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Understanding Indonesia in the 21st Century

Understanding Indonesia in the 21st Century

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Comprehensive Unit
233 pages
Grade Level: High School – Community College
Includes curriculum unit + 6 color transparencies

Understanding Indonesia in the 21st Century provides students with geographic and historical context to analyze major issues facing contemporary Indonesia, as well as in-depth examination of its regional and global importance. Among the salient issues are legacies of colonialism and discussion about neocolonialism; military reform and leadership transitions; economic development after the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis; challenges of maintaining diversity and territorial integrity peacefully; Indonesia's role in regional affairs and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; and lastly, how and why these issues are relevant to students.

Indonesia is in the midst of nationwide political reform and economic recovery. Legacies of past presidents and their regimes have influenced recent leaders as they strive to lead Indonesia into a new democratic era. The process of establishing the parameters of this new democracy has been rife with challenges. For example, aspects of democracy itself—for example, majority rule—raise some difficult moral questions: If the majority of the people—or of the politicians claiming to represent that majority—want "their" military to use violence in suppressing rebellion, where does morality lie? Does the ideal of democracy supercede that of morality? Is morality universal? If morality is different from one culture to another, does one have the right to criticize or judge the other?

Despite the absence of clear answers to these questions, human rights advocates and governments of countries like the United States have heavily criticized Indonesia for its sometimes violent handling of domestic conflicts. It is one of many reasons why Indonesia's democratic transition and overall stability are both an international interest and concern. But it is not the only reason. Indonesia has long played a pivotal role in the regional and global economy and security. Geographically, Indonesia sits at the crossroads of maritime trade for the entire region. In 1993, over 15 percent of all the world's international trade traversed the region's waters en route to destinations beyond the Southeast Asian region. Shipping traffic through the Strait of Malacca alone is several times greater than traffic through either the Suez or Panama canals. On a global level, Indonesia is a key trading partner with Japan and the United States.

The United States has been interested in Indonesia for security-related reasons since the Cold War era. During that time, Indonesia served as a strategic place from which the U.S. military could oversee the transit of friendly warships and protect commercial traffic. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Indonesia's security-related significance assumed a new dimension, one with great urgency, as the United States government sought to secure the world's largest Muslim country as an ally in the war against terrorism. However, this alliance raised yet another dilemma. In the United States' interest in safeguarding its own security, it appeared that cooperation with Indonesia against terrorism suddenly became more important than insistence on human rights. Did this mean that security now superceded both democracy and morality?

Understanding Indonesia in the 21st Century introduces these and other complex questions to students in a series of six lessons and a set of debriefing activities.

Lesson One, Colonialism in Indonesia, sets the historical context for the five subsequent lessons on contemporary Indonesia. For students to understand contemporary Indonesia, an understanding of the historical underpinnings of Dutch and Japanese colonization is most important. Legacies of Indonesia's colonial experiences are also introduced to students.

In Lesson One, students will discuss similarities and differences between Dutch and Japanese colonial rule, between the initial reasons for colonization and the tensions that arose between the colonizers and the colonized. Students will also examine how colonialism occurs, and in particular, consider the role of propaganda in colonialism. Through viewing actual images of propaganda used by both the Japanese and the Dutch during and shortly after World War II, students will discuss elements of propaganda, its definition, and its use. Students will then work in groups to examine documents related to the colonization of Indonesia, each representing a different viewpoint. Each group will answer questions listed at the end of its assigned document and will present its viewpoint to the class. Six (three pairs of) different viewpoints are represented. After each pair of presentations, the teacher will lead a short discussion with the students regarding what was presented, how each account differed, and why. Finally, students will end the lesson with a debriefing session on issues and repercussions of colonialism.

Lesson Two, Understanding Indonesia's Military, allows students to analyze the history of the military as presented in a more neutral light, so they can understand the situation from a more complete perspective. It is important for students to understand the ever-changing nature of reputations—not just of military institutions, but any institution that has a long history. If students can learn to investigate any claim before blindly accepting it as truth, they will learn to avoid the dangers of forming quick judgments out of context and out of ignorance.

The activity in Part One prepares students for the rest of the lesson by discussing the military as an institution and what its role is from country to country. Students will also examine the importance of context when discussing any country's military and how media coverage can sometimes be misleading. Part Two focuses on the study of Indonesia's military and its emergence as an independent country in the immediate post-World War II period. Students will examine the historical roots that shaped the role of the Indonesian military. In Part Three, students create shadow puppet shows that illustrate some of the different phases in Indonesia's military past. The lesson culminates with a debriefing section that brings the discussion closer to home for students by posing questions about their own countries' militaries as well as relevant issues and debates surrounding militaries.

Lesson Three, Indonesia's Economy in Transition, addresses issues pertinent to Indonesia's economy. The focus of Part One is to familiarize students with the recent economic situation in Indonesia. Part Two engages the students in a simulation in which economic sectors of Indonesia vie for grant money that has become available from a Planning Committee of the Indonesian government. The Planning Committee has the task of appropriating funds made available through the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI). Divided into groups by economic sector, students prepare their proposals to justify the awarding of grant money to their sector. In a class simulation, the groups will present their cases to the Planning Committee. The Planning Committee will award points on the basis of the sectors' positive contributions to both Indonesia and foreign investors. The grant money will be awarded by the Planning Committee to the sector groups who achieve the highest ratings on a score sheet.

Lesson Four, The Challenges of Diversity in Indonesia, examines Indonesia's diversity in its geography, languages, religions, and ethnicities. While its diversity may be seen as a great asset, it is also a tremendous challenge for the country in terms of building and maintaining a cohesive and peaceful nation. This lesson consists of two parts. In Part One, students will look at diversity in general in Indonesia, as well as some of its origins and its consequences. In Part Two, students will participate in a simulation that involves cross-cultural interactions and replicates some situations and feelings evoked by transmigration policies. As part of the debriefing section of this lesson, students will examine six different Indonesian perspectives on diversity in Indonesia.

Lesson Five, The Territorial Integrity of Indonesia, familiarizes students with the many secessionist calls within Indonesia. They will also compare these movements with other subnational calls for autonomy in other parts of the world. In Part One, students attempt to match various subnational calls for independence with their descriptions. Students then discuss different ways to respond to regional desires for more independence. In Part Two, students act as campaign staff for a fictional 1999 gubernatorial vote in East Timor. This activity allows students to learn in a creative and stimulating context about the complexity surrounding East Timor's independence referendum. Finally, in Part Three students will learn about five other regional autonomy movements in Indonesia. Assuming the role of consultants to the UN General Assembly, they will prepare a briefing of the conditions in one of five regions and recommend a solution. The lesson will end with a discussion of the similarity of Indonesia's problems to some of those encountered in the list of subnational calls for autonomy in other parts of the world.

Lesson Six, Indonesia and Its Neighbors, introduces students to Indonesia's neighboring countries and briefly describes the relations among these countries. In Part One of the lesson, students engage in activities that allow them to learn about the complex issues that exist bilaterally and multilaterally in the Southeast Asian region. They also study specifically about Indonesia's relationship with each of its neighbors. In Part Two, students learn about the origins and primary objectives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the group activity, students consider the candidacy of four fictitious nations seeking membership to ASEAN. By engaging in the activity, students gain knowledge about concepts such as regional cooperation and integration, interregional trade, noninterference, and national sovereignty.

The Conclusion section of the unit ties the first six lessons together in a way that underscores the value of Indonesia in a global context. This debriefing section brings closure to students' introductory study of Indonesia. At the same time, it encourages students to think in broader terms so they can apply certain analytical skills beyond the scope of Indonesia and its affairs, and better understand the world in which they live.

Unit Goals

Each of the six lessons in this curriculum has specific learning objectives listed. These objectives have been divided into knowledge, attitude, and skill objectives for students. The following are larger goals for the curriculum unit as a whole:

  • To learn about some key issues that face the current Indonesian leadership
  • To identify important transitions in Indonesia's past and present
  • To understand the relevance of Indonesian affairs in a global context