The Rights of Religious Education for Minority Students

16 October 2023

Written by Athanasia Safitri

Addressing the need for victims of extended conflict and the tsunami in Aceh, public donations have been raised since December 2004 of which one was from the Media Group. This media network supported the establishment of Sukma Bangsa School (SBS)[1] in response to providing educational rehabilitation for the children affected by the conflict and the disaster. After their first phase of completing the distribution of emergency goods, the second phase involved building schools in three cities in Aceh: Pidie, Bireuen, and Lhokseumawe.

The Director of Advocacy and Community Empowerment of the Sukma Foundation, Dody Wibowo, is a peace education specialist with experience in Aceh and also a lecturer at the Master’s Program in Peace and Conflict Resolution of UGM. He gave a talk on Wednesday Forum on September 20, 2023, about the religious education rights for minority students, taking the study case from SBS in Pidie, Bireuen, and Lhokseumawe. Although a majority of the population in Aceh and SBS students are Muslim, these three schools make every effort to ensure the Regulation no. 16 of 2010 by the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs is fulfilled. The regulation requires that every educational institution provide religious education, and that each student is entitled to receive education in accordance with their faith, taught by educators of the same religion. 

The Case of Sukma Bangsa Schools

The vision of SBS is to create a positive and sustainable educational environment for citizens to improve the quality of citizens’ academic abilities, skills and character. Without discriminating against young people who embrace a different belief than Islam in Aceh, SBS together with the foundation and the people working there act together to ensure all students receive proper religious education. Less than 0.25 % of the total number of SBS students in Pidie and Lhokseumawe in Aceh are non-Muslim. Non-Muslim students include Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, and Hindus.

Wibowo explained that Pidie SBS has three Buddhist elementary students. Since there is no Buddhist teacher or community in Pidie, these students join Islamic teaching sessions with the permission of parents, with material that focuses more on the values shared by all religions, such as morality and kindness. The teacher invites them to share their religious experience in the class and gives them different assignments which are suitable for them. The school also actively coordinates with the parents of non-Muslim students about the religious education needs.

In Bireuen and Lhokseumawe, there are adequate religious minority communities, so there is no specific method of religious education for non-Muslim students. The school provides a religious figure from the respective religious community to give them religious teachings, such as a Buddhist leader or a church representative. Wibowo states that in the last two to three years, there have been alternative activities for non-Muslim students during Qur’an reading sessions and Ramadan. These experiences take place since the basic principle of SBS is nationalism and there is a need to cultivate religious respect and harmony. The practice of religious education for minority students is still minimal, but SBS schools and teachers have worked hard to lower the gap by conducting several programs to support the fulfillment of religious education for all.

The Reality for Minority Students in General

It is common in Indonesia for non-Muslim students who go to government schools to receive their religious education in quite varied methods. Often, non-Muslim students have to move to the library during religious education because many schools do not provide a special room for non-Muslim students. In addition, there are also Protestant and Catholic students who are taught by the same teacher, due to the limited number of religious education teachers. Sometimes students are left unattended in a room when their religious education teacher is absent that day. This demonstrates the inequality experienced by students of religious minorities in Indonesia related to religious education, especially those who attend government schools.

While religious education is compulsory, and the Indonesian government highly promotes religious tolerance and harmony in the education institutions, the practice is still far from ideal. Even for some Muslim students, religious education can be a challenge too when it collides with what their family believes. So far, the Muslim religious education offered in Indonesian public schools is based on Sunni teachings thus Muslim minorities may face the same problems as non-Muslim students in terms of religious education. Projects and training on the importance of religious education and its implementation for all students must be conducted with the participation of not only the government and education institutions but also the community to ensure that equality among all young believers is achieved.  


[1] Sukma Bangsa School is fully managed and controlled by Sukma Foundation. Students of Sukma Bangsa School for 2006 – 2012 academic years are free from any charges and get the full scholarship for completing their education in Sukma Bangsa School. There are 14.580 students who get the full scholarship until 2023 (the last graduation year of full scholarship students)