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Affirming difference

Elite Christian schools in Indonesia can become places where religious, ethnic and class identities are heightened, particularly in relation to the nation’s ethnic Chinese


Chang-Yau Hoon

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   Students praying at a weekly chapel service
   Chang-Yau Hoon

Exceptional academic performance, faith education, strict discipline and a safe environment are some of the factors that attract ethnic Chinese to enrol their children into elite Christian schools in Indonesia. In fact, these schools have become a thriving business across major cities, generating handsome profits from the provision of high quality education. They are generally attended by Chinese Indonesian students from a middle and upper class background. The schools are equipped with much better facilities than most schools in Indonesia and charge a considerable fee sometimes in US or Singapore dollars. Parents do not seem to mind paying a premium for the excellent academic reputation enjoyed by the schools.

But, like other exclusive environments, elite Christian schools are potentially sites for the reproduction of ethnic, class and religious difference. The twin effects of high tuition fees and Christian education mean that few indigenous Indonesian students attend because they either cannot afford the fees or are deterred by the schools’ focus on Christian values. Consequently, students in elite Christian schools grow up in a largely homogenous environment having little knowledge and interaction with the diverse and multicultural community in which they live.

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