Twelfth graders at 10 high schools in Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara province, are being made to take part in the controversial project to get the day off to an early start. Schools in the southeast Asian country usually start between 7 and 8am.
According to the authorities, the scheme announced last month by governor Viktor Laiskodat is intended to strengthen children’s discipline.
Sleepy students can be seen reluctantly “trudging zombie-like through the streets” every morning to make it on time for school, said an AFP report. Parents have criticised the experiment, saying children are exhausted by the time they get home.
“It is extremely difficult, they now have to leave home while it’s still pitch dark,” Rambu Ata, a mother to a 16-year-old, told the news agency.
“I can’t accept this... their safety is not guaranteed when it’s dark and quiet,” she said, adding that her daughter wakes up at 4am to get ready and ride a bike to school.
“Now every time she arrives home, she is exhausted and falls asleep immediately because she is so sleepy.”
Apart from parents, pediatric associations and experts have voiced their concerns about the new timing, stressing that lack of sleep will affect the health of the students.
“For children, the most important aspect is quality and enough sleep,” Indonesian Pediatric Association chair Piprim Basarah Yanuarso said earlier this month, according to the Antara news agency. He noted that high schoolgoers needed seven to eight hours of sleep a day.
Melania Setia, a student, was unable to wake up at 4am as she had found it difficult to sleep earlier than 10pm, reported BBC Indonesia.
The student also said the time dedicated for her study had also been compromised due to the new schedule.
The policy had first been proposed by provincial governor Viktor Laiskodat on 23 February, reported CNN Indonesia.
Indonesia's federal health ministry asked the schools to take into account the safety and nutritional intake of their students, while the women empowerment and child protection ministry called for a review of the experiment.
“It is more so the safety aspects. For example, children have to walk quite a distance from home to school because we know what kind of risks there are in regional areas,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, communications head at the health ministry told Antara news agency.
“Moreover, some kids have to cross bridges when it is still dark.”
The rule change was also challenged by local lawmakers, who demanded the government cancel what they called a baseless policy.