Jayapura, Jubi – A recent study by Australian National University’s doctoral student, Hipo Wangge, himself a native Papuan, shows that children in Papua’s Pegunungan Tengah province are traumatized by the arrival of the Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers to their schools, aiming to replace teachers who have fled their hometowns due to armed conflict.
Wangge said that according to interviews with a number of remaining teachers in Pegunungan Tengah, the students in the area did not feel comfortable with the presence of soldiers in classrooms.
“Students feel uneasy and cautious in conflict areas, such as Nduga, Puncak, and Yahukimo. And they are traumatized and afraid to see soldiers coming to their schools,” Wangge said.
In several affected districts in Pegunungan Tengah, it is not uncommon for TNI personnel to be deployed to these areas to assume the role of teachers in schools. Indeed, the TNI has been active in education in Papua and other border areas for several years.
In 2013, the Papua Education Agency signed a memorandum of understanding with military institutions in Papua to assign soldiers to teach in remote areas, particularly highland and mountainous areas.
Wangge said, however, that the TNI’s teaching role was not limited to the central mountains. He said some schools, such as those in lowlands, were relatively supportive of the presence of soldiers in their classrooms, especially in areas not experiencing conflict. For communities caught in the middle of conflict, students must compromise with the military’s infiltration into the school system. The type of education they receive is open to question.
“My study finds that teaching [by the military] is part of territorial operations, wherein the military is involved in non-military tasks while trying to get support from local residents, gathering intelligence, and spreading nationalism, as well as educating the people the concept of an archipelagic state,” said Wangge.
Meanwhile, the TNI claimed that the lack of teaching staff in Papua’s remote areas was a serious educational problem and therefore, the soldiers were there to fill in. “We are here to overcome the shortage of teachers in areas that fall into the responsibility of our task force,” said the commander of the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea Border Security Task Force Infantry Battalion 611/Awang Long, Lt. Col. Inf. Albert Frantesca.
However, president of the Communion of Baptist Churches in West Papua, Reverend Socratez Sofyan Yoman, disagreed with the notion, saying that the military took over the role of teachers by design.
“The military itself causes conflict that prompt teachers to run away from workplaces and schools,” Yoman said. He added that the “militarized” teaching and learning process would only add to the long cycle of disruption in education and health in Papua.
Reporter: Victor Mambor