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Catholic educators back Indonesia bid to stop intolerance

Teaching traditional values in schools seen as a way to silence the call of extremism

Catholic educators back Indonesia bid to stop intolerance

Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, agrees with the Indonesian government's emphasis on character building of students in an effort to curb extremism and intolerance. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

Published Jan. 30, 2017 

Catholic educators welcomed a government plan to involve schools and teachers in the fight against intolerance by having them teach the values of state philosophy.

Education Minister Muhadjir Effendy said recently that the ministry would teach the tenets of Pancasila ("five principles") in all elementary and junior high schools through special activities rather than conventional teaching methods.

Indonesian philosophy, Pancasila, stipulates belief in one God, a just and civilized society, a united Indonesia, democracy guided by consensus, and social justice for all citizens.

Making these principles properly understood and liveable in daily life can serve as a solution to curb the intolerance and radicalism that threatens national unity. The minister suggested that schools spend eight hours a week on these subjects, in the classroom and during extra-curricular activities.

Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, said that the government's plan is in line with principles emphasized by Catholic schools.

"Catholic schools have long committed to instil these values in students," he told ucanews.com.

However, with growing intolerance in the country, all efforts must be geared to re-actualize traditional values and support Indonesian educators and institutions if needed, the priest said.

Earlier, President Joko Widodo called on teachers and schools to focus on character-building activities and teaching students the values of democracy, following a series of mass rallies held by hard-line group the Islamic Defenders Front in 2016 in Jakarta to demand the city's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama be put to death for blasphemy.

Galdinus Olva, a teacher at the Catholic-run, Marsudirini Elementary School in East Jakarta, acknowledged that many students have a poor understanding of the basic value of communal life, partly because teachers lack the knowledge and skills to teach the subject.

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"The plan will be effective if the government can firstly provide teachers with adequate skills," he said and also provide them with relevant text books to avoid mistakes.

The teacher said that the government must also involve parents in implementing values by having them monitor students' activities outside school.

"We spend only one hour a week teaching good values to students," he said, which is not enough.

According to 2014 data from the Central Statistics Bureau, elementary students nationwide numbered 26.5 million and were taught by 1.5 million teachers, including those at Catholic schools, while junior high school students numbered 9.7 million and were guided by 590,000 teachers

Indra Charismiadji, a Catholic education consultant, also agreed with the government's plan, but he said that it would take time to reach fruition. "Educators must be like Jesus, who teaches parables, not doctrines," he said.

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