By: Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dikanaya Tarahita

Internet use in Indonesia for children 10 to 14 years has reached a stunning 100 percent, according to the Internet Service Provider Association of Indonesia, raising deep concerns among educators that the increasing penetration of technology among children, with low parental supervision, is allowing the young to freely access violence-related and other undesirable content.

Early-age children are quicker to record anything and re-practice what he or she sees and hears every day. Educators fear that children exposed to such negative and violent content, will pick it up and embed it into their character from an early age, making it hard to lose.

Those fears played out on Feb. 1, when an unruly student attacked a 27-year-old art teacher named Ahmad Budi Cahyono who had reprimanded him, hitting the teacher in the back of the neck. Cahyono later fell into a coma and died in an East Java hospital.

That, educators say, is a deeply disturbing example of rising violence in Indonesia’s schools, with aggression among students, brawling, bullying and, in a frightening breakdown of discipline, attacks on teachers and sometimes even fighting between parents and teachers. These events coincide with a demonstrable collapse of the system, with underpaid and unqualified teachers, deplorable buildings and a deep lack of funding, as Asia Sentinel reported Sep.1, 2017. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has ranked the system 62nd of 72 developing countries surveyed. Whether that plays itself out in frustration and violence in the schools isn’t clear. But based on data from the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), no less than 84 percent of children in Indonesia experience violence in schools. This figure is higher than Vietnam (79 percent), Cambodia (73 percent), and other ASEAN neighbors.

Academics Over Character Building

In addition to the astonishing penetration of social media with all of its drawbacks, the curriculum itself is causing problems. Lessons about character, morals, and exemplary behavior, which govern child behavior, have largely been dropped from the national curriculum in favor of academics, with children asked to master various fields of science from an early age.

As the education and school systems focus on scores, parents in the home stress academic study over behavior as well. After school, children are busy with various courses until late afternoon, resulting in their loss of time playing and socializing with their peers.

To make it worse, Kemendikbud, the Ministry of Education and Culture, is working on a new policy plan relating to the replacement of the School Exam to become a National Standard School Examination (USBN) for elementary school as a graduation exam. Elementary schools in 2017 were charged with three subjects — Indonesian language, mathematics and science. This year, subjects to be examined have increased drastically. The final examination for elementary school now will consist of eight subjects with the addition of social sciences, citizenship, arts and culture, physical education and health, and religion.

The Chairman of the Indonesian Teachers Association, Muhammad Ramli argues that the new government policy is not aligned with the character education strengthening program that was also implemented recently. Ramli added that the eight subjects will shift the focus of teachers and school policies to focus only on the pursuit of knowledge and the attainment of high marks in exams. In practice, efforts to strengthen character education in elementary schools planned as a moral foundation and courtesy will be increasingly neglected.

Exemplary Crisis

Violence in schools is also a result of a lack of role models for children to emulate. With the increased access of children to technological developments, their association is no longer just about friends in the home and school environment. The high number of users of gadgets and social media that teenagers have access to make the young generation of Indonesia is very vulnerable to a variety of unfiltered content from the internet accessible to them.

In order to overcome the problem of violence, especially in educational institutions, educators say, schools must pay attention to the fulfillment of children’s rights as well as developing a fair system to protect children and teachers from violence. There is periodic training for teachers that focuses on how to handle students and how to teach and how to discipline students. It is important to note that disciplinary methods accompanied by physical violence against children cannot be justified for any reason.

Unfortunately, according to the global website NoBullying.com, bullying is so prevalent in Indonesia’s school system that it is claiming the lives of children as young as primary school age through physical violence and suicide. Khofifah Indar Parawansa, social minister of Indonesia, was quoted as saying that “40 percent of children that commit suicide do so because of bullying.” In a 2012 survey released by Indonesia’s National Child Protection Commission, 87.6 percent of 1,026 participants reported they had been bullied either physically or verbally in school. Many schools, the organization found, are indifferent to bullying behavior, considering it a natural part of their culture. 

A 2015 recommendation of the education and culture ministry that every educational institution create a Task Force on Violence in School Environment since 2015 ago must be followed seriously. Through it, the early detection of potential violence in the school environment, prevention and rehabilitation of perpetrators and victims can be handled wisely and quickly.

In addition, school management, teachers, students, and parents must be educated to recognize that physical violence that occurs in the category of maltreatment cannot be tolerated. This is because in practice the peaceful road is often used as a conflict resolution.

The Child Protection Act has clearly established that violence against children can be prosecuted under the law. If the settlement of peace is considered better than the legal approach then where the protection side? We cannot underestimate the violence that occurs in the school environment. Both perpetrators and victims need to be given serious assistance to the physical and psychological consequences. It is feared that without good synergy from schools, teachers, students and parents, the issue of child abuse can’t be solved completely.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester. Dikanaya Tarahita is an Indonesian freelance writer. They are regular contributors to Asia Sentinel.