Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

Indonesia has recently pilot tested a new curriculum in over 6,000 schools which instantly drew controversy after it removed science, English, social sciences, and information technology (IT) as separate subjects in favor of Bahasa Indonesia, nationalism and religious studies.

The reduction of subject load is meant to give students more time to attend other educational activities. At the primary level, subjects were reduced from eleven to six. Meanwhile, junior high school students are now only taking ten courses instead of twelve.

It’s quite puzzling why Indonesia would de-prioritize science and IT at a time when it is aiming to improve the skills of its young workforce to sustain its modernizing economy. There is probably wisdom in having fewer subjects – this could enhance the learning experience of students. But to drop science from the curriculum at the primary level seems unwise.

Instead of receiving more science education, Indonesian students were given two additional hours of religious studies courses. Indonesia’s Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh said that this is intended to fight terrorism.

“Terrorism is not triggered by long hours of lessons on religion,” he argued. “The growing acts of terrorism were basically due to incomplete religious education. Therefore, we need to add more hours for religious subjects.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hoped that the “tolerance-centered curriculum” would eliminate violence in schools. In other words, the new curriculum was conceptualized to instill the right attitude among the youth of Indonesia. It partially explains why at the senior high school level, students are now required to join the national scouting organization as an extracurricular activity.

Indeed, education is the proper defense against extremism. But rather than increase religious classes Indonesia would be wise to endorse a more secular form of education. Besides, there are other models to promote morality besides teaching more religious lessons to the youth.

There are other areas of education reform where Indonesia is on the right track. The new curriculum also includes new teaching methods and adopts the pedagogic framework of “integrated thematic concept,” through which a number of broad areas of knowledge are explored and integrated through a particular common theme.

Implementing this method of instruction in the classroom could tremendously boost the learning interactions between teachers and students. Unfortunately, the government hastily enforced these teaching innovations without giving adequate time for teacher training and textbook distribution. Naturally, it resulted in chaos and confusion in many schools across the country.

It’s not surprising that opposition is mounting against the new curriculum. Perhaps to appease critics, the government vowed to hold a “Curriculum Census” next month to assess the impact of the reforms. It also assured the public that more funds will be allotted for training teachers in preparation for the nationwide implementation of the new curriculum in 2015.

Indonesian teachers at the frontlines of the education sector should seize this opportunity to ask the government to seriously review the reforms; and in particular, demand that science should be restored as a priority subject.

They should also remind policymakers to be more careful in introducing education reforms given that the nation’s future is at stake. A detrimental reform, however minor, can permanently damage the innocent minds of millions of children. The impact of dropping science in favor of religion will be difficult to reverse.

Filipinos Say No to Pork in March Against Corruption

Written for The Diplomat

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos gathered in Manila last Monday, August 26 to denounce the rampant corruption in the government. Thousands more voiced their outrage in public parks across the country and in many parts of the world. Interestingly, the Internet played a major role in coordinating the protests and it was netizens, and not the political opposition, who called for a public protest against corruption.

Protesters were demanding the scrapping of the pork barrel in the budgeting process after a whistleblower revealed that many politicians have been diverting their allotted funds to fake organizations, family-owned foundations, and ghost projects. Under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), members of the House of Representatives are allotted 70 million pesos every year while Senators are given 200 million pesos. Public outrage soared in recent weeks, forcing President Benigno Aquino III to declare last week that he intends to abolish the PDAF, more popularly known as the pork barrel.

But in the same speech, Aquino hinted that the pork barrel might be revived when he said that his administration “will create a new mechanism to address the needs of your constituents and sectors, in a manner that is transparent, methodical, and rational, and not susceptible to abuse or corruption.”

Critics accused Aquino of misleading the public and demanded the total abolition of the pork barrel system instead of merely reforming it or assigning it a new name. They also called for the removal of the president’s discretionary funds which have already amounted to one trillion pesos, according to a former head of the national treasury Leonor Briones.

The rise of the anti-pork movement exposed the inadequate and weak initiatives of the Aquino government to combat the pervasive corruption in the country. Aquino won in 2010 on a platform of good governance and transparency. He also successfully pushed for the impeachment of the Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona last year whom he accused of protecting former President Gloria Arroyo who is facing a plunder case and is under hospital arrest.

The pork barrel scam led many Filipinos to question the sincerity of Aquino’s anti-corruption crusade and rhetoric since it took the president more than three years before he announced a major review of the controversial program. He has also been quiet on the pork barrel abuses committed during his term. Further, he refused to do away with his “presidential pork” or even slash it to increase the funds for basic social services such as education, health, and housing.

It is hoped that the huge turn-out in last Monday’s protests will lead to the eventual overhaul of the country’s budgeting process. It is significant to note that at least 15 of 24 senators have already agreed to scrap the pork barrel.

The campaign should target other aspects of public finance where accountability is minimal or nonexistent. Vigilance is also essential to ensure that budget reforms are not merely palliative and that those who stole money or abused their power are appropriately punished.

Corruption cannot be removed without slaying the politics of patronage that fuels it and undermines democracy. The anti-pork campaign is a potentially radical political movement that could spark grassroots activism and invigorate other social forces needed to mount a broader and stronger challenge to the politics of corruption in the country.

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