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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Science education in Indonesian religious schools

PI: Askuri Ibn Chamim (, Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies
U.S. Partner: Joel Kuipers, The George Washington University
Project Dates: January 2017 - December 2020 

Project Overview:

5-429 Group Photo
U.S. Partner Joel Kuipers (seated, at far left) and PI Askuri Ibn Chamim (seated, far right) gather with participants in their Workshop of Experts in Science Education, held in Yogyakarta July 25-27, 2017 (photo courtesy of Dr. Chamim)
The underachievement of Indonesian science education reform efforts and the continued problem of Indonesian low scores on international assessments of science education at the pre-university level are matters of serious concern. Not only do these problems have implications for the future of Indonesia’s workforce, their continued neglect could affect the future of Indonesia’s democracy and international stability. Among the lowest scoring of the Indonesian student populations are those who graduate from the country’s religious schools, currently 20% of the student population. The study draws on best practices in science education and links them with professional development practices that are tied to curriculum units that will actually be used in classrooms. The objectives of the project are to (1) determine and describe how science is taught in Indonesian Islamic schools and propose an curriculum intervention that is aligned with the national curriculum; (2) apply the intervention in the classroom and describe and analyze its implementation; and (3) compare the intervention with control groups and report the findings. The work will involve significant partnerships with leading universities in three key cities in Java: Yogyakarta, Malang, and Surabaya. Enhancing the capacity of the Indonesian educational research community to describe and evaluate its own educational system is an important benefit of the proposed research.

This research will produce a model for the treatment in science education in religious schools. A key feature of the treatment program is to develop a learning method that integrates religious motivation with motivation to learn science. The results of this research will be disseminated to stakeholders of educational providers in Indonesia, especially operators of religious schools, to be adopted and developed in the context of each. The largest operators of religious schools in Indonesia are NU and Muhammadiyah, two major Muslim organizations in this country. Mr. Askuri and his team will establish cooperation with these two organizations to implement the science education curriculum integrating the religious approach as a result of this project. Furthermore, the organizations will be encouraged to develop this new approach further in their individual contexts. This project will also train dozens of researchers from various universities in Indonesia and build their capacity through workshops and interdisciplinary collaborative research. In addition, this program will also train dozens of science teachers in the latest scientific learning methods. One output of the project will be teaching materials that can be used by teachers for classroom instruction and by students for independent study. This teaching material will be created in open-source digital format, so it can be replicated broadly by other schools that are not included in the project.

Final Summary of Project Activities

The long-term goal of this now-completed project was to encourage the emergence of a more anthropological science education policy that considers the sociocultural context in order to boost students’ enthusiasm for studying science. In the context of Indonesia, where 88% of the population is Muslim, religion (Islam) can be an effective approach to encourage Muslim students to study science more enthusiastically, just as they are also passionate about studying religion. According to the PI Dr. Askuri, the growth of Islamic piety in Indonesia, where the younger generation is also eager to study religion, can be used to encourage enthusiasm for learning science. The PI and his team carried out several project phases to reach their goals.

Beginning in 2017, the team conducted baseline research in 18 Islamic schools to get an idea of the current status of science education in the schools and identify potential barriers to improving the quality of science education in Islamic schools. All schools that were the initial partners of this program were selected based on stratified random sampling: there were rich schools, average schools, and poor schools, both public and private. This baseline phase showed that the quality of science education in Islamic schools was still low to very low. On the bright side, the team’s findings showed hope for improvement, as teachers and students in Islamic schools firmly believed that Islam and science are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. However, they simply did not know how to integrate the two in practice, so science was being taught as a theme that is completely separate from religion even though leveraging their interrelationship could encourage Muslim students to study more enthusiastically and achieve higher scientific literacy.

Based on the findings from this baseline research, Dr. Askuri and his colleagues developed a new science education curriculum module using an Islamic approach. Several main themes relate to the standard national curriculum, but modified with an Islamic approach, exploring verses of the Koran and contextualizing them with scientific themes. This approach was applied to dozens of science themes, augmented with hands-on learning methods that give students greater opportunities to recognize and experiment with various scientific facts. Thus, they build scientific concepts independently first (from experiments) and later through discussion in student groups. The PEER team then comprehensively tested the new curriculum module for one semester in the 18 partner schools, each of which had a treatment class using the new module and a control class using the standard curriculum. Before the trial, all teachers who implemented the new module received intensive training on the material, methods, and contextualization with the approach of religion and students’ daily lives. In addition, the teachers were also equipped with various science project skills, including instructions on assembling practical instructional materials from inexpensive and readily available items. This was very feasible for the teachers despite the fact that most Islamic schools are often short of laboratory equipment and supplies. During the trial process, the team deployed researchers intensively to record the processes that took place in the science classes, both treatment and control. This research process employed ethnographic video methods, observation, and focus group discussions, as well as in-depth interviews.

The trial showed that the treatment classes made much better progress than the control classes. Students in the treatment classes were more able to grasp and absorb basic science concepts based on their experiments and science projects. By discovering for themselves the basic science concepts under the guidance of their teachers, their understanding was much stronger than that of the students from the treatment class, who relied only on memorization of the theories taught by their teachers. In addition, many surprises emerged from the interviews conducted with students. Those who had assumed that religion had nothing to do with science came to realize that science is part of their religion and therefore part of their daily lives as Muslims. Thanks to the semester trial, the PI and his team identified and rectified several deficiencies in their module in consultation with teachers and outside experts in the field of curriculum development. PowerPoint presentations of the module were also created to make it easier for science teachers to deliver the material in class. This greatly supported quick socialization, because it was user friendly for teachers.

Once the module had been tested and refined, it was time for outreach to policy makers. There were four main targets: (1) Muhammadiyah, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, which has thousands of schools that provide science education; (2) the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has thousands of state Islamic schools that also provide science education; (3) the Ministry of Education and Culture, the agency responsible for science education curriculum policy; and (4) PT Ruang Guru, an educational and learning application company. The PI and his team explained the results of their project, and all parties were very appreciative. Muhammadiyah immediately expressed interest in being actively involved in subsequent developments. The Ministry of Religious Affairs accommodated the training of science teachers by including this module in their training programs, and it will even develop something similar for the next level of education in the next few years. Although the Ministry of Education and Culture and PT Ruang Guru still needed some time to develop aspects of the project that were most relevant to their needs, many schools already began proactively adopting the new module directly.

In the past three years, the new science curriculum at the junior high school level has been used by more than 3,000 students from the 18 partner schools, and this number will continue to grow as more schools use this curriculum. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has even trained 79 science teachers from 79 Islamic schools in Indonesia using this new curriculum. Although there has been no report on the number of students from each of these schools, on average each state Islamic school consists of 5 classes, and each class consists of 30 students. From that estimate, the number of students accessing this new curriculum module would be around 11,850. After officials from Muhammadiyah were briefed on the project results in 2020, they designated 100 schools (SMP Muhammadiyah) throughout Indonesia that had more than 10 classrooms at the Grade 7 level to implement this new curriculum. Therefore, in the semester beginning in early 2021, an estimated 30,000 students will receive the new curriculum treatment. This number will increase in the coming new academic years.

During the course of the project, many new innovations have emerged as side benefits to accelerate the PEER team’s efforts to a wider scope. Among the collaborations with various stakeholders and science education policy holders, cooperation with Muhammadiyah was the most productive. Although the PEER project was focused on science education at the junior high school level, the collaboration led to the PEER team being involved in creating several new courses for Muhammadiyah universities. The course “Islam and Science” is a compulsory subject that is accessed by 75,000 Muhammadiyah students per semester. The course “Islam and Midwifery” is a compulsory subject for midwifery study programs at Muhammadiyah and Aisyiyah colleges throughout Indonesia and is accessed by around 11,000 students per semester. Both of these innovations have been running since 2020, while another is being developed, integrating Islamic ethics in several scientific fields.

The PEER team has also developed a new online learning website at Given that the novel coronavirus pandemic has been ongoing since March 2020 in Indonesia, many schools were having difficulty organizing online learning. Therefore, the PEER researchers developed a science education website that facilitates online learning, and they hope it will continue to grow, both during the pandemic and afterwards. Although the PEER project has now ended, Dr. Askuri and his colleagues plan to establish an Islamic Consortium for Science Education, based on their productive collaboration with Muhammadiyah and the Ministry of Religion. This is intended to facilitate the integration of additional Islamic networks in the program, which represents a long-term investment for Muslims and the Indonesian nation to be actively involved in adequate science education for the younger Muslim generation.

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