This article focuses on the challenges of education equality in providing religious education for all religions (REFAL), especially in multireligious public schools in Indonesia. It aims to depict the meaning of tolerance as interreligious competence in a multireligious society to increase religious inherency. Moreover, it examines the tendency of tolerance to achieve REFAL in Indonesia by involving multireligious teachers and students as the target participants. Multireligious teachers and students are defined as the school members who belong to different religions in the target school. Furthermore, Indonesia is identified as the country with the largest Muslim population in the world (Juergensmeyer, 2009). The Muslim population represents 87.67% of the total population compared to the five other legal religions, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism (Akhsan and Syaputa, 2011). Indonesia is not a Muslim country, but neither is it a country of any other particular religion (Asrori, 2016). Legal religions are chosen based on the development history of religion in Indonesia, where Christianity and Catholicism are differentiated. In Indonesia, “Christianity” refers to Protestant Christianity, whereas “Catholicism” refers to Catholic Christianity (Ministry of Religious Affairs, 2010). All religions are protected based on Indonesian ideology.

The position of religious education itself is influenced by a country’s ideology, such as Indonesia, which is a unique case in terms of religious education in that it is neither a secular nor religious country (Davis and Miroshnikova, 2013; Nuryatno, 2014). In Indonesia, RE is part of the school curriculum and is implemented in public and private schools. RE content is adapted and provided based on the legal religions. Directing RE may involve tensions (such as equality) that affect cultural and personal development, especially in secular countries (Cush, 2014). In other words, whether RE is involved as a subject or a value must be considered. In Indonesia, religious subjects are compulsory at the elementary and secondary education levels. Multireligious education was implemented in the school system to address RE equality, as stated in the Indonesia Constitution no. 20/2003, the Act of Republic of Indonesia on National Educational System. It declares that ‘each student has a right to religious education based on their religion and to be taught by a teacher who has the same religion’ (Government of Republic of Indonesia, 2003). It is a way to reduce the tension among religions and ensure equal religious education. In the current educational curriculum of Indonesia, religious education and character education are integrated to shape the students’ character and develop their national attachment and identity based on their beliefs (Republic of Indonesia, 2007). Thus, the function of RE is to produce the appropriate character to maintain peace and interreligious relationships in society.

To examine the challenges involved in providing REFAL, this article investigates the most diverse area of Indonesia, Yogyakarta, and the least diverse area, Bangka Island. These locations were selected based on considerations of religious history, religious population diversity, and cultural diversity to examine the challenges to equality of RE in different contexts. It is interesting to explore how RE is delivered equally for every religion and taught by teachers belonging to the appropriate religions in public schools, where each school may include students of more than one religion. Thus, this research points out three main questions: (1) In a multireligious public school, is RE provided to all multireligious students? (2) Through the strategy of the RE delivery system, a) as a multireligious rural area, does Bangka Island meet the requirements of the equal delivery of RE for multireligious students in public schools? B) As the most diverse area, is Yogyakarta a good model of equally delivering religious education to all religious students for a less diverse area, such as Bangka Island? (3) What is the connection between interreligious competence, tolerance, and RE equality in raising religious inherency? Thus, through these questions, the researcher aimed to determine religious education equality issues and the interactions among multireligious students and teachers in formal schools.

Therefore, educational policy practices regarding REFAL should be implemented in each area based on the needs and demands of the students. The practice of RE equality is addressed to determine the actual conditions for the delivery of RE in multireligious public schools in these areas and identify the challenges to delivering RE for multireligious students. Additionally, providing RE based on the context of each area can increase religious tolerance among students (Raihani, 2014). Religious tolerance can be seen in how students respect other religions, whether minority or majority. In a multireligious society, tolerance may become the key to reducing religious tension or conflict as well as the knowledge and attitude in interreligious competence. Moreover, people’s tendency to be tolerant towards individuals may differ. There may be multiple reasons for this, but regardless of the reason, respect and acceptance of diversity can maintain the coexistence of a multireligious society. Therefore, in this research, readers can understand the tendency of tolerance as interreligious competence based on the Indonesian context. This attachment can be a part of the emergence of religious inherency from religious habits, cultures, and values. The idea of raising religious inherency towards a multireligious society through formal education may enact the concept of religious inherency formation. The term “inherency” may relate to the connection quality established in an individual from continual activity that makes them aware of, in this case, multireligious existence. As a result, in this study, reviving the educational policy practices of REFAL may focus not only on the educational equality of RE but also on developed humanity.

Review of the literature

Religious education equality

The beliefs attributed to each individual appear to be one of the fundamental rights of human beings. Kamruzzaman and Das (2016) mention five features included in human rights: inherent, not exchangeable, universal, equal, and feasible. Concerning religious plurality and diversity, education is needed to develop the concept of tolerance in society to understand and prevent misconceptions about religion (Teece, 2010). As stated by Bader and Maussen (2012), encouraging a pluralist school system based on religious beliefs is applicable to the idea of neutrality. A pluralist system in education maintains a certain equilibrium between religious freedom and a discrimination-free environment that supports citizenship education (Rougier and Honohan, 2015). The urgency of embedding RE in the education system is a concern in some countries and is adjusted based on the country’s ideology. In Australia, re-engaging youth in religious responses and their beliefs through faith education has become a religious matter (Engebretson, 2004). In addition, Australians place importance on religious literacy among the younger generation (Mason, 2004; McQuillan, 2006) and attempt to re-engage youth in the religious concept of God (Tacey, 2005) and implement the appropriate curriculum for RE (McQuillan, 2006). In addition, religious education in Australia focuses only on mono-religious education, specifically Christian religious education.

In 2008, Canada introduced the Québec Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program as the emergence of RE in the capital city, Québec (Franken, 2019). This program is obligatory in primary and secondary education. It is the result of a deconfessionalization process to engage the growth of multicultural and multireligious society and to avoid secularization in Québec (Estivalèzes, 2017). It aims to guarantee the practice of RE for all Québécois cultures and society. Estivalèzes (2017) adds that although multireligious education has spread in the capital city, in another part of Canada, Ontario, RE is provided to children from 4 to 18 years old. As Catholics dominate public schools, Catholic religious education is applied in formal education (Bayefsky and Waldman, 2007).

RE has also spread in countries in the Sub-Saharan African continent, such as Malawi and Ghana, where Christianity and Islam are the majority religions (Meyer, 2004). In the religious society of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa, religion significantly influences the way of life, such as how they perceive their problems and their culture (Matemba, 2011). Owing to the increasing number of religions in addition to Christianity, multifaith education was implemented in Malawi in 1998 for the primary level and in 2000 for the secondary level (Matemba, 2011), whereas Ghana started earlier, in 1994 (Meyer, 2004). The shifting of Christian religious education to multifaith education was influenced by the Christian block, which included the Muslim community in religious education (Matemba, 2009). However, multifaith education raises some issues, such as (a) teachers’ knowledge about multiple religions; (b) pedagogical skills for inclusive strategies; (c) preservice and in-service training for teachers; and (d) the need for specialist teachers for multifaith religious education. Moreover, as introduced in 1994, multifaith education in Ghana is obligatory at the primary and secondary levels (Matemba and Addai-Mununkum, 2019). It focuses on three religions: Islam, Christianity, and the African indigenous religion (AIR). The present issue concerns the phenomenon of the misrepresentation of RE in the classroom, where religion should be introduced to reduce the stereotype that one religion is superior to others (Gates, 2013).

Moreover, the case study conducted by Hayadin (2017) considers that RE has been provided for all religions according to each student’s religion in Indonesia. He sampled 12 public and private senior high schools, and the data sources included documents, observations, and interviews with informants such as school leaders, religious teachers, and students. In addition to the interviews, focus group discussions were held. The author also surveyed the service index of RE in Indonesia (Hayadin, 2018). This survey was conducted in 34 provincial capital cities of Indonesia with senior and vocational high schools selected through a random sampling technique. The data were collected by surveyors who were supervisors in each region by using a questionnaire; they first coached the researchers and then conducted spot checks. The results showed that the number of religious education services nationally included in the high category was 7.8 out of 10. The score was an aggregation of the availability of religious teachers, the availability of religious instruction, and the capacity of religious teachers to serve students in religious activities and learning in schools. These two studies mainly showed positive results for RE in Indonesia.

Many countries have attempted to implement multireligious education, although it is mostly still dominated by the religious majority. Some barriers have emerged following the implementation of multireligious education, such as in Malawi, where the main issues are teacher competency and pedagogical skills to address multifaith education. Compared to other countries, Indonesia has six legal religions and has made RE a compulsory subject in public school. Thus, as Indonesia is more multireligious, challenges may also appear in implementing REFAL. There are several gaps in previous research on the implementation of REFAL in Indonesia. Research primarily focuses on the higher secondary level. In addition, previous surveys were conducted in provincial capital cities. Thus, to bridge these gaps, this article examines primary and lower secondary levels. This study investigates urban or diverse areas and remote-rural or less diverse areas to obtain contextual findings on the implementation of RE in different settings.

Interreligious competence and religious inherency in a multireligious society

In a multireligious society, the interaction between religions determines certain issues, such as inequality issues, prejudice against one religion, and discrimination. Interreligious communication must be developed to raise recognition in multireligious societies, especially in Indonesia, which has six recognized legal religions. Interreligious communication can instruct the development of self-awareness towards a multireligious setting in society (Lindsay, 2020). Therefore, this awareness will lead to acceptance of the religious diversity in society. Furthermore, Morgan and Sandage (2016) describe the stages of denial, orientation, defense, reversal, recognition, adaptation, acceptance, and integration as the processes in the developmental framework of interreligious competence. This research attempts to show adaptation, acceptance, and integration, which are later referred to as interreligious competence, amid the challenges of achieving REFAL in Indonesia’s multireligious public schools.

Managing diversity is connected to tolerance and open-mindedness, which involves different perspectives among the majority and minority societies. Diversity tends to be framed in terms of certain group identities, including race, language, religion, and ethnicity (Blommaert and Verschueren, 2002). In society, group relations are interrelated with perceptions of tolerant minorities and majorities. As Scanlon (2003) states, tolerance must result in an indeterminate perspective that involves conceptual and political issues. The concept of tolerance is rarely identified by the limits of rights. Therefore, one may stand with one’s group and determine what is wrong and what one should do, which influences the political prominence of one’s group. Dijker and Koomen (2015) also identify three major social controls: repair, stigmatization, and tolerance. These three functions represent people’s attempt to adapt social conditions and social norms to maintain morality and social order. Thus, consciousness and awareness of the spirit of tolerance must involve the social system.

Misconceptions in determining the gaps in multiculturalism may lead to conflict and violence. Critical actions for enhancing a tolerant attitude involve accepting and respecting multiculturalism (Triandafyllidou, 2012). An ‘ideal concept’ of tolerance may be ambiguous. In the case of the religious freedom of a multicultural society, tolerance can be an inclusive action to recognize the right to believe in a religion. Moreover, a tolerant society is free from discrimination, which results from a feeling of dominant power (Adeney-Risakotta, 2014). Emphasizing RE may be one of the keys to enhancing the attitude of tolerance in multireligious countries such as Indonesia. Objectively establishing religious education for all religions is an effective way to alleviate the tension among religions (Evans, 2008). It is the instrument of peace and civic education, cross-cultural education, ethics, and education for tolerance (Darmody and Smyth, 2017).

Raising religious connectedness in students based on their beliefs shapes their religious attachment and is referred to as ‘religious inherency’. The idea of religious inherency is rarely mentioned in academic discussions. It is related to a particular linkage in an individual (Steffen, 2010). Ramcharan (2008) states that inherency may be related to the nature and nurture of common humanity. In other words, it contains unique internal energy that can activate consciousness in continuity (Steffen, 2011). Thus, we can briefly say that religious inherency is an individual’s strong feeling or connection towards religion. Therefore, it is not merely equal to religious identity. This article considers the concept of religious inherency and its manifestation in the small-scale community system of multireligious schools in Indonesia as a theoretical contribution to humanities and social science knowledge. Thus, the ultimate expectation of creating tolerance in a multireligious community and providing a peaceful environment for a multireligious society can be met.

Religious education for all religions in Indonesia

The development of RE in Indonesia began after the colonialization period. In 1946, the Department of Religious Affairs and the Department of Education and Culture had the idea to include RE only for grades 4 to 6 in ‘Sekolah Rakyat’ elementary school (Asrori, 2016). However, it could not be implemented effectively due to the country’s situation. It was then redesigned in a formal school in 1947. According to Asrori (2016), after the government was well established in 1950, both ministries issued a joint decree stating the following points: (a) religious subjects would be taught at the elementary level; (b) religious subjects would be taught twice a week at the secondary level; (c) at least 10 students in each class would be taught with their parents’ permission; and (d) the Department of Religious Affairs would undertake the main responsibility for religious subjects. Religious subjects mostly focused on Islamic religious education until National Educational System No. 2/1989 was published, which stated that RE must be delivered for all religions (Government of Republic of Indonesia, 1989).

According to Asrori (2016), during the New Order era (1967), RE became a compulsory subject in public school from the elementary to the university level a) to avoid the influence of communism on students and b) because of the significance of religion in national politics. This was a result of the decision in TAP MPRS (legislative decision) No. XXII/MPRS 1966. In brief, after the national curriculum was released in 1984, the government launched the National Education System, which stated that religious subjects must be taught in public and private schools based on the students’ religions. After the reformation era, to increase educational equality among religions in RE, the government launched the Indonesia Constitution No. 20/2003 as the Act of Republic of Indonesia on National Educational System. Then, Government Regulation No. 55/2007 was established as guidance for implementing religious subjects in schools (Republic of Indonesia, 2007). It was renewed in the Ministry of Religious Affairs Policy No. 16/2010 for religious education management guidance for schools (Ministry of Religious Affairs, 2010).

Like most countries, the educational system in Indonesia is divided into the elementary level, higher secondary level, and tertiary level. As shown in Fig. 1, schools in Indonesia are run by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC), Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA), and private institutions. MOEC focuses on both public and private schools, which are nonreligious (Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia, 2017). MORA focuses on religious schools, both private and public. In addition, MORA also has a monitoring function for pesantren (Islamic boarding schools). The curriculum is based on the national curriculum by MOEC and the religious education curriculum by MORA. Thus, the subject of religion became an obligatory subject in the national curricula Kurikulum Berbasis Kompetensi (KBK), ‘Competence-Based Curriculum’ (Karim, 2002); Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP), ‘Educational Unit Level Curriculum’ (Karsidi, 2006); and Kurikulum 2013, ‘Curriculum of 2013’ (Kementrian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan RI, 2013). In the current curriculum, religious subjects are taught four hours a week at the elementary level, three hours a week at the junior high-school level, and three hours a week at the senior high-school level. Learning material must be based on the Curriculum 2013 by MOEC and the Religious Education Curriculum by MORA.

Fig. 1: Indonesia educational system.
figure 1

Formal educational system of Indonesia concerning religious education. Source: author attributed (developed and adapted from statistical data of education of Indonesia 2017/2018) (Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia, 2017; Utami et al., 2021).

The importance of religious education in Indonesia

Geographically, Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in the world. More than 17,000 islands (Geospatial Information Agency of Indonesia, 2017) and approximately 633 ethnicities (Joko and Triwahyudi, 2017) exist in Indonesia. Indonesia has 725 languages, but only approximately 600 are currently spoken (Alcorn and Royo, 2000). In addition, based on Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution, Indonesia is not a secular or Islamic state (Künkler and Lerner, 2016), although it has the characteristics of a religious country (Masrukhin and Supaat, 2018). On the other hand, due to this diversity, Indonesia has ethnic conflict, religious conflict, and interclass and government conflict. The worst conflict in Indonesia was the Maluku War in 1999 between Muslims and Christians (Goss, 2016). This conflict lasted from 1999 to 2004 in Ambon, South Sulawesi, but it rapidly spread to other areas, such as Buru, Tanimbar, Aru, Kei, North Maluku, Poso, and even Lombok (Buchanan, 2011). During this conflict, approximately 5,000–9,000 people died, 300,000–700,000 people were homeless, and 29,000 mosques and churches were destroyed (Siddiq, 2005).

In the early formation of the Republic of Indonesia, after the colonialization period, RE was predominantly focused on Islamic religious education (Noor and Siregar, 2013). Therefore, to reduce the tension among religions and ensure equal religious education, multireligious education was implemented in the school system as stated in the Act of Republic of Indonesia on National Educational System of the Indonesia Constitution No. 20/2003. In a multireligious society, the importance of RE is to prevent religious conflict (Barnes, 2014). RE is considered an instrument of peace and civic education, cross-cultural education, ethics, and tolerance (Darmody and Smyth, 2017). Additionally, RE is intended to fulfill the human right to education and the right to believe in one religion (Engebretson et al., 2010).

As in the Educational Law of Indonesia (Republic of Indonesia, 2007), RE has a function ‘to develop the character, competence, and civilization to enlighten the way of their life. It is aimed to create a good human being to become creative, skillful, healthy, educated, independent, peaceful, democratic, and responsible citizens’. In addition, RE aims to build an understanding of one’s way of life to perceive language, habits, culture, etc., in diversity. By integrating character education and religious values in RE, the government expects that RE may build good character and emphasize the self-identity and national identity of students in accordance with their religions. The main purposes of religious education in Indonesia are to obtain religious knowledge about praying or worshiping one religion and to gain religious values that can be used in students’ lives. Reflecting on that purpose, the contents of religious subjects mainly focus on religious worship practices. The substance of religious subjects is derived from each religion’s Holy Book, which serves as a guide for students.

Methodology and case context

Providing REFAL is one of the strategies of Indonesia’s government to respect all religions in Indonesia. Providing RE according to each religion identically separates the religious school. As shown in Fig. 1, MORA and MOEC are involved in controlling RE. This study focused on public schools that were directly controlled by MOEC. Public schools under MOEC are nonreligious, but they also have more than one religious student in the school. Thus, this research investigated how RE is delivered to multireligious students. The purpose was to observe how the students interact in the context of diverse religions. This research utilized a case study approach to understand the delivery of equal religious education in each area. Interviews, focus group discussions, and observations were conducted to obtain data. To examine the unique case of providing REFAL in Indonesia, the researcher investigated two different areas selected using a top-down approach (see Fig. 2): Yogyakarta Province and Bangka Island. They were selected because of the considerations of religious history and religious and cultural diversity.

Fig. 2: Research sampling technique.
figure 2

Top-down reasons for the research sampling.

Elementary and junior high schools in these two areas were included in this research. The participants were principals, multireligious teachers, and multireligious students. In selecting the samples, purposeful random sampling was utilized in this research. In Yogyakarta, Sleman Regency was selected as the sample because it was considered the most diverse region based on the religious population in Yogyakarta (Ministry of Religious Affairs, 2016). Additionally, considering historical conditions, the complex religious history of the Sleman Regency might have an impact on current religious conditions. In the Bangka Islands, the Central Bangka Regency was selected as the sample because it is near the capital city, which was considered the area with the most growth and multiple religions. In Bangka, each village has one elementary school, and each subregency has a junior high school. To ensure multireligious public schools, the school sample was based on the schools’ locations in multiethnic villages. The case context of the research area is shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Case contexts of Yogyakarta and Bangka.

As the multireligious context is the focus of this article, twelve elementary and lower secondary public schools were taken as the research samples based on the existing religious diversity in the schools, with six schools from each area. The researcher classified demographic information according to the students’ religions based on the research sample schools (see Tables 2 and 3). The proportion of students’ religions from the total population of 2,071 students in Yogyakarta was as follows: approximately 94.10% of students were Muslim, 3.81% of students were Catholic, 1.93% of students were Christian, and 0.14% of students were Hindu. Thus, the largest number of students was Muslim, and the sample schools had only four major religions represented: Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, and Hinduism. The religious population in the Bangka sample schools, out of a total population of 1855 students, was as follows: 93.74% of students were Muslim; 2.10% of students were Buddhist; 1.40% of students were Catholic; 1.83% of students were Confucian; and 0.91% of students were Christian. Based on Figs. 3 and 4, comparable to Yogyakarta, the largest population in Bangka is also Muslim. However, in Bangka sample schools, the five religions were Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, and Christianity. Regarding the number of non-Muslim students, both areas had relatively the same number. On the other hand, there were more religions in Bangka schools than in Yogyakarta schools. Thus, as the most diverse area, Yogyakarta’s public schools were not more multireligious than Bangka’s schools, even though Bangka was considered a less diverse area.

Table 2 Demographic information of students’ religion on sample schools in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta.
Table 3 Demographic information of students’ religion on sample schools in Central Bangka regency, Bangka.
Fig. 3: Research population.
figure 3

Multireligious school samples in Yogyakarta.

Fig. 4: Research population.
figure 4

Multireligious school samples in Bangka.

From the research sample schools, thirty-eight participants were interviewed (see Table 4). They included ten principals, a vice-principal, eleven religious subject teachers, a classroom teacher, and fifteen students. The principals and vice-principal were interviewed to obtain information about the policy implementation related to religious education for all religions as determined by the national government. The teacher/religious subject teachers and students were interviewed to understand how religious education was delivered to all religions. In addition, observation and focus group discussions were also conducted to observe the interaction among the multireligious students. Subsequently, the author transcribed and translated the interview records to gain more understanding of the content of the interview. They were analyzed by classifying the interview transcription into several themes: RE delivery strategy, RE teacher distribution, and RE teacher availability. These classifications were expected to answer the first and second research questions. Then, the observations and focus group discussions were expected to answer the third research question.

Table 4 List of participants.

Findings and discussion

Achieving equity in education has been set as a goal for 2030 education in the Sustainable Development Goals as the next step for reducing inequality in education. Considering the multireligious setting and the importance of RE in Indonesia, religious education for each religion must be considered to prevent violent conflict. Previous studies suggest that RE following the religion in senior or vocational high school cases was well delivered (Hayadin, 2017) and obtained a high service index (Hayadin, 2018). In contrast, this study showed a different situation. As previous research focuses on the senior high-school level, which demonstrated a positive result, taking elementary and junior high schools as the research samples in Yogyakarta and Bangka showed that not all students received RE based on their religion, especially in the Bangka schools. The conditions in Yogyakarta were consistent with previous findings. In urban areas, RE was successfully provided for all religions. However, in the Bangka schools, most non-Muslim students received RE in an integrated Islamic subject class where they studied together with Muslim students. There are several possible reasons for the different results between previous studies and this research. Previous studies used senior or vocational high schools as the sample, whereas this study used a sample of elementary and junior high schools. In addition, previous research focused on each province’s major city or urban areas, whereas this research focused on semiurban and rural-remote areas.

The different characteristics of the research samples from previous studies showed contrasting results. In urban areas, it can be said that RE was well delivered according to the students’ religion, such as in Yogyakarta. Most of the schools provided religious subject teachers for each religion. Thus, all students obtained RE according to their religion. In contrast, in semiurban and rural remote areas, there were many difficulties and challenges in delivering RE based on students’ religion. Providing RE in Bangka might pose many challenges in rural or remote-rural areas, even semiurban areas. As noted previously, in the case of Bangka, most schools could not separate the religious subject class based on the students’ religion, especially for non-Muslim students. Islamic subject teachers were sufficient for each school, unlike the situation for non-Muslim students. The lack of sufficient religious subject teachers for non-Muslim students was due to four reasons: (a) the minimum number of students; (b) a lack of human resources; (c) the school budget; and (d) the area’s condition.

The small number of students of particular religions was the first barrier to providing REFAL in multireligious public schools. To open a religious subject class, there must be a minimum of 15 students in one grade (Ministry of Religious Affairs, 2010). Most public schools in Yogyakarta and Bangka had fewer than 15 students who had the same religion in one grade. Thus, the school had no obligation to provide the class; otherwise, the government or the school could provide a religious subject teacher. RE could also be obtained from nonformal and informal education in the religious community. Yogyakarta could provide sufficient religious education for all religions. However, in Bangka, non-Muslim children in the village received relatively little nonformal education. In this situation, some children had to go to the city or urban area. The principal of Elementary School 1 Simpangkatis of Central Bangka Regency, under the pseudonym of P19, described the situation as follows.

(Translated by the author) Non-Muslims are approximately twenty-four students. For religious subjects, we only have Islamic subjects. They follow Islamic subjects. It is based on the declaration letter. When they enter this school, they declare that they will follow Islamic subject because we don’t have a non-Muslim subject teacher. Yes, I had (informed the local government about the need for religious subject teachers for non-Muslim students). Perhaps this is due to the small number of students. Perhaps the case will be similar in private Christian schools such as SD Teresia. They may not provide Islamic religious teachers because there are only two or three students.

The quotation above shows that one of the problems with providing religious subject teachers is the small number of students of a particular religion. In the case of P19, Elementary School 1 Simpangkatis of Central Bangka regency had twenty-four non-Muslim students from all grades. One grade consisted of fewer than fifteen students. Therefore, the school had no obligation to provide a religious subject teacher for non-Muslim students.

On the other hand, even though some schools tried to provide a religious subject teacher for non-Muslim students, they faced other challenges. Deciding who would become the religious subject teacher for non-Muslim students was challenging for schools. The main reason was the lack of human resources for providing RE for non-Muslim students in Bangka. P30, the principal of junior high school 2 of Sungai Selan of Central Bangka Regency, stated that:

(Translated by the author) Let me explain. This is because Islam is the dominant number here. Actually, many years ago, we separated the class. There was a pastor for Christian students, and then, for Konghuchu (Confucian students), we also had a religious leader from the temple. Yes, temple, that’s it. However, it was around 2009, and 2010 may be the last time. After 2010, we did not separate the class. Therefore, they study the Islamic class. During the time of Islamic class, they can join or go to the library, they learn religious education outside the school. Then, for the exam based on their religion, Christians are from the Pastor, and Konghuchu students are also from their religious leader at the temple. Now, we don’t. We had before, but now the teacher from Konghuchu passed away. Then, for the Christian, the Church could not send a teacher again. I don’t know for sure why they couldn’t send them. Therefore, religious education subjects in the school follow Islamic subjects.

Based on the quotation above, P30 explains that the obstacle to providing religious education according to students’ religion is the lack of human resources for teaching religious subjects. As described above, the school provided a religious subject teacher for minority religions, but after 2010, they could not do so because they could not find someone capable of teaching religious education according to the student’s religion. A teacher is a central person in a teaching-learning classroom activity. As stated by Lunenberg et al. (2007), all actions, behaviors, and statements influence student development. Moreover, teachers play a role in building the positive character of students (Narinasamy and Logeiswaran, 2015). When employing religious subject teachers, teachers’ capability to transfer religious values to multireligious students must be taken into consideration. Therefore, the focus of the school is to recruit a teacher who meets government qualifications as a religious subject teacher. This is because the profession of religious subject teachers requires the qualifications to bring religious values and moral character to public servant teachers, contract teachers, or additional temporary teachers (Sunandar, 2015).

Another challenge in providing a religious subject teacher for non-Muslim students in multireligious public schools was a lack of budget. Budget limitations caused schools not to recruit non-Islamic subject teachers. As mentioned by P21 below, the principal of Elementary School 6 Simpangkatis of the Central Bangka Regency,

(Translated by the author) Perhaps, it may be because they have non-Muslim students more than others or just effort from the school. For me, we don’t have any budget for providing nonpublic servant teachers, but if their religious community wants to come and give the lecture, we are glad to have that.

P21 says that the obstacle to providing RE for religious minority students is the lack of budget for hiring a religious subject teacher. Because of the small number of certain religious students in one school, there was no obligation to provide a religious subject teacher. If they wanted to hire a religious subject teacher, they needed to use the school budget expenses. In Indonesia, each region has a UMR (Upah Minimal Regional ‘regional minimum salary’) for teachers. It becomes a consideration in school budget expenses for the school. When religious subject teachers are recruited but paid less than the UMR, there is concern that the pay may not match the workload of the RE teacher and may affect teaching quality (The World Bank and Kementerian Pendidikan Nasional, 2011).

The area conditions might be another aspect that affects the difficulty in providing religious teachers for non-Muslim students. Based on the investigation in Bangka, most multireligious public schools in rural and remote-rural areas had integrated Islamic subject classes. Only in urban areas could provide a non-Islamic subject teacher for RE, as stated by P21, the principal of Elementary School 6 Simpangkatis of Central Bangka regency below.

(Translated by the author) Until now, not yet. For some schools, they do such as schools in Koba (the capital city of the Central Bangka Regency).

The same situation was also mentioned by P30, the principal of Junior High School 2 of Sungai Selan, Central Bangka Regency.

(Translated by the author) This is the remote area problem. For the city area, it should be no problem, I think. They already have each religious subject teachers.

These cases show that human resources for non-Islamic teachers may be available only in urban areas. The distance from the urban area to a rural or remote-rural area was far, and it was ineffective to transfer teachers for non-Islamic subjects to those areas. Therefore, this situation became an obstacle in providing REFAL. These were the main challenges in providing a religious subject teacher for all religions in Bangka. Although they may have collaborated with the religious community outside of the schools, it was not sustainable. Despite this situation, they tried to build tolerance among multiple religions.

To provide the same opportunity to obtain religious education for each religion in Bangka, the minimum number of students, lack of human resources, lack of school budget, and area conditions are fundamental obstacles and represent a lack of awareness of providing religious education for all religions. In addition, the parents did not complain about this condition. The lack of input from the parents about this issue supported the quiet acceptance of the REFAL issue. Potentially, the thought of less power felt by non-Muslim students caused them to remain silent and accept the situation. From non-Muslim students’ and teachers’ perspectives, even though they followed an Islamic-integrated class, it did not mean they must convert to Islam or leave their beliefs. As a result, they might obtain religious values from Islam that could reinforce their beliefs in their religion.

In these situations, religious education for all religions in Indonesia had not been achieved, especially in rural or remote-rural places. Most suburban or remote public schools in Bangka implemented Islamic-integrated education. This means that most non-Muslim students study RE with Muslim students in Islamic subject classes. This integration changed the meaning of RE from obtaining religious values about the concept of human life to getting a grade since RE is a compulsory subject. The barriers of the minimum number of students, lack of human resources, lack of a school budget, and the area conditions led to a lack of awareness of schools for providing the same opportunity to obtain religious education based on students’ religion. Moreover, less power as the minority drove non-Muslims to remain silent and accept the situation to maintain their coexistence in the school community. This silence was believed to create a peaceful school environment. Thus, they referred to community involvement to maintain a balance in obtaining RE in the school.

Owing to the existing barriers to providing religious education in Bangka, the school chose to involve the community, especially in practical examinations, to maintain the balance of RE. However, it was insufficient for providing the same opportunity for obtaining REFAL. As previously mentioned, some barriers existed to providing religious subject teachers, especially for non-Muslim students. In the enrollment period, the school explained the situation of RE. In the school parents’ meeting, as mentioned by the headmaster, there were no objections from the parents about the situation. In addition, during the observation, the researcher observed that the students learned actively in both areas. They tended to help their friends in the discussion process. Even in the Bangka area, Muslim and non-Muslim students interacted well, despite unequal conditions for religious education. As stated by one of the Confucian students in grade 2 in Junior High School of Bangka,

(Translated by the author) Thus far, we (non-Muslim students) have no obstacles in this situation (the multireligious school setting where they are the minority). We can interact with others. For example, every Friday, we have The Holy Qur’an reciting (Muslim students), and Christians recite their Bible, and for me, I will go to the library because Confucians do not have a holy book.

However, based on the discussion with non-Muslim teachers and students, they accepted this situation to respect the school condition. As a result of having less authority as a minority, non-Muslims were to remain silent and accept the situation. This silence and the four barriers caused a lack of awareness in schools about providing the same opportunity to obtain religious education based on students’ religion. In this case, the tendency towards tolerance was influenced by the conditions that forced them to have such an attitude. It was done to maintain the coexistence of a multireligious society in schools in other remote or rural areas. Based on the observations in Yogyakarta and Bangka, Muslim and non-Muslim students had close interactions during the school activity. In addition, the decision of both Muslim and non-Muslim students in the school to accept and respect the conditions functioned as a strategy to create a peaceful school environment that was conducive to learning. This acceptance and respect reflected the attitude of tolerance in the school.

Conclusion and limitations

In the educational practice of RE, the main goal of the government is to provide religious education based on students’ religion. The aim is to achieve equality in religious education and respect the right to religion and right to education. The function of RE is to develop students’ character, competence, and civilization to enlighten their life and to create good human beings who can become creative, skillful, healthy, learned, independent, peaceful, responsible, and democratic citizens based on their religion. Reflecting on the questions of this article regarding whether religious education is provided equally to all religions, we observed the barriers that obstructed equal delivery. However, judging equality and inequality must be based on appropriate indicators in context. Therefore, as in the Bangka schools, four main barriers prevented the equality of RE in Indonesia: (a) the minimum number of students; (b) lack of human resources; (c) school budget; and (d) conditions of the area. With regards to opportunity, the Yogyakarta schools had the same opportunity for all religions as the Bangka schools. Yogyakarta might not become the reference model for the equal delivery of RE since the context was different, and the obstacles in Bangka were not discovered in Yogyakarta.

In providing REFAL, less diverse rural areas may not provide the same opportunities but may show a tendency towards tolerance to save society. As shown in Fig. 5, regarding input, the national government has established a policy to provide education for each religion. Therefore, by adopting a decentralized system, each local government is responsible for providing RE based on the needs and demands of the students. However, in the distribution process, many obstacles remain to reach the goal of equality. The output process demonstrates interreligious competence that encourages Muslim students in multireligious communities, such as school settings, to react as the majority on a small scale. Additionally, it provides insight for non-Muslim students on how to perceive the multireligious community as the minority in the school environment. Reflecting on the last question on the relation between interreligious competence, tolerance, and religious inherency, the way the students perceived and accepted multiculturalism and multiple religions in schools stimulated religious inherency among multireligious students as a social control to maintain the morality and social system of society. It drove the students to be attached to the concept of interreligious competence. Figure 3 shows how the interaction among the multireligious students occurs.

Fig. 5: Research framework.
figure 5

The relationship root of religious inherency and interreligious competence in RE equality.

In summary, this study demonstrated the framework of religious education delivery for the Yogyakarta and Bangka areas based on school factors. In Yogyakarta, the opportunity to obtain RE was available to all religions compared to Bangka, in which the community was involved in maintaining the balance of religious education. Therefore, this practice could be representative of other urban and rural areas with the same conditions. This hypothetical framework is the starting point for equal religious education in other settings with different characteristics.

In this research, some limitations should be noted in investigating the equality practices of religious education. First, in analyzing policy practice and implementation, this research had less information from local governments in both areas. The researcher had difficulty accessing information about the policy regarding the effort of local government in providing REFAL. The information could be a useful resource for signifying how the local government interprets national policy and delivers RE for multireligious students in multireligious public schools. Second, in this research, the researcher mostly focused on the school factor in investigating the equal delivery of religious education. There was little information regarding community factors to provide religious education based on students’ religion. In addition, the conclusions were based on an investigation of school factors through sharing, dialog, and interviews with school members. To fully comprehend the whole concept of religious inherency, in which community involvement plays a significant role, this research may not be sufficient. Therefore, further research may result in more robust conclusions by investigating community factors.