I was still in high school when I first heard the Latin proverb. The Jesuit priest in our school repeatedly uttered the sentence. He then asked why are we studying at school. Is it so that we can go to university? Is it for a job? Is it for a good mark? Is it for social life? What is it for? He then explained the meaning of the phrase. It means we learn not for school but for life. Studying and learning are not confined in the classrooms only. It should be done in a broader context to achieve a bigger purpose. Through education, we are supposed to be able to find and claim our place in the world. Through education, we should be able to learn about each other. We should be able to accept and celebrate our differences as unique individuals, yet at the same time, appreciate our sameness as part of one world, one humanity.
Seeing the rising tide of religious intolerance, division, and violence in Indonesia recently makes me wonder what kind of education have many our children received. Why is there so much intolerance and hatred against those who are seen as ‘different’? Have they been taught to learn for school only or have they been taught to learn for life? Intolerance and hatred against other religions or ethnic groups are often based on prejudices. Neascu-Hendry believes that prejudices tend to prevail in persons or societies where reasoning ability is weak. This, of course, should not surprise us. The reality of education on the ground in Indonesia is saddening. Religious education is mandated by the government but students, in general, are only taught about their own religions in a very simplistic manner. The content of the religious class is often very exclusive and ceremonial. It merely requires students to memorize and regurgitate information. It rarely asks students to logically inquire, creatively analyze complex issues and solve them. It is more of an exception when students are taught about other religions and their history — which actually has the potential to create a more critical, open-minded students with a strong humanistic character. More often than not, students only learn about their religion uncritically and, as a result, there is sense of superiority for belonging to that particular religion compared to others.
This is the result of the so-called banking concept of education, which Freire believes to be oppressive by nature. The banking concept of education starts with assuming student knows nothing and teacher should know everything. Due to this, knowledge has to be ‘deposited’ from one end, which is the teacher, to another, which is the student. Students are expected to follow teacher’s instructions, regurgitate information and obediently accept this hierarchical, one-way depositing process without given the opportunity to consciously think, comprehend, and evaluate the information they absorb. Such a system reduces imaginative, creative, conscious human being into a well-trained, programmed ‘automatons’ stripped of its individual agency. Freire warns us ‘this concept is well suited to the purposes of the oppressors, whose tranquility rests on how well people fit the world the oppressors have created, and how little they question it.’
Perhaps, Freire is right. Our children have beed sedated with the banking concept of education for too long that they have become easily controlled by the oppressors. Our children have been turned into mindless robots who serve the interests of the power-hungry people. Looking at how easily mobilized these young radical Muslims in the streets of Jakarta are. I wonder who is benefiting from all this chaos. Perhaps, it’s not the issue at stake here. Conspiracy theory is a waste of time until conclusive evidence is given. Perhaps we should think more about revolutionizing our education so that the next generation of young people and leaders in this country have more power, freedom, and agency to resist the ‘zombification’ from these political ventriloquists — whoever they might be. We should change the approach of our education to enable our people to unlearn this intolerance, hatred, and bigotry. Whatever form of education it is, it needs to successfully foster a climate of tolerance, freedom, and compassion since this is the only way diversity and every individual human’s dignity are preserved.
An alternative form education called democratic education can be of use to us. Fahey and Hooks champion this as an emancipatory form of education, consistent with the philosophy of learning for life encapsulated in the Latin phrase above. Democratic education starts with a different assumption of student. Fahey describes children as ‘natural learners, each with distinct interests, abilities and rates of cognitive, emotional and social growth.’ For Fahey, what matters most is not ‘facts’ or ‘figures’, which will be easily forgotten, but the ‘emotional impacts’ of the educational experience and the student’s personality after school.The goal of education is to create ‘happy, healthy, well-adjusted, self-directed, self-actualizing person’. To achieve this, Fahey stipulates five principles of democratic education that are essential: tailoring education to suit the student’s ‘way’ in his or her own time; providing a safe and supportive environment that takes into account student’s emotional readiness; offering a wide range of choices to suit student’s interests and natural strengths rather than fostering coercive structural relationships; using the ‘learning to learn‘ approach instead of focusing on ‘content mastery’; creating a ‘self-governed’ community whereby students are involved in the decision-making processes that affect their learning experience.
Hooks would agree with Fahey that democratic education system is different from an authoritarian one. The former instills an excitement of learning in the student rather than forcing them to just absorb information. It encourages active, progressive learning based on critical inquiry, creativity and conversation, rather than one-way communication. It is also linked to the real world through its inclusivity as it ‘enable [sic] educators to teach and share knowledge in a manner that does not reinforce existing structures of domination (those of race, gender, class, and religious hierarchies)’.
At this stage, it is probably hard to visualize this form of education in Indonesia. Our classroom often consists of 30 to 40 students. How are we going to tailor education to suit each student’s way in his or her own time? How are we going to create a safe and supportive environment when the culture is of hierarchical relationship between teacher and student or between senior and junior? How are we going to create a self-governed community when students are so used to get spoon-fed by their teachers? Of course, these are valid questions that need to be taken into account. However, technical issues aside, this form of education is worth our investment as it enables us to envision a different kind of outcomes. Democratic education is geared towards preparing our young generation not only for good grades or jobs but also for life. Life in which every individual is empowered and life where diversity is appreciated and celebrated.
The writer is currently completing his Master of Human Rights at Curtin University in Perth. He is also working for Amnesty International. The opinion expressed here is of his own.
Posted in Jakpost | Wed, 02/02/2011 9:58 AM | Opinion
A couple of days before the Chinese New Year, a colleague brought me a gift from a number of Chinese-Indonesian House of Representatives legislators from various political parties.
It did not come as a surprise. There are many Chinese-Indonesians in the House. What surprised me was the fact that regardless of their political differences, they gave me a lunar cake, or Nian Gao (kue keranjang), as a group.
This marks progress in our democratic society. However, we should bear in mind Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, who stated, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
What can we learn from the history of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia?
First, the Chinese have been a divided society ever since they first arrived in Indonesia in the 15th century under the leadership of Admiral Zheng He, who also introduced Islam to the archipelago. For centuries, Chinese-Indonesians were divided into three main groupings: Qiao Shengs, who were more inclined toward cooperation with the Dutch, Cina totoks, who looked toward mainland China, and Cina babas, who most successfully assimilated with the indigenous people of the Indies. Therefore, to generalize all Chinese as an identical group is inappropriate.
Second, the concept of “sharing the same historical background” as the main idea of the so-called Indonesia hundreds of years later is also very much related to Chinese-Indonesians. Under the Dutch colonial, Chinese-Indonesians were also the target of Dutch cruelty, as we recall the 1740 massacre that killed thousands of ethnic Chinese in Batavia.
The majority of Chinese-Indonesians were more closely associated with Cina babas, as they fought the Dutch and the Japanese along with indigenous Indonesians. Unfortunately, history shows that Chinese-Indonesians were structurally victimized both under the Old Order and New Order eras, as evidenced by the government’s decision to force them to scrap their family names. More recently, Chinese descents fell victim to violence during the May 1998 tragedy.
The situation drastically changed after the reform era thanks to the father of Indonesian pluralism, Gus Dur. Far fewer incidents of structural violence and discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians occurred. However, there are still many obstacles that prevent Chinese-Indonesians and indigenous Indonesians (pribumi) from sharing a mutual understanding. It is the social mindset within the country.
Many Chinese-Indonesians still experience the trauma of the past. They tend to generalize all indigenous Indonesians as the same. On the other hand, the pribumi tends to view Chinese-Indonesians as an economically self-interested community which is not willing to mingle with other Indonesians.
The dichotomy is still in place. Some days ago, Serang villagers protested a plan by a Buddhist foundation, Yayasan Timur Raya, to build a Chinese cemetery (The Jakarta Post Jan. 27, 2011).
Notwithstanding the fact that the demonstration was fueled by alleged procedural violations, demonstrations against a certain ethnicity is very rare here.
Why is it so hard to blend with each other?
It goes without saying that after decades of structural violence, it would be very difficult to change the mindsets of both pribumi and Chinese-Indonesians. The dark history of relations that led to bloodshed, as occurred in May 1998, should not be repeated.
The fact that Chinese-Indonesians, Cina babas, dedicated themselves to Indonesia during the independence struggle should be taken into account. They are not less nationalistic than indigenous Indonesians. They actually have no choice but to assimilate and blend in, understanding that unity is better than diversity.
On the other hand, Chinese-Indonesians should realize that time has passed by, regimes have changed and discrimination is irrelevant. The anti-pribumi mindset should no longer be maintained.
There are few reasons to live as an exclusive group, as it will only hinder integration efforts.
But most importantly, the government should play its role in promoting pluralism and values of multiculturalism within the diverse society, which the legislators had shown through their “lunar cake diplomacy”.
We should seize the momentum of Chinese New Year to promote these values. The fight against discrimination is not yet over and we cannot let history repeat itself.
The small present from the House members hopefully marks a start to efforts to instill pluralism as a fundamental Indonesian value. As US President Barack Obama stated last year during his visit to Indonesia: “E pluribus unum — out of many, one” in the United States, and “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika — unity in diversity” in Indonesia.
The Circle shape the lunar cake symbolizes unity, peace and determination. This can be the most important diplomatic means to ending discriminatory mindsets.
Mario Masaya is currently enrolled as a student in Beijing Language and Culture University and just granted a scholarship to take master degree in RSIS, majoring Asian studies. He has published various writings about Indonesia’s diversity in prominent newspapers and now this is our honour to have him as one of contributors in Tampah Ragam.ays beS