found that everything from the teachers to the text books could indoctrinate students with intolerant views. A text book for preschoolers found in use in Depok, West Java, taught children phrases like "sa-hid di me-dan ji-had" ("die a jihadist") and words like "bom," ("bomb").

In Bandung, West Java, thousands of textbooks for high school students included a chapter titled "Rise Up All Islamic Fighters" that detailed the beliefs of the ultra-conservative Wahhabi strain of Islam popularized in Saudi Arabia. One sentence in the chapter read: "Those who worship other than Allah are infidels and must be killed." The same book was found in Jombang, East Java. The Ministry of Education and Culture seized the books and removed them from the curriculum.

But the central government doesn't have control over school's mentoring sessions, after-school lessons on the Quran or religion taught by alumni. A lot of these radical beliefs start in mentoring sessions as well. The Education Minister, thinking the same thing, urged schools to monitor what's being offered in after-school programs.

"I asked the heads of education boards to closely supervise the activities offered by parties outside of school," Education and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy told local media.

The education ministry needs to monitor what's being taught and promoted in public schools, Ismail said. The SETARA Institute has conducted the same survey time and time again, and it often finds similar results. But the ministry is slow to respond, Ismail said.

"The Ministry of Education and Culture always says this issue is not within their domain because of regional autonomy," he said. "Then the regional government should also be held responsible for the distribution of intolerant books.

"This is the challenge for our nation. We're pushing the government to have a school program against viruses like intolerance. We also encourage families to have a strategy against radicalism."