Jakarta – If there is one lesson to be learned from the recent debate about demolishing a school to make way for a mosque, it is that no legal or bureaucratic shortcut is worth denying children educational opportunities.
After about a month of back-and-forth between the authorities and the anxious parents of the pupils of SD Pondok Cina 01 state elementary school in Depok, West Java, the city administration has finally agreed to postpone the construction of a large mosque on the plot of land the school occupies, close to the city's main thoroughfare of Jl. Margonda Raya.
Prior to this decision, Depok Mayor Mohammad Idris had instructed parents to transfer their children to nearby schools and ordered the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) to ensure the premises were vacated in preparation for the school's demolition. This was thwarted by a human barricade of angry protesters.
Never mind the effects of unceremoniously uprooting children from their education or the burden that parents had to endure in searching for other schools. Think of how much learning these children missed out on amid the upheaval and the social tensions that came from moving to different, already crowded schools.
The school's teachers were even reassigned, leaving concerned parents to fill the vacancies left in their wake.
So for bringing the project to a halt, we must commend West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, who pulled state funding for the mosque's construction until there was clarity on the situation.
Ridwan's decision led the mayor to reconsider the plan with advice from various institutions, which in turn led to the indefinite postponement of the project. It was very important to consider the voices of all stakeholders involved, especially the parents of the pupils who had to deal with so much fuss in so little time.
But this issue has less to do with deciding that preserving a school is better than building a new place of worship. It is more about how inappropriate it is to cut corners.
To begin with, the city's reason for picking the school as the site for a new mosque was apparently that it was easier to repurpose an existing plot of land than to wait until another plot was acquired.
In other words, a school was going to be sacrificed just for the sake of bureaucratic convenience.
And that is to say nothing of the fact that there are already at least 19 mosques along Jl. Margonda Raya, dotting the road every 800 meters or so. Whose aspirations are we trying to fulfill exactly?
One may be tempted to take a swing at Depok, which was anointed the most intolerant city in the country in a 2021 Setara Institute study. But the problem was solved after meaningful dialogue with institutions like the Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry, the Indonesian Ombudsman and child advocacy groups.
As a country that claims to value education highly, we would do well not to disregard fundamental school infrastructure and should make consultation and consensus in our public sphere the default, rather than a concession won after weeks of protest.