Hell and religious learning

Khairil Azhar, Jakarta | Opinion | Fri, June 21 2013, 9:21 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

One night, when we were about to sleep, my 5-year-old daughter said, “Daddy, I want to wake up early and perform dawn prayer (subuh) with you tomorrow morning.”

Spontaneously, I asked, “Why?”

She quickly answered and it shocked me, “If we don’t do prayers, we will go to hell.”

“Go to hell? Who told you that?”

“My teacher at school.”

It took several seconds before I said “yes” and rubbed her head to help her get to sleep. Waiting for her to fall asleep, I kept thinking until I concluded that there must be something wrong in the way religion was taught at her school.

As far as I know, in some standard textbooks on the psychology of religious teaching used in Indonesian Islamic teacher colleges, such as the one written by Prof. Zakiah Daradjat more than two decades ago, it is clearly stated that the concepts of problematical things such as hell or Satan should not be introduced theoretically during early education.

Instead, the students must primarily learn to admire any beautiful or great creatures they can see as the manifestation of the graciousness and mercy of God. They should be made accustomed to exploring the concrete exposures before they are in proper time directed to the abstract ideas of religion.

Simply put, religious understanding should be implanted by using meaningful ideas to construct positive “fact-finder” young minds.

Along with the argument, in a study conducted in Finland from 1987 to 1988 where the researchers conducted psychological tests, “negative” religiosity as in the story can be an additional burden for children, as can the severe feelings of guilt that can precipitate suicide.

Affectively, in other research (Pargament et al. 2001), negative religious coping such as avoiding difficulties through religious activities and blaming God for difficulties has been associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. Also, conflicting religious environment in a family can be a stumbling block for children’s development and foster division.

However, we cannot blame the teacher. First, her insufficient knowledge on educational psychology or pedagogical capacities required for being a teacher must be related to how she had been inappropriately educated or trained.

If she was a teacher with relevant educational background, as her credentials show, we should unhesitatingly question the quality of the education she had received. If she had a poor educational background, we should question the reason for her employment or the responsibility of her employer to provide proper didactic training.

Second, and it is more problematic to deal with, the teacher must have expressed her own understanding on religion in her teaching activities and it very likely reflected the way she was educated. Here, in the same pack as the hell and condemnation doctrine, we could find other teachings on the inequality of people, jihad war, or many kinds of threats to make the students abide by uncompromising religious rules.

More regrettably, the teacher’s understanding actually represents a common religious cultural system where she lives and works and therefore, as long as no complaints emerge from parents or evaluation from her superintendent, it is silently accepted at the school.

Such understanding and practice, speaking more broadly, can be found not only in other schools but also in other places where religious educational processes are intended to take place. When the children are taken to religious services, for instance, they will inevitably listen to the same improper things.

In conclusion, the internalization of the mistakenly placed religious concepts occurs repeatedly and
uncontrollably.

To the people standing up for religious indoctrination of children, however, threatening a young child with the doctrine of hell and even a condemnation is usually viewed as a moral action before the law of God. It is thought to be the way to make young children accept religious belief unquestionably and to take it on as faith.

And as we easily find, many parents are among the pro-indoctrination group that makes it difficult to complain about the indoctrination practice at schools. They send their children to religious schools because they believe that religion is the backbone of moral education.

They assume that by going to such schools children are more likely to avoid wrongdoings, such as engaging in delinquent behavior, and to gain a good attitude, such as respecting their parents or other people.

Some research actually supports the religious indoctrination argument. Benson and Donahue (2010) and Smith and Faris (2002), for example, found an association between religion and pro-social values and behavior. Bridges and Moore (2002) found that religious values promote children’s physical and emotional health and well-being.

After all, especially for the teachers, as in the above story, some training with a great pedagogical load, both theoretically and practically, combined with proper “moderate” religious materials is urgently needed. It hopefully may make them look at their religiosity and teaching practice differently.

Regarding religion, there might be absurdity. More precisely, because of the way it is perceived and embraced, with the hope that it will provide existential security, a sound mind might be forged and senselessness taken as something ordinary.

Yet, it might also be a peculiarity if we do not consider an Indonesian proverb, “Do not throw away a whole sugar tree while only a part is rotten.”

The writer is a school manager and a researcher at Paramadina Foundation Jakarta.

Who benefits from higher education?

Amich Alhumami, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, June 01 2013, 12:34 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

Education is a public good, that is indisputable. But whether higher education is also a public good, has long been a subject of scholarly debate among experts.

Such a debate is instigated by two related views. First, the economic benefits of higher education mostly go to private individuals rather than to society in general. Economic benefits include all kinds of advantages whether monetary or non-monetary, which can be equalized to material wealth.

Private individuals should therefore share a larger portion of the cost of higher education, as they benefit much more from it economically. Second, the logic of this view asserts that public funds should not be allocated in large proportion to higher education, as it produces mainly private economic benefits.

And those benefiting from higher education are mostly from high-income groups. Indeed, they enjoy very much the benefits of investment in higher education.

Two prominent economists, George Psacharopoulos and Harry Patrinos (2004), have analyzed returns on investment in education by income in both developed and developing countries. In developing countries with about US$3,000-$9,000 of income per capita, returns on investment from higher education for the public and private sectors are 11.3 percent and 19.3 percent respectively.

Similarly, in developed countries with an income of $9,500 above the share of public and private returns on investment in higher education is 10.8 percent and 19.0 percent respectively.

But the gap between the two is much wider in low-income countries with less than $1,000 of average earnings, accounting for 11.2 percent and 26 percent respectively (see Handbook of the Economics of Education, E.E. Publishing Ltd., 2004).

Nonetheless, is the argument saying that high-income groups reap the predominant economic benefits of higher education valid? Perhaps we should take into account the counterargument showing that middle class families and individuals who complete their tertiary education are tax payers. As they get jobs, they take part in economic activities which are supportive of national productivity.

A number of studies confirm that university-educated workers especially those with advanced knowledge and skills relevant to industry are much more productive. As a result, the incomes of college graduates increase faster than the incomes of those without tertiary education. In this context, they make a significant contribution to generating public revenue and creating shared economic resources for the common good.

Here, public funds collected from tax are then allocated for financing basic social services such as education. Yet, some people may argue that there is still a big problem related to the affordability of higher education.

In the context of Indonesia’s education attainment, it is stunning to note the issue of equity of access to higher education. It might be surprising to realize how wide is the disparity of education participation at tertiary level in terms of socio-economic groups. The total population aged 19-23 years old amounts to about 19.9 million people, and the number who are enrolled at both public and private universities, including religious and vocational higher education institutions, is about 5.8 million people.

The Education and Culture Ministry statistics (2011) show that the gross enrollment rate of tertiary education has reached 27.1 percent. However, we observe the fact that there is a great deal of disparity in higher education participation with reference to the National Socio-Economic Survey (BPS 2011).

It is reported that the proportion of quintile one (the poorest 20 percent of the population) studying at universities is only 4.4 percent; meanwhile, the proportion of quintile five (the richest 20 percent of the population) entering higher education institutions has already reached 43.6 percent.

This data clearly shows that the disparity in higher education attainment is evident illustrating that tertiary education is mostly enjoyed by the rich. Indeed, the inequity of higher education has become a critical problem which could instigate socio-political divisions within Indonesian society.

If this situation continues, social segregation based on economic status within society will worsen. Here, we should take into consideration the Marxian caveat: political uproar demanding radical change in social structures often results from the so-called class struggle, as people fight for economic resources and access to power. And the crux of the problem has always been social inequality including unequal access to higher education.

To promote equity in higher education, it must be affordable for all young people regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. To do so the government has introduced the so-called Bidik-Misi scholarship program for students from low-income families. The Bidik-Misi scholarship program is considered a breakthrough since it paves the way for poor students to enter university.

This program has four main objectives: (1) improving access to higher education in order to lessen the gap in educational attainment between the poor and the rich; (2) widening the coverage of higher education in the young and productive population in order to enhance the competitiveness of Indonesia’s economy; (3) enlarging educated middle class groups in order to establish strong socio-economic structures; (4) expanding the critical mass within society in order to strengthen the social and cultural basis for the improvement of political democracy and for the betterment of the nation.

The beneficiaries of the Bidik-Misi scholarship program are increasing from year to year. Indeed, it is designed to respond to public aspirations that demand equal access to higher education. In this respect, it is reasonable if the government applies an affirmative action policy to overcome financial constraints for disadvantaged groups to get enrolled in university.

Certainly, affirmative action seems to be the only socio-political instrument to prevent high-income groups from dominating the economic benefits of higher education.

The writer, an anthropologist by training with a PhD obtained from the University of Sussex, UK, works at the Directorate of Education, the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS). The views expressed are personal.