The Foolish Tradition of Indonesia’s Academia

Perhaps it is no odd thing to have certain oddities plague one’s country. Especially since said nation has only held independence for not even a century. Yet when one encounters anomalies by civilized or educated standards—the likes of human sacrifice, supposed augurs, et cetera—one certainly would expect that the more enlightened of the populace would abhor such practices and ideas. In some cases, that is true, yet a particular tradition has risen from the allegedly clever minds of Indonesia’s former ministers of education. Why I bother to speak of this abnormality is not for the sake of killing time alone, rather my reasoning lies in showcasing the utter uselessness of injuries, psychological scars, and even deaths that have been both directly and indirectly caused by this academic custom. Of course, with the aim of preventing suchlike atrocities in the coming future.

The tradition is called ospek in Indonesia. Conceptually, it was designed similar to the student orientation days of other schools, specifically from those of developed countries. The same goal lies at the core of it: ease the high-school pupils’ transition into becoming university freshmen. A noble purpose, as based on my personal experience; the sudden load of assignments, complex reading materials, exams that cannot be completed just by memorizing paragraphs of certain books were quite a shock. So how do the Indonesian academic institutions approach this issue? Is it by conjuring up mock-exams and practice essays? Perhaps by holding lectures right before the students begin their university days to display the challenges they would one day face? The answer is none of the above. Instead, the method employed is a mixture of absurdity and unadulterated stupidity.

Mildest of the methods is public humiliation. Each new university student is either verbally abused by seniors personally or in front of the former’s peers, whilst they could also suffer being forced to wear the most ridiculous outfits in public places all the while subjugating themselves to the whims of the elder pupils. Then there are the countless petty tasks the likes of constructing notebooks by cutting up pieces of paper, manually drawing the lines on the minimized pieces and filling them in with whatever useless detail the seniors could come up with. Predictably, no matter how perfectly the juniors have worked on these chores there will always be a mistake, and thus they must be punished. And here we come upon the severe aspects of ospek. To be perfectly clear, I did not exaggerate when I said there have been deaths because of ospek.

The infamy of deaths caused by ospek in Indonesia has led to one famous and highbrow university having a positive reputation for “never having any deaths during their ospek periods.” One must certainly wonder how bad the situation must be, when a claim to fame for a school is that when you study there, you have a higher-likelihood of staying alive. Meanwhile in other places, students are struck by frankly barbarous treatment. I’ve heard from alumni, read articles on newspapers, seen coverages on television, where students were forced to undergo physical “exercises” and punihments that led to deaths of exhaustion, dehydration, heart failure, and so on. The living ones experience agonies such as having melted wax fall and burn on their flesh, beatings, and—if rumors prove true, as they at times do hold some grains of truth—sexual harassment.

What I should mention at this point is that more often than not, both the lecturers and the board of directors of universities either turn a blind eye or have minimal control over the actions of their senior pupils. Why this is so, I have no idea. Though one would be wise to suspect that the seniors likely coerce the juniors to keep their mouths shut year after year. However, it would  still be astoundingly naive to assume that the educators of Indonesia are completely unaware of the unsavory goings-on carried out in the name of their institutions. Perhaps some of them oddly see some merit in ospek, despite the irreversible deaths and traumas the tradition has birthed.

As I believe the reader could clearly see, I see no silver-linings in ospek. I despise it, wholeheartedly. It has failed to achieve its supposed goal and has transformed into nothing more than a tool for the cruel to use against those who have no way to defend themselves. Furthermore, without the guidance of those who actually have expertise in the field of education, what could one expect from seniors—speaking as one, myself—who are still relatively unstable, confused, and likely fail to comprehend the consequences of their actions until they have blood on their hands.

Ospek is a breeding ground for thugs in a place where merit should be accorded to civility, intelligence, moral virtue, so on and so forth. But not one’s capacity for violence nor one’s age, for such things should not even be considered as positive attributes in the realm of education, they are in fact, the exact opposite traits of those who seek enlightenment. Thus, why do the students of Indonesia—and remember that they haven’t even reached the end of their teenage years—have to endure this grotesque adaption of the ideals bannered by academic institutions? I, unfortunately, have not yet found a sensible answer.


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