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The latest series of student brawls in Jakarta that has claimed two lives has harshly reminded us to revisit and reevaluate our system of character education.
Believed to have a long history of brawling, students from two senior high schools in South Jakarta fought each other after school hours on Monday, brandishing sharp weapons and hurling stones violently, ending in the death of a student.
Although some have argued that the incident was an assault rather than a student brawl, I would argue that some student brawl cases might have assaults in them, and at the heart of the brawl is violence.
Within 48 hours, another life was lost in South Jakarta following a brawl between students of two vocational schools. The student was killed after being stabbed in the stomach.
While violent teenage behavior occurs everywhere, school brawls are more common in Indonesia. A student brawl is a form of collective social behavior of adolescent aberration and aggressive behavior resulting from group conformity. Usually a conflict flares up between two schools, and on the battlefield, students are actually wearing their school uniforms.
Student brawls are nothing new in our country, but it is very devastating to learn that the number of cases is mounting rather than abating.
The National Commission for Child Protection (KPAI) recorded at least 128 school brawl cases in 2010, which rose to 339 last year. The brawls claimed 82 lives last year, up from 40 in 2010. More worryingly, acts of violence involving students became more prevalent when character education was integrated into the school curriculum.
Therefore, these statistics should prompt us to revisit and evaluate the current system of character education. Are we teaching them the right things?
I still remember when I had a Pancasila moral education lesson (PMP or now civics) back in secondary school during the New Order era, I was only asked to memorize the principles of and the attitudes that reflect Pancasila state ideology. That time I was questioning myself, why bother memorizing good attitudes but not practicing them?
Character education is not simply a formal lesson that occurs at a cognitive level (moral knowledge), but rather, it should go beyond understanding and arrive at reflecting upon what is right and doing the right thing.
For instance, an elementary school teacher in my region implemented an exemplary form of character education. She brought her students to a nursing home and assigned the students to assist and entertain the elderly.
Surprisingly, those eight-year-old children played games with the elderly, sang a song, read them a story and even did a small stitching project. In short, students have to feel and experience for themselves the concepts of love, respect, empathy and many other good traits and characteristics.
Simply expelling students from schools due to their role in a brawl does not resolve the problem, but may instead perpetuate the culture of violence. The expulsion will deprive the students of their bright future and may lead them to a larger gang of criminals.
Character education should not only be shouldered by teachers alone. There should be a harmonious synergy among schools, families, communities and the government as the stakeholders of national education. This is because character is not taught, rather, it is shaped.
Ki Hajar Dewantara, the founding father of national education, has bequeathed to us a prophetic motto: “Ing ngarso sung tuladha; ing madya mangun karsa; tut wuri handayani,” which means “Provide a model; create an intention; and give constructive support.”
His philosophy on education reflected in this motto is still relevant now. It echoes to the system of character education that has become one of our chief concerns nowadays.
Teachers, parents, communities and the government should be models, motivators and supporters for young generations — modeling good character, motivating youth to do good things and supporting them to do the right thing.
Character building is a long-term project that requires patience and perseverance.
Here are some questions that may help us contemplate our awareness of character education for our children. How can we ask our students/children to think if we do all the thinking?
How can we ask our students/children to talk, if we do all the talking? How can we ask our students/children to respect us, if we do not respect them?
The writer is a researcher at the Center for Multiculturalism, Democracy and Character Building in the Semarang State University.