Back in July, students across Indonesia kickstarted a fresh academic year. But in Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, new teachers, classmates, and subjects weren't the only things students had to get used to. Starting this semester, the municipal government ordered new uniforms for middle school (SMP) and high school (SMA) students with patches that say "I hate drugs" and "I hate corruption" emblazoned on the chest.
All public school students in Indonesia are required to wear the national uniform of white-collared short-sleeved button-ups. These new features take the uniforms to a new level of government-prescribed conformity.
The initiative marks another effort by Indonesian officials to combat corruption and drugs, seen by the public as the nation's top scourges. Requiring teenagers to proclaim their hatred for such vices could help, at least according to Makassar education officials.
"No, it's not a silly idea. I think it's a good idea to make the kids aware of how dangerous drugs and how dirty corruption are," said Siti Norma Mustamir, who teaches biology at SMA 2. "It's not a solution, but at least it's a reminder for them. By putting it on their uniform they can see the signs every day, every time they meet each other, so we're hoping it could be planted somewhere in their subconscious or even conscious mind that they hate drugs and corruption."
Indonesia, a socially conservative country of about 250 million, is no stranger to using its public school system to push moral agendas. School subjects such as civics teach ethics through the lens of nationalism and religion. This initiative, though, has drawn ridicule from students and graduates. As soon as news of the uniform proposal broke, students came out on the internet against it.
"In my opinion, that idea is very ridiculous. I'm maybe one of many on the internet who share the same opinion: that it is not at all a good idea," said one 12th grader at SMA 5.
"If the intention of the government is to rally generations against corruption or drugs, the logic has no connection to the patches. Instead, my reaction and other students' is: 'Sorry, Sir, our shirts look like wall collages,'" the science student said.
Alumni are also weighing in. Randy Rusdy, who graduated from SMA 17 Makassar, also finds the new uniforms ludicrous, though he has a more nuanced perspective.
"The important thing actually is sowing those values at home, at school, and in society. But maybe the problem is that schools are confused about what kinds of programs can be taught, so the quick way out is slogans like this," he said.
Indonesia ranks 107 out of 175 countries on corruption according to a report by NGO Transparency International. In its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer poll, Transparency International found that a majority of Indonesians reported that corruption had "increased a lot" in that past year. And it's a problem seen as rampant at all levels of government, with respondents describing the police (91 percent), legislature (89 percent), judiciary (86 percent), political parties (86 percent), and public officials and civil servants (79 percent) as corrupt.
Indonesia has strengthened efforts to curb graft since the downfall of former dictator Suharto in 1998, most notably through the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) in 2002. But as a Gallup analysis found, "Decentralization may have resulted in smaller-scale corruption compared with the type so prevalent during the days of Suharto's rule, but the number of officials at the local level with their hands out likely results in higher rates of corruption and graft."
On drugs, Indonesia is waging an even more aggressive war, as April's executions of eight people over drug-related charges showed. Indonesia's 2009 Law on Narcotics stipulates extremely harsh penalties for selling, transporting, possessing, and using drugs, with punishments ranging from fines to the death penalty.
In the face of such perceived grave problems, Makassar officials are targeting Indonesia's next generation.
At SMA 5, Mahardika said the new slogans are compulsory for incoming tenth graders, with plans to phase it in for all students. But he's highly skeptical.
"It's useless and many students don't care to put it on," he said.
While he sympathizes with the government's intention of curbing drugs and corruption, he doubts the uniforms will be effective.
"There are other ways to deal with that issue that are much better," he said. "The uniform has absolutely no effect."
"Instead," he said, "students will just hate their uniforms."
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