"After weeks of review, Indonesia's Education Ministry eventually succumbed to societal pressure that English lessons be retained in elementary schools.
This about-face should be good news for parents. But it is not unexpected given the national swing towards English as an important foreign language in recent years, which the government has acknowledged.
Deputy Education Minister Musliar Kasim announced in late September that English would be scrapped for lower elementary pupils in the next school year beginning July as part of a curriculum revamp.
It was part of efforts by the ministry to ease the workload of pupils by reducing the number of subjects from ten to six. It would involve the scrapping of English, science and social studies in favor of religion, nationalism, Bahasa Indonesia, mathematics, art and sports.
With English dropped, pupils could concentrate on strengthening their Bahasa Indonesia — the country's national language — imbibing national values and picking up knowledge on science incorporated in other subjects. They would study English as a compulsory subject when they reached lower secondary or high school.
But the decision to leave out English was unpopular from the start not only among parents and language teachers but also several education departments in the regions. They debated the issue for many weeks to persuade the government to retain the language.
Parents wanted their children to have a head start in the language, seen as having higher economic value than Dutch, the language of their colonial masters. They feared their children's English lessons would be disrupted by the new curriculum.
"The scrapping of English is a retrogressive step," the head of West Kalimantan's provincial government education department, Alexius Akim, told Kompas daily.
The decision also had language teachers worried about their future as they were specifically recruited to teach English to primary school pupils.
But in a volte-face last month, Musliar announced that English would not be scrapped after all. "Schools would be allowed to offer the subject but as an elective instead. It should not be made compulsory," he said in a statement to Kompas and the Jakarta Globe.
Unlike previously, when he said that it would be "haram" or illegal to hold English lessons, Musliar made it clear that his ministry would not stop schools from offering the subject to pupils."