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For teachers, students and education practitioners alike, H.A.R. Tilaar is known not only as a professor of education but also as a staunch critic of educational policies and an outspoken advocate of emancipatory education in the country.
Still fresh in many people’s minds is the moment when Tilaar, along with then erstwhile education and culture minister Daoed Joesoef, challenged the Education Law and filed a request for judicial review with the Constitutional Court. The law, Tilaar said, was a betrayal of the 1945 Constitution and Pancalisa – the five founding principles of the state.
Tilaar also stood in defense of teachers when he supported the judicial review filed by teachers from private-run schools nationwide over the government’s financial assistance to state-run schools.
In his defense, Tilaar urged that several clauses in Law No. 20/2003 on the System of National Education be revised, pressing the government to financially assist not only state schools but also private ones.
Tilaar’s strenuous efforts to defend teachers’ rights eventually bore fruit, with the Constitutional Court passing a ruling that supported the teachers’ demands.
However, Tilaar’s struggles against injustice and discrimination in the country’s educational system have not abated. One such example was when the Education and Culture Ministry issued yet another controversial policy buttressing the establishment of so-called international pilot-project schools (RSBI) – the government’s mega project that has continued to create social stratifications.
Commenting on this government policy, Tilaar said he had requested a judicial review on the matter but appeared uncertain that his request would be granted by the Constitutional Court.
“The political pressure is too strong this time, and I am not certain whether our request for the review will be followed up and approved,” Tilaar said during an interview with The Jakarta Post at his home in Patra Kuningan, South Jakarta.
Tilaar has warned the Education and Culture Ministry that the RSBI constitute a form of discrimination in national education, and their operations will be inimical to the cultural development of Indonesian children.
“The RSBI certainly go against the grain of the mandate of our 1945 Constitution, and should be strongly opposed because their establishment has been motivated primarily by Western neo-liberal ideas rather than being based on our cultural norms and values,” the husband of beauty product mogul, Martha Tilaar, said.
“How can we expect our children to know their own cultural values, traditions and local languages if from their earliest stages of learning they are required to speak English and have other cultural norms imposed on them?”
Liberalism in national education, Tilaar argues, is very destructive to the ongoing development of our national identity, which has been passed down by our founding fathers, adding that our morals and character as a great nation have been swept away by a Western philosophy of education.
According to him, the goal of national education should be oriented toward the unearthing of local cultural values and norms rather than seeking a paradigm that is not in line with the state ideology and the Constitution.
“We have rich cultural values and local geniuses, which should be explored. I’m quite baffled with the government’s sheer ignorance of this. Why doesn’t our government instill the wealth of local wisdom into the minds of our young people through education?” Tillar said.
“Every time I give a talk at symposiums and meet educational practitioners, I always pose reflective questions to them, such as ‘where is our education heading?’”
Tilaar attributes the radicalism and corruption now prevailing among the young generation to the failure of Indonesia’s educational system to inculcate noble characters and moral standards to these young people, citing recent corrupt practices and acts of terrorism occurring in Surakarta, Central Java and Depok, West Java, all of which were carried out by young people.
An emeritus professor at Jakarta State University (UNJ), Tilaar, now 80 years old, shows no sign of giving up in his efforts to offer enlightenment to teachers and young people passionate about education.
His physical limitations due to old age do not dampen Tilaar’s spirit in supervising students and in presenting talks on educational issues to teachers.
Amid concerns about the incipient disunity sparked by religion, race and ethnicity, which has the potential to tear the country apart, Tilaar has a visionary and farsighted outlook, which is unheeded by the government: he stresses the importance of building character through education.
“To unite all the people in this country, who have diverse beliefs and cultures, and to safeguard them against disunity, we cannot rely on law enforcers or the armed forces, as their numbers are very limited. Thus, the ones we have to count on are the teachers, whose presence can be seen everywhere. It is teachers who ultimately can build the nation’s moral and spiritual development in order to safeguard young people from the looming threat of radicalism and other destructive ideologies”, he said.