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Pre-dawn starts in Indonesian schools spark outrage

Christian-majority province wants to boost productivity among teachers and students by having them start at 5am
East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat. (Photo: East Nusa Tenggara province website)

Published: February 28, 2023 09:14 AM GMT

Catholic leaders and teachers’ bodies in Indonesia have decried a Christian-majority province’s decision to start senior high school classes at 5 a.m. to boost productivity among teachers and students.

The new education policy came into force on Feb. 28 in East Nusa Tenggara province, starting with 10 senior high schools and vocational high schools as a pilot project following a pact its governor, Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, inked with school principals last week. School activities previously started at 7.15 a.m. in the province.

Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, who hails from East Nusa Tenggara province and acts as chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, criticized the policy as something "excessive" and "does not pay attention to the growth and development of students.”

He noted that if it takes about an hour to go to school, then students and teachers must wake up at 3 a.m. so that they have enough time to take a shower and eat breakfast.

"Students and teachers' sleep will definitely be disturbed," Mbula told UCA News.

A lack of infrastructure facilities is a serious problem in the province, the priest said, adding that it is better for the government to focus on improving the quality of teachers and their welfare.

 “It has never happened in Indonesia or the world"

Education quality in East Nusa Tenggara province, whose population of 5.5 million is nearly 90 percent Christian, remains at the bottom of national rankings.

"Making the school schedule begin at 5 a.m. is a rushed, unreasonable decision,” said Retno Listyarti from the Indonesian Teachers’ Union Federation.

“It has never happened in Indonesia or the world," she told UCA News.

She said the federation collected views from many teachers and parents in the province who disagreed with this policy.

The response varies from the safety factor with students heading to school in darkness in the wee hours of the morning, lack of transportation, and the readiness of parents to provide breakfast, she said.

Many educators reject this policy which is made without “a study involving all interested parties," she said.

Darius Beda Daton, the province's ombudsman chairman, has asked the government to review the policy by "discussing it with school committees and parents."

The new policy was widely discussed after videos showed teachers ready to start activities at a school still in darkness at 5 a.m. with only two students present.

Linus Lusi, the province’s Education Department head, has, however, justified the policy, claiming that students in Catholic boarding schools and at Islamic boarding schools used to start activities early in the morning.

He claimed that the policy was aimed at improving the quality of education in the province and it would be implemented in other high schools in the near future.

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