Friday, April 1, 2011

Crafting a New Democracy: Civic education in Indonesian Islamic universities

Jackson, Elisabeth. 2007. "Crafting a New Democracy: Civic education in Indonesian Islamic universities". Asia Pacific Journal of Education. 27 (1): 41-54.

Author: Elisabeth Jacksona
DOI: 10.1080/02188790601142892
Affiliation: a The Asia Foundation, Jakarta, Indonesia


Indonesia's post-1998 transition to democracy has presented Muslim educators with the opportunity to take part in shaping the future of Indonesian democracy in ways that are consistent with Muslim social, political, and educational aspirations. One of the key vehicles for doing so is civic education. For Muslim educators in the Islamic higher education sector, the challenge has been to develop a civic education curriculum which can educate the young generation about democratic citizenship while incorporating the values and perspectives of Islam on civil society, democracy, and human rights. This paper examines civic education initiatives in two Islamic university systems, suggesting that the development of the new curriculum reveals clear differences in perceptions about civil society and the state within the institutions which make up these two systems. This is reflected by the extent to which Islamic concepts of the state and citizenship are integrated with Western thought and practice on civil society and democratic pluralism in the civic education curriculum and in teaching practice. The success of the Indonesian experience, the paper concludes, provides an example of how Western and Islamic concepts and values can be successfully combined in the teaching of civic education.

This paper has provided an account of the development of a new civic education curriculum in Muslim institutions of higher education in the context of Indonesia's post-1998 transition to democracy. Within the plural environment of Indonesian Islam, the integration of Islamic concepts of citizenship with Western notions of democracy within this new civic education curriculum has not given rise to significant conflict among Muslim educators. Rather, with few exceptions, the curriculum has been welcomed by university administrators, teaching staff, and students alike. The introduction of participatory and student-centred teaching methodologies—a significant departure from the teacher-centred teaching methodologies which prevail in Indonesia's rural Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) and which characterised the teaching of civic education from the 1970s onwards—has also been received positively by both students and teaching staff.
What lessons can this experience offer for the development of civic education in other Muslim-majority nations? Firstly, the approach taken in the development of both civic education programs—whether in the texts produced for students or in actual classroom teaching—was an integrated one, in which principles of democracy, human rights, and civil society were represented as fundamentally compatible with the values of Islam. Secondly, the process of developing the new curriculum was itself a democratic one, in which all relevant stakeholders—university leaders, lecturers, and students—were actively involved at all stages. This approach helped to identify practical obstacles to the implementation of the curriculum as well as areas of conflict over curriculum content and approach early in the process.
Indonesia's experience of civic education curriculum innovation took place in an environment of increasing decentralisation and devolution of educational authority that was an integral part of the post-1998 transition to a more open and democratic political culture. This provided Indonesian Islamic higher education institutions with the autonomy to determine curriculum content. However, the implementation of the new curriculum in both the state Islamic university system and the Muhammadiyah university system, and its application in all institutions within these two systems, was a relatively centralised process, in which curriculum development took place and key decisions were made by two of the most influential universities within these university systems. The decentralisation of authority for education is not unproblematic. In some regions of Indonesia, decentralisation has enabled local conservatives to seek to limit public freedoms. Such efforts have important implications for educational independence, including freedom from political intervention in determining curricula. These developments underline the importance of a robust civic education curriculum in Islamic universities, which will produce citizens who are able to articulate their rights and interests and openly express their concerns regarding political freedoms.

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