A Particular Kind of Education

What is the purpose of education? Is it to push students to know as much about the world as they possibly can? Is it for them to build upon the discoveries unearthed by our predecessors? Or is it primarily concerned with urging the best and brightest to dig up brand new revelations by themselves? All of these guesses are quite accurate, as they cover partial aspects for why education is a necessity for each and every member of humanity. But they are, in my personal opinion, not the primary motivation for why we learn. The attribute I’m alluding to, is most commonly known as ‘curiosity’.

A desire which conjures up an obsession with finding out as much as we can about the world around us, by whatever means available. It may not strictly be directed at the natural or social sciences, but it is unquestionable that all of us have at one point in our lives, desperately wanted to know about something. Regardless of our personal motivations, our penchant for learning has granted us the capacity to develop as individuals and as a species. Our brains have collectively given us abilities far beyond those bestowed by claws, fangs, tentacles, et cetera. It is rather puzzling then, to witness certain institutions actively strive to hamper what is arguably the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. I am of course referring to education systems.

Educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities supposedly have the goal of encouraging their pupils to learn. In the sense of broadening the interests of students, assisting them in their quest to understand, to discover, and find joy in sating their curiosity. Yet in most cases, at least in Indonesia, this is not what happens by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead of hypothesizing, experimenting, or even simply observing, Indonesian students are implored to memorize and obey authorities without question. And startlingly, at least for myself, there is a political motivation behind the two teaching practices, one I will discuss later in the text.

But first, I ask you dear reader, to imagine a group of pupils that are currently in a biology classroom. Do they discuss theories or perform experiments—ones that aren’t directed step by step by the teacher? Nope. What is likely to happen is a bunch of students sitting silently at their desks jotting down notes, while the educator preaches of material treated as dogma. If one of these learners muster up the courage to trigger a debate about the accuracy of the subject at hand, he would in all likelihood be treated as nuisance to the class, both by his peers and mentor. An implication that the students should all simply memorize the topics presented instead of questioning them, should they wish to get a passing grade. This scenario may sound plausible on the middle-school or even high-school levels, but sadly its plausibility reaches beyond those early stages of education. Instances akin to this hypothetical scene also plays out in universities.

In well-respected Indonesian universities, the likes of the University of Indonesia for instance, certain lecturers are equally intolerant of student behavior that deviates from the pre-planned curriculum. I learned from a source that in a Philosophy of Politics class, none of the pupils are allowed to question the information presented to them. In a philosophy class! A subject birthed by questions, critiques, and debates! I find it difficult to conjure up a more explicit exhibit of how overvalued memorization is, and how insignificant actual learning is perceived by Indonesia’s education system. A problem which, surprisingly, segues into the issue of obedience without question.

The social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky made a noteworthy statement regarding education systems,

“…let’s have a mass education system, but of a particular kind, one that inculcates obedience, subordination, acceptance of authority, acceptance of doctrine. One that doesn’t raise too many questions.”

What Chomsky meant is that quintessentially, education systems have a purpose outside of teaching. We have seen so far that arguing with established curriculum is a pointless exercise that is often treated with hostility. It would be reasonable to make an assumption that the rigidity of educational institutions stems from laziness, conservatism, or other equally feasible reasons. But what Chomsky proposes is that behind the inflexible characteristic of academies, lies a political motive.

Let us turn back to the remark, “[An education system] that doesn’t raise too many questions.” Why build an establishment which actively discourages inquiries, especially when the establishment should be encouraging students to inquire. It’s a method that is both ironic and convoluted. However, that is not to say that the technique is pointless and ineffective.

Why are students dissuaded from putting forward questions? The answer involves the concept of indoctrination; inducing peoples’ inquisitiveness into a state of unconsciousness, by providing them with information that cannot and must never be disputed. This intellectual comatose is instilled early on through Indonesia’s education system, by way of forbidding students from challenging the information forcibly embedded into their minds.

The process takes many years, and could potentially never end, but the student then increasingly becomes more and more obedient. They would rather not elicit a debate for fear of chastisement either from their equals or superiors. Answers to questions are chosen not for their accuracy, but because others—especially authority figures—decided that the answers are correct, despite arguments to the contrary. The effect of the Indonesian education system is essentially the transforming and conditioning of students into becoming gullible pawns. Through the lens of realist politics, a voter-base consisting of the unquestioning and the compliant, is a goldmine for securing power.

When the majority of a population accepts the decisions of the ruling class, then they have turned into nothing more than servants of the powerful. Repressing peoples’ urges to call into question the actions of a society’s elites equates to allowing them to conduct themselves in whatever way they see fit. Even if their behavior actively harms the interests of the many and benefit only their coterie. The government is then run not by the people for the people, but by the powerful and for the powerful. This state of affairs is a standard in Indonesia.

The Indonesian people must take action to reform the current education system. Not only due to its failure in evoking the curiosity of students, but primarily because of how it is used for engendering compliance with the status quo, and misplaced trust in the words of the unethical yet powerful.

A nation must not be run by those who seek only to satisfy their own cravings. As such a nation would amount to a playground for those who managed to come into power. While those who are less fortunate, would be forced to stay at the peripheries, with their needs largely ignored. In spite of how the weak are mistreated, they are still content to remain at the beck and call of the elites. How could they not? They have, since their childhoods after all, been taught that to obey is good and to disobey is bad. Thus, the necessity to rebuild Indonesia’s education system.

A Safe Internet for Whom, Exactly?

Relatively recently, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information launched a program with the aim of sieving the Indonesian web of ‘inappropriate’ content. Dubbed as “Clean and Safe Internet,” (abbreviated as INSAN) the series of measures aim to cleanse the net of unpleasantries the likes of gambling, fraud, cyber-bullying, libel, and—as is the trend in Indonesia—pornography. The ministry’s stated purpose for devising such a program is “To prevent crimes from occurring in the digital realm…alongside the unwanted effects the [crimes and negativities] could bring to the real world.”

While a program designed to protect innocents from abuses originating from the internet is all well and good, there is a particularly glaring issue with how INSAN is implemented. The problem being that any site suspected of spreading content deemed as unseemly is liable to be banished from the Indonesian web—even if the website itself doesn’t actually devote itself to carrying out, or hosting any of the trespasses INSAN seeks to eradicate.

Some websites allow their users to host whatever content they so please. Meaning that the responsibility for offensive actions should mostly lie at the hands of the users themselves, not the site. Yet Indonesia’s government does not see matters that way, either through ignorance or an outright refusal to do so. Thus should a website be suspected of spreading pornography, for instance, it could end up as one of the many sites banned from the Indonesian net.

The distinction between whether the websites or users should be held accountable is rather significant. As basically users are inviting the government to ban websites, whatever the actual purpose of the site might be. In other words, sending an invitation for broad censorship targeted at websites that have purposes that are in no way disobeying the laws set by the Ministry of Communication and Information.

Let us take a gander at one highly popular website on the internet, Reddit.com. The 24th most visited site according to the internet-analytics company, Alexa. Reddit is quintessentially a news-aggregator, whose content is conjured up almost entirely by its user-base. Hence the plethora of topics available are predictably quite diverse.

On Reddit, one could find himself lost in a myriad of content. It has sections dedicated to subjects covering politics, global news, religion, pictures, jokes, and countless more. On the majority of these divisions, users can post their opinions, ideas, and whatever else as long as it is related to the topic(s) at hand, eliciting vast amounts of interactions and discussions.

I frequently visit Reddit’s politics and news segments, mainly to gather information but to also observe—and sometimes join in—the conversations taking place. And I must say that the experience is rather fascinating, as Reddit serves essentially as a forum accessible to anyone with an internet connection, who wish to discuss any issue of import to them or simply watch. It is an invaluable tool, for me personally, as a monitor on current events and on the shifting moods of the global population.

Despite Reddit’s usefulness as a source of information and a global forum, it seems that the Indonesian government has a different perception of it. Since it holds a place on Indonesia’s catalog of blacklisted websites. The reasoning behind this ban, I suspect, is because of how a minority of Reddit’s users and divisions post and host pornographic content; a big no-no for the Ministry of Communication and Information, and a great excuse for evicting Reddit from the Indonesian web.

What the Indonesian government fundamentally does is proclaiming to the denizens of the internet—both hosts of websites and ordinary users—that it has umbrella terms it is not shy of using. Ones that allow it to outlaw websites without legitimate reasons. The excuses of pornography and all the rest essentially have the effect of permitting the governing body to erect blockades against whatever site it so desires, so long as it either purposefully or accidentally violates INSAN’s rules and regulations.

INSAN has granted the Indonesian government the capacity to control the kind of information its populace are permitted to access. Quite the danger to anyone who wishes to exercise the right to free speech. As for now, although it seems that the government is content with concentrating its efforts on sites containing pornographic material, that contentedness could soon fade. We must remember another misdeed targeted by INSAN: libel. If we check the records concerning Indonesia’s defamation cases, they reflect an unpleasant image.

Cracking jokes about a celebrity, mocking a CEO, criticizing government officials, are all fertile grounds for libel charges. Regardless of whether the verbal attacks are accurate or false, as showcased by the many Indonesian reporters, bloggers, activists that have been jailed for allegedly spouting slander—a topic that will be covered on another article.

Now let us consider the scenario of websites jeopardizing the supposedly spotless reputations of powerful peoples. These sites would likely fall to the same fate as any other Indonesian critic accused of libel. They would be muted, but not by means of imprisonment. Instead the muting would be done via the regulations supplied by INSAN, that allow for the government to shut down access to these presumably criminal websites.

INSAN is a program built not for the protection of Indonesians. In its current form it is nothing more than a censorship tool disguised under the mask of moral imperatives. INSAN’s goal is not to ensure the safety of internet users, rather to manipulate them by keeping in check what the Indonesian people can and cannot see; a tool for the government to enlarge the amount of power they already hold over public opinions. INSAN must be put to a stop, before its venture turns from just impeding the spread of pornography, but also to that of other realms: beneficial information, meaningful public discourse, criticism of government policies and officials, so on and so forth. It is of utmost urgency, for those who see themselves as champions of free speech to demolish the very concept of INSAN.