End-of-Year Reflection on Peace Education in Indonesia

(Reposted from: Media Indonesia, December 11, 2023)

By Dody Wibowo

Director of Advocacy and Community Empowerment, Sukma Foundation
Lecturer in the Master’s Program in Peace and Conflict Resolution, Universitas Gadjah Mada

As 2023 draws to a close, the Indonesian education sector has been marred by numerous cases of violence, frequently highlighted in the mass media. The Federation of Indonesian Teachers Unions (FSGI) reported in October that from January to September 2023, there were 23 cases of bullying in schools. However, it is widely believed that this figure significantly underrepresents the actual situation, which is likely much worse. Many instances of school violence remain unknown to school authorities, unreported by victims, or uncovered by the media.

Victims of school violence are not limited to students; teachers are also affected. Regarding the perpetrators, they are not only students but also teachers and even parents. This situation demands our serious attention. Schools, which should be safe and comfortable environments for learning, are far from meeting these expectations. The government, responsible for educational services, has not remained idle. In August 2023, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology issued regulations intended to reduce or eliminate violence in schools.

Through this article, I invite readers to revisit the state of Indonesian education in 2023 from a peace and non-violence studies perspective. Furthermore, let us reflect on the steps we have taken and what more we need to do in the coming year to create a safe educational environment for our students.

The Phenomenon of School Violence

The data presented by the Federation of Indonesian Teachers Unions (FSGI) regarding school violence cases from January to September 2023 reveals a troubling trend: 23% of these incidents occurred in elementary schools, 50% in junior high schools, and 13.5% each in senior high schools and vocational high schools. It is particularly distressing that the majority of these cases occur in elementary and junior high schools, where students are very young. These acts of violence, ranging from torture to arson, are perpetrated by students, teachers, and even parents. The consequences are not just physical and psychological injuries to the victims, but in some cases, even loss of life. A critical reflection on these incidents, especially those involving young students as perpetrators, raises the question: What is happening to our children in elementary and junior high schools that drives them to such violence?

In October 2023, the case of 11 elementary school students in Situbondo, East Java, who self-harmed by cutting their arms, garnered significant attention. These students cited personal problems leading to self-violent behavior, influenced by similar acts they observed on social media. In another instance, during a Peace Education class held weekly at Sukma Bangsa School, a teacher was shocked when elementary students listed forms of violence previously unknown to the teacher. When asked how they knew about these forms, the students mentioned social media as their source.

It is crucial to remember that children in elementary and junior high schools are still in a critical stage of cognitive development and lack the capacity for critical thinking, especially if their environment does not foster such skills. These children often mimic behaviors they see, and when exposed to unfiltered violent content, it is understandable why they replicate these actions.

In today’s society, where addiction to social media is rampant, phenomena like the fear of missing out (FOMO) drive individuals to keep up with trends, sometimes even aiming for viral fame. Young children, lacking adequate supervision from responsible adults (parents and teachers), struggle to discern what is appropriate to follow, leading them to view acts of violence as exciting or cool, without considering the consequences.

Young children who imitate such violent acts should not be blamed. They are victims of adults who fail to provide proper education, leaving them unable to choose wisely and consider the consequences of their actions.

Responsible Parties

Adults surrounding children bear the greatest responsibility for the occurrence of violence in schools. Regrettably, as reported by the Federation of Indonesian Teachers Unions (FSGI), adults who should educate and protect children from violence are sometimes the perpetrators or fail to take responsibility. Reflecting on 2022 data, the Indonesian Education Monitoring Network (JPPI) reported 117 cases of school violence perpetrated by teachers. This situation did not significantly improve in 2023. Many media-covered incidents revealed teachers either committing acts of violence or shirking responsibility for such incidents in their schools. Examples include teachers cutting students’ hair without consent, committing sexual violence, or denying the occurrence of bullying that resulted in a student’s death. Additionally, there were cases of parents assaulting teachers and committing violence against their children within the school environment, often witnessed by teachers and other students.

Understanding this phenomenon requires a focused examination of teachers’ competencies in responding to violence. In a peace education training I conducted in 2023, a survey given to 27 participating teachers revealed that 88.9% understood the concept of bullying. When asked about the source of their understanding, their responses varied from dictionaries, the internet, to prior training. Interestingly, none of these educators, all graduates from educational faculties, mentioned learning this from their university professors during their teacher training. This observation was consistent among teachers at Sukma Bangsa School and master’s students in Peace and Conflict Resolution at Gadjah Mada University with educational backgrounds. None reported learning about peace and non-violence concepts during their teacher training.

No teachers reported learning about peace and non-violence concepts during their teacher training.

This phenomenon indicates that teachers are also victims. They suffer from structural violence due to a lack of education in peace and non-violence concepts, leaving them ill-prepared to handle school violence cases. Furthermore, without adequate knowledge and skills in peace and non-violence, teachers cannot impart the necessary knowledge and skills to students to prevent and stop violence, let alone build peace.

Government Response

In response to the escalating cases of violence in schools, the Minister of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology of the Republic of Indonesia issued Regulation No. 46 of 2023 on the Prevention and Handling of Violence in Educational Units. This regulation provides a detailed definition of violence and its various forms, and mandates the establishment of Violence Prevention and Handling Teams (TPPK) in educational institutions. Further, the Technical Guidelines for the Implementation of Violence Prevention and Handling in Educational Units, outlined in Decision No. 49/m/2023 by the Secretary-General of the Ministry, detail the steps various parties, from the national level to individual educational units, must take to prevent and address school violence.

However, the effectiveness of these regulations in reducing or eliminating school violence remains a question. Since the enactment of Regulation No. 46 in August 2023, I have heard firsthand from schools about their struggles to implement the required measures, particularly regarding the formation of TPPKs. One school principal assigned the task of creating a team member list to an administrative staff member, merely to fulfill administrative requirements without genuine consideration or discussion. In another case, a school committee chairperson shared how the principal was confused about selecting TPPK members and planning their activities, leading to a proposal to invite security personnel to discuss bullying with students – a misguided plan given their lack of expertise in the subject.

Moreover, these regulations and decisions assume that teachers already possess competencies in peace and non-violence topics. Consequently, schools are expected to implement the Ministry’s directives without considering the actual preparedness of educators. Even when education for school stakeholders is discussed, as in Chapter 5 of Decision No. 49/m/2023, the focus is primarily on students. Special attention is given to educating TPPK members, while other adults, including teachers, school staff, and parents, are only briefly mentioned.

What’s crucial is the internalization and instillation of peace and non-violence values in teachers. Merely knowing about these concepts is insufficient.

Given the assumption that Indonesian teachers’ competencies in peace and non-violence topics are minimal, due to a lack of training during their educational preparation, it raises the question: How can we expect schools to fulfill the tasks mandated by the Ministry? It’s not just about teachers knowing the definitions of various forms of violence; what’s crucial is the internalization and instillation of peace and non-violence values in teachers. Merely knowing about these concepts is insufficient. Perpetrators of violence can explain peace and non-violence materials but may not live by them or choose non-violent actions, similar to corrupt individuals who know corruption is wrong but continue to engage in it.

Moving Forward

The root of school violence lies not with the students, but with the teachers and, by extension, the parents, who not only lack the necessary competencies but also have not internalized and embodied the values of peace and non-violence. Preparing teachers (and parents) who live by these values of peace and non-violence is an indispensable requirement if we aim to create a safe educational environment.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology must reevaluate the educational content (curriculum) provided to prospective teachers. They should begin the process of internalizing and living by the values of peace and non-violence before they start their teaching careers. This is a long process that requires continuous support and guidance.

Our children have been victims for too long, caught in educational environments that fail to provide a secure learning space. The government needs to think holistically and address the root causes comprehensively.

Building a culture of peace and preventing violence must become our mindset in the world of education. We should no longer act merely as firefighters, scrambling in response to incidents of violence. Such cases can be prevented if we truly live by the values of peace and non-violence. Hopefully, by 2024, we will no longer hear of violence in schools, and our children can learn in a safe environment.

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