Three students flunk school because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses
The trio’s parents say that their children have had to endure a climate of discrimination and marginalisation at the SD Negeri 051 elementary school in Tarakan, North Kalimantan. The school, which claims that the students flunk because the refused to salute the flag and sing the national anthem, is offering the students an alternative path to complete their primary education.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Three students flunk school three years in a row, not because they were unprepared, but only because they were Jehovah's Witnesses.
The three brothers attend the SD Negeri 051 elementary school in Tarakan, North Kalimantan province.
According to their parents, they are victims of a climate of “discrimination and marginalisation”, which led to them not getting a pass.
The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI[*]), which is monitoring the case, concluded that the three children lost much of the school year “for the sole reason that they do not belong to the country’s majority religion.”
To protect their identity, the three are known only by their initials. M is 14 years old and is in 5th grade, Y is 13 and in 4th grade, YT is in 2nd grade.
The first of the three brothers has to repeat a year to complete elementary school; the second has two years and the third has four years of primary education ahead of him.
Since the 2018-2019 school year, the three brothers have been stuck at the same academic level because they are Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination banned by the Indonesian authorities in 1976 for holding radical ideas that do not align with other Christian groups and movements present in the country.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, among other things, have been accused of refusing to salute the national flag, this despite the fact that this is not longer required since in 2001.
Some 28,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses live in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
The trio’s parents have asked the school to allow their children to attend Christianity classes, but the principal's office rejected the request, saying that their faith is "incompatible" with the school’s beliefs.
According to the Protection Commission, the school violated the three children’s rights. A court overruled the school’s decision to flunk the children, reiterating their right to an education and freedom of religious belief.
However, the school found other ways to penalise the children, such as giving them low marks in other subjects.
The newly-appointed principal, Hasto Budi Santoso, defended the school’s action, rejecting the accusations of discrimination; instead, he claimed that the three students did not get a passing grade because they refused to salute the flag and sing the national anthem, “Indonesia Raya".
As a better alternative, he suggested that the three enrol in a Community Learning Activity Centre (PKBM[†]), which still comes under the Education Ministry. At the same time, the school will help the older brothers prepare their secondary school entrance exams scheduled for June 2022.
[*] Komisi Perlindungan Anak Indonesia.
[†] Pusat Kegiatan Belajar Masyarakat.