The government is rolling out a new program starting in the 2015 academic year that places heavy emphasis on nurturing students' characters outside normal study.
Culture and Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Anies Baswedan said that the program, which will start this Monday, was mandatory for all private schools, public schools and vocational schools in the country, citing an absence of character-building in schools.
"This is important because we believe that character development has to be the main goal of education," he said during the launch of the program at his office in Jakarta on Friday. "We found one school that had not conducted a flag ceremony for four years."
Under the new program, which is stipulated in Ministerial Regulation No. 23/2015, students will have to read books that are not textbooks for 15 minutes before their classes start. Principals will have the authority to decide what books to provide to their students.
"We don't control in detail [what books] but we do stipulate that they have to be appropriate and suitable for kids, not something they won't like," Anies said.
Students will also be required to sing a nationalistic song, either an old song like "Indonesia Raya" or a contemporary song like "Bendera" (Flag) by rock band Cokelat, before they begin studying.
Students will then have to sing a traditional song before they go home.
The feasibility of the new policy has, however, been questioned by teachers, including those who attended the launching of the program, who said that it would exhaust students who already had to go through a grueling eight hours of school every day.
"For example, it says that students have to read for 15 minutes, but I'm sure it will take more time when preparation is taken into account. That means that students will go home later," Federation of Indonesian Teachers Associations (FSGI) secretary-general Retno Listyarti told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
She also lambasted the obligation to conduct flag ceremonies every Monday, which she said would demotivate students.
"If it is conducted every week then students will be fed up. It would be better for the flag ceremony to be held in the first and third weeks [of the month], while the reading time could fill the slot of the flag ceremony in the second and fourth weeks," Retno said.
Rotating the schedule between the flag ceremony and reading time, she said, would make it easier for the government to monitor the program.
"Given the program has just started, it's better not to force [students to read] every day. It's useless if the government launches a program but the implementation is lacking. Anies, it seems, likes to launch programs, but implementation then stagnates," said Retno, blaming a lack of technical preparation.
"For example, is there any data that shows how many schools have failed to conduct the [flag] ceremony? A program has to be backed by data so that the direction is clear," she said.
She also questioned the mechanism used to measure the results of the program.
Anies said that the program would be monitored by education agencies throughout the country and that the results could be monitored by factors such as library use, with increased use signalling the program's success.
Despite her criticism, Retno acknowledged that character-building was necessary to build tolerance in the country.
"Indonesia has a problem with its diversity at the moment, so it's good that character-building is to be emphasized. We don't want students just to read the Koran every day, as is currently the case in many schools [...] character-building is supposed to focus on diversity and nationalism, not on the majority religion," she said.