Jun 16, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Human rights for kids

It’s difficult to get human rights education into Indonesian schools

Ken Setiawan

Riding in a taxi in Jakarta in May 2004, I had a very lively discussion on human rights with the driver. He said to me, ‘Mbak, I don’t know anything about human rights, but I know it’s a mess here.’ His statement made something clear: Indonesians know something is wrong with the human rights situation, but they do not know exactly what these rights imply. How can people claim their human rights if they do not know what they are?

I was in Jakarta doing two months research at Komnas HAM, the National Commission on Human Rights. Everyone agrees that respect for human rights is of crucial importance for Indonesia’s democratic development. For this reason, it is vital to teach human rights. Komnas HAM is engaged in human rights education through campaigns, training and the publication of books and magazines. However, one of its most important and challenging activities is human rights education in Indonesian schools.

Trying to teach human rights

In 1995, Komnas HAM, in co-operation with the Department of Education and Culture (now the Department of National Education), began studying the possibilities of integrating human rights education into Indonesian schools. A 1998 workshop on human rights education in Southeast Asia was attended by human rights teachers from all countries in the region. The workshop results stressed financial support and qualified teachers as important factors for success. But the involvement and support of the state and society, in particular parents and religious leaders, were identified as crucial elements.

In 1998, Komnas HAM ran two human rights education pilot projects, in Cianjur (West Java) and Kupang (East Nusa Tenggara). Twenty schools were involved in Cianjur and sixteen in Kupang. The schools in Kupang were chosen because Komnas HAM and its sponsors (UNESCO among others) wanted a pilot project in a region outside Java, in which human rights violations often occurred.

In the pilot projects, human rights were integrated into various school activities, such as flag ceremonies, assemblies and sports and art competitions. The project also experimented with new teaching-learning processes, including the ‘active learning’ approach (working in small groups or pairs, encouraging students to express their thoughts). While both teachers and students were positive about the pilot, the use of an active learning approach led to some problems since teachers were not sufficiently trained in this method.

Due to financial constraints, Komnas HAM began to consider the possibility of reforming an existing subject rather than introducing a new one, since that would be cheaper and easier. They chose the controversial Pancasila Education course.

This subject was introduced by the New Order government to indoctrinate the Indonesian people in Pancasila, the state ideology. Pancasila Education is a compulsory subject in Indonesian schools. It is taught every week in two-hour sessions. After Suharto’s fall, the subject was heavily criticised and some demanded its removal from the curriculum — this was why the commission chose it.

Not interested in human rights

It became clear to Komnas HAM that introducing human rights in Indonesian schools is not just a matter of changing Pancasila Education — it is a matter of changing the educational system. Indonesia’s educational system does not aim to develop critical thinking. An active learning approach is rarely used. Often teachers do not have any experience with these methods, and they have very limited knowledge of human rights. It is unreasonable to expect teachers to teach their students about human rights without proper training.

There are also financial challenges. Eight years after the start of the Asian economic crisis, Indonesia has still not fully recovered. This decreases the government’s capacity to invest in school curricula and teacher education. The government’s top priority is not human rights education.

Komnas HAM also faces conflicting values in Indonesian society. Existing norms and values, in particular those influenced by orthodox interpretations of religions, cannot be changed overnight. Human rights include the right to divorce; to convert to another religion (or to have none); and equality between all people regardless of sex. There are human rights that contradict religious doctrine or practice. Since human rights often challenge long-standing local values, it comes as no surprise that teachers and parents are often not ready to deal with these new ideas.

However, the biggest challenge in introducing human rights education in schools is the Department of National Education. Despite thorough studies by Komnas HAM, including its two pilot projects, there has been no action from the department. According to one Komnas HAM member: ‘The department is not yet interested [in human rights]… This is because other issues in Indonesian education [for example, higher wages for teachers] have not been dealt with yet, but also because there are few people who really have knowledge of human rights. The communication is bad, we hardly get any response.’

Is the department to blame for the fact that human rights education is not offered in Indonesian schools? They have a good excuse: there is no money, and if there is, it is spent on more urgent matters. However, it is possible that many of the department’s officials do not know much about human rights, or even worse — do not care.

Human Rights Educators Network

Rather than waiting for action from the department, Komnas HAM has set up an informal network of NGOs, called the Human Rights Educators Network (JP HAM). The NGOs engage in human rights education, mostly for the general public (since Komnas HAM focuses on ‘strategic groups’ such as the army, religious leaders, policy makers and journalists). The network is a good initiative, but it is heavily dependent on web-based databases and communication through e-mail and the internet. Not all organisations, especially small NGOs outside Java, have reliable access to these technologies. Thus, only a small number of Indonesians will have access to the information provided by JP HAM. This problem is shared by Komnas HAM, since their educational activities are often confined to urban areas in Java. Nevertheless, Komnas HAM has the potential to reach other areas through their regional offices.

Komnas HAM should be praised for establishing JP HAM. However, a network of human rights NGOs which engages in (primarily adult) education does not accomplish the important work of teaching children at schools.

Komnas HAM is partly to blame for the stagnation of human rights education in Indonesian schools. They do not have regular meetings with members of the Department of National Education or other stakeholders. They do not lobby for human rights education among the department’s officials or members of parliament. As a state institution, Komnas HAM has more power than any NGO. It should use its position better, most of all in areas such as human rights education.

True respect for human rights is a way of life. This can only be achieved if norms, values and attitudes towards human rights in Indonesia change. People need to learn how to express their sense of human rights violations. In the same way, understanding and respecting the rights of others needs to become part of the way state officials understand the responsibilities of their office. This process may take years or even generations. It is a difficult task, and it is natural that some do not know where to start. However, a good place, probably even the best, is in Indonesian schools.

Ken Setiawan (kensetiawan@yahoo.com) recently completed a masters degree in Indonesian Studies at Leiden University.

Inside Indonesia 82: Apr-Jun 2005

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