Minister! We are your children – not your enemies

Indra Charismiadji Director of Education Vox Populi Institute Indonesia

IO – Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim’s response to a viral video regarding the mandatory donning of headscarf (hijab) at state vocational high school (SMKN) No. 2 in Padang, West Sumatra was most appreciated by the general public, but generated strong reaction from education personnel. Earlier, Nadiem threatened to sack everyone involved in the incident. I ask the local government to, in accordance with available mechanism, immediately impose strict sanctions for disciplinary violations for all parties proven to be involved, including the possibility of dismissal from office. 

The Minister’s statement is no different than the controversial hijab regulation itself. The intention was good but it wasn’t wise. The regulation to wear a hijab was well-intentioned in itself, but to extend it to all students, including non-Muslims, was very unwise and even a violation of human rights. If the Education and Culture Minister asked for SMKN 2 education personnel to be fired because they only follow the local regulation, that would be very unwise as this concerns one’s livelihood and career. 

Moch. Fatkoer Rohman, a high-achieving principal and teacher from West Nusa Tenggara commented on his Facebook page, “Instructing the principal to be fired, without first conducting a thorough investigation whether it is a school regulation or local regulation, whether there was a coercion is unwise. I myself am against any form of coercion. But it must be investigated first. Besides, the Education and Culture Ministry cannot dismiss a principal. The authority to do this is in the hand of the local government.” 

This happened because the Education and Culture Minister doesn’t really comprehend the condition of Indonesia’s education sector, even though he has been a minister for more than one year. I would say it again, our Education and Culture Minister is apparently a germaphobe, someone who is afraid of germs during the pandemic. That’s why he strictly abided by the 3M health protocol – keeping his distance, wearing a mask, washing hands but in a sense that he keeps a distance from teachers, principals, and education personnel. He chose to put on an iron mask to avoid having a conversation, dialogue, discussion with education stakeholders. He also washed his hands from the problems the education sector is facing in this country. This is a health protocol on steroid. 

The Jawa Pos Daily has reported that Nadiem Makarim spent more time in Singapore and during a joint meeting between the government and House Commission X, Dede Yusuf, deputy chairman of the commission, also jokingly criticized him on this matter. He rarely visited schools, campuses and education al institutions in the past year as compared to President Jokowi, who continued conducting working visits even in the midst of a pandemic. This creates a wide chasm between the Education and Culture Minister and the education sector he is supposed to lead. Using health precaution as the reason also doesn’t hold water, as online meetings with education personnel were almost never held. 

In the case of SMKN 2 Padang, if the Education and Culture Minister didn’t keep his distance, he would have known that these educators were only implementing Mayor of Padang Instruction No. 451.442/ Binsos-iii/2005 which has been in force for 15 years. This is not entirely the fault of educators who carry out the instructions of their superior, here the regional leader. Instead of protecting educators, the Minister chose to punish them with tough sanctions. 

Admittedly, his communication so far has been poor. This can be seen in the number of times he addressed the mass media. Reporters have had a very difficult time getting a statement from the Minister. Press conferences were almost never held. The ministry only issued media briefings, which means there was only one-way information, no dialogue or conversation. If he even finds it difficult to communicate with the press, one can imagine what amount of communication, if any, he has with teachers, principals, students, lecturers, the education agency, and all stakeholders in the broader education sector. Maybe he forgot that his position as a public official is to communicate with the public as clearly as possible without wearing an “iron mask”. The hijab incident proves that he has no desire to have a dialogue and investigate but instead chose to become a judge. This is ironic cause for education to function well there needs to be dialogue. 

The Minister also tended to wash his hands from educational issues. If one really cares about discrimination and intolerance, why only responded to viral case. What about the incident at State Senior High School (SMAN) No. 58 in Jakarta, where a teacher allegedly urged students to vote against a non-Muslim OSIS (student executive organisation) chair candidate, or at Primary School (SD) Inpres 22 in Wosi, Manokwari where a Muslim student was banned from wearing a hijab. All of this happened under the watch of Minister Nadiem Makarim. 

Improving the quality of Indonesian education sector by creating a conducive, stable, moral, ethical and democratic ecosystem should be a concrete step taken by the Education and Culture Minister, rather than simply leaving everything to local government and making provocative statements. 

It is also worth reminding the youthful minister that he, as Education and Culture Minister, should act as a parent for all Indonesian education personnel whom he should guide and nurture, instead of intimidate. As leader of the education sector, he should have apologized to students and parents who felt discriminated by the hijab regulation and held a dialogue with educators in Padang. In a cabinet meeting, this case could be resolved jointly with the Home Minister, Religious Affairs Minister and Coordinating Legal, Political and Security Affairs Minister because it was related to the regional leader’s instruction. 

Mr. Minister, we are your children. Don’t make us your enemies. Lead us, guide us, and help us achieve the Indonesia Onward vision.