Islamic Education Needs Reform: Study

The Jakarta Post, page 2

In a Muslim-majority nation like Indonesia, Islamic education in public schools is expected to play a key role in instilling the values of tolerance among students.

But a study launched by the Religious Affairs Ministry on Wednesday suggested that the form of Islamic education being taught in the classroom focuses too much on theory and ritual and pays little attention to teaching the values of religious tolerance, which the study says could actually be found in the Quran.

The study, conducted by the Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP), a European Union-founded organization, has found that numerous values related to peace, tolerance and democracy can be found in the faith’s holy scriptures, but teachers of Islamic studies lack the ability to translate these principals to their students.

After interviewing 159 high school students and 146 Islamic religion teachers in four cities across the country, namely Jakarta; Medan, North Sumatera; Surakarta, Central Java; and Manado, North Sulawesi, the ACDP found that most of the former had little comprehension of the values of peace and tolerance, partly because the latter had avoided interfaith issues in class.

The ACDP asked two Muslim students in Medan whether or not they were comfortable conveying Christmas greetings to their Christian schoolmates. One of them said that Islamic education teachers prohibits us from saying ‘Merry Christmas’, as it means that we believe in it. While the other answered that he say sorry to his Christian friends, because conveying Christmas greetings is haram [forbidden] according to his belief.

ACDP advisor to the Religious Affairs Ministry Muljani Nurhadi said that from this study, ACDP found out that above peers, family and parents, most students put their trust primarily in their Islamic education teachers. Islamic education is the least popular subject among students in public schools because it is generally delivered in dogmatic and conventional way, making the school subject boring, the study says.

In fact, the study argues, Islamic education could foster a culture peace and tolerance as Islam recognizes such concepts as al-taaruf (synergy), al-shura (discussion and consensus), al-taawun (cooperation), al-amanah (trust), huznudzan (free of prejudice), al-takaful (sharing burdens with others), al-salam (peace) and al-afwu (forgiveness). These values may be developed to counter radicalism, the study claims.

The study says that radical teaching can enter schools through student participation in radical mass organizations in the community or through the extracurricular programs in Islamic education that are usually controlled by radicals.

Radicalism, the study argues, could also potentially enter schools indirectly through mass media, particularly television. However, Muljani said teachers were not the only party to blame for the failure of Islamic education to instill values of peace and tolerance among students.

The ACDP recommends that the government, through the Religious Affairs Ministry, reform Islamic education so that it instills in students values related to peace, tolerance and democracy. The study suggested the reform must cover both the curriculum and teachers, who will need to shift away from teaching doctrine and begin leading experiential based learning to develop critical thinking.

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