Asia
2:14 pm
Wed August 10, 2011

Indonesian Family Pays Price For Exposing Cheating

At the end of the summer exam season in Indonesia, education officials announced extraordinary results: a 99 percent pass rate for national high school entrance exams.

But among many Indonesians, the claim aroused scorn and suspicion of the country's education system, thanks in part to a young man named Alifah Achmad Maulana.

Alifah rides home from school most days on the back of his dad's motorbike. The pair tool past banana trees and hanging laundry to their small house in Gadel village outside Indonesia's second-largest city, Surabaya.

As his father arrives at the front door, Alifah sneaks in the back door, so that the neighbors don't see him. Alifah is weary of speaking to reporters. He politely greets visitors, then retires to his room.

That leaves his mother Siami to tell his tale. Siami is a petite woman in a Muslim head scarf, who, like most people in the area, goes by just one name.

She says she noticed that Alifah, a sixth-grader at the local elementary school, seemed changed and subdued upon returning from his high school entrance exam.

"My son said, 'Mom, I'm afraid,'" she recalls. "'I was threatened. My teachers said, Alifah, you're a smart boy. Use your intelligence to help your classmates. If you don't, you may not succeed in later life.'"

Siami says Alifah was instructed to leave the classroom during the test and stash copies of his answers in the bathroom, or under a flower pot, for his classmates to pick up. Siami says her son felt conflicted because she had brought him up to be honest.

"I told him, 'If you are dishonest or cheat now, and if you become an official in future, you will be corrupt," Siami adds. "'If that's how it is, I'd rather not have a son like you.'"

Siami complained to municipal authorities and to a local radio station. After an investigation, Indonesia's education minister declared that there had been only limited cheating — this was apparently determined by the fact that not all the students' answers were identical to Alifah's. As a result, there was no need for students to retake the test.

But the publicity unleashed a wave of public anger.

With television crews reporting on the scene, families protested outside Siami and Alifah's home, complaining that their whistle-blowing was jeopardizing their children's academic careers.

The police evacuated Alifah and his family to safety. The familyl returned only after receiving a personal guarantee of security from the village chief.

Most media reports praised Alifah and his family's courage. A government body gave the family an award for their honesty. But sympathy is hard to find in Alifah's village.

Teachers at the village public school insist the scandal is over. Waris is one of Alifah's former teachers.

"The education minister came and declared that was no collective cheating at our school," he explains. "And the mayor of Surabaya demoted and suspended our headmaster for two years and suspended two teachers, each for one year."

Asked why teachers were punished if no cheating was found, Waris says that authorities are reconsidering the punishment.

The village chief, Mulyohadi, also denies any organized cheating took place.

He says that villagers protested simply because they felt the teachers were unfairly punished. He adds that villagers protested in front of Alifah's home because they couldn't afford the trip to city hall.

"The protesters are from the bottom of the economy and have no steady incomes," he says. "If they protested to the mayor, the transportation would a big cost for them. This protest was just them venting a bit, that's all."

Siami doesn't blame the system. She feels that some parents just don't care enough about their kids' education. And despite the friction with her neighbors, she says she has no regrets.

"Even though I've had to fight against many people, I'm not afraid, I'm confident," she says. "As long as I stick to the right path, God will protect my family."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.