Scholars say a safe ecosystem for personal development has helped reduce student hazing in countries like Australia and Finland. Shutterstock

Indonesia can end degrading initiation rituals by making education less militaristic

Scholars say semi-militaristic discipline techniques, and competition-based learning at schools and universities, are behind recent student hazings in Indonesia. To end them, they propose shifting the focus of the education system to one of human development.

Hazing refers to iniation ceremonies that are often degrading and involve students being abused, harassed and intimidated.

Last month, videos showing freshmen in Universitas Khairun, North Maluku being humiliated, went viral on social media.

The videos show more senior students harassing first year students as the latter crawl up university stairs. The video also shows freshmen drinking from a cup and circulating the cup after spitting into it.

Earlier in July, a student died during an orientation event at a high school in Palembang, South Sumatra.

Indonesia’s Minister for Research, Technology, and Higher Education has called for university administrators to do a better job in stopping degrading hazing practices by disciplining students and enforcing university regulations.

But Novi Poespita Candra, an educational psychology lecturer at Universitas Gadjah Mada, argues banning hazing is not enough.

She says harsh disciplinary approaches to teaching, along with other traditional education practices such as standardisation, contribute to hazing mentality in students.

She proposes reforming the way we design our educational institutions.

“Every educational institution must transform from just a hub for knowledge transfer and academic measurement, to being a place for developing human-centred qualities,” she said.

“This will help create positive spaces where individuals can feel appreciated without having to show off their power to other students”.


Read more: Scholars: Indonesia needs to accommodate students' passion and protect their freedom


It starts from schools

Novi said psychology research from the US detailed several layers that affect phases of student development, which lead to hazing practices. One of the most important is the students’ school environment.

“These layers of personal history start in the family, where Asian parents have a tendency to dominate their child. The next layer is the school environment, which in our case sometimes systematically orders students to behave a certain way through abuse of power,” Novi said.

Novi argues that in Indonesian schools this “abuse of power” can be seen in the strict attempts to discipline students.

“In educational psychology, we believe changes in attitude are done through behavioural approaches, such as rewards and punishment. In this case, fear is established,” she said.

“Students march in lines to enter classrooms, sanctions are given for the slightest mistakes, and so on. This is a semi-militaristic model stemming from that behavioural approach.”

“Because there is no space for social-emotional learning and empathy, students cannot identify better ways to embrace new people entering their circle.”

“They end up being forced to maintain group hierarchy and continue the circle of power abuse.”

In recent months, the Indonesian government announced plans to strengthen “character-building programs” through collaboration with the military.

Research from Rhodes University on hazing behaviours in South African universities supports Novi’s arguments.

It argues universities play a role in allowing certain hazing traditions to flourish by ignoring “imbalanced power relations” between seniors and juniors.

A human-centered education system

To break free from Indonesia’s problematic culture, Novi suggests the government learn from countries with robust human-centred curricula.

“Education systems such as those in Australia and Finland have applied humanistic approaches. They provide space and freedom for every student to understand themselves and embrace others,” she said.


Read more: Movement looks to emulate Australia's fun schools in Indonesia


Academic studies as well as a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) support her suggestions.

They show Finnish schools teaching multiculturalism and empathy to children from an early age. The schools also provide anti-bullying programs and are at the forefront when it comes to responding to the psychological needs of students.

These approaches have have led to a significant drop in bullying and harassment among Finnish students.

“If we can’t enact a revised curriculum yet, the creation of a safe ecosystem for students is the key in pushing for this paradigm,” Novi said.

Transforming the role of seniors

Novi said this approach has helped the countries mentioned above to reduce hazing in universities.

She highlights orientation events hosted by students there and notes how campuses celebrate new students as they arrive, treating them like family. Campuses also empower seniors to become personal mentors for new peers.

At some universities, seniors provide materials on sexual assault prevention and racial diversity at orientation events.


Read more: Hazing and sexual violence in Australian universities: we need to address men's cultures


Syaikhu Usman, a senior researcher and sociologist at the SMERU Research Institute, agrees with Novi. He urges Indonesian universities to encourage seniors to become better role models for incoming students.

“This must be a chance for seniors to showcase their character, knowledge, and social skills to serve and empower new students,” he said.