By Dr Stephen Whitehead

Photo by Robert V. Ruggiero on Unsplash

What does it mean if a school or university claims to be ‘international’? Does an international education suggest empathy, global citizenship, respect for diversity, critical thinking, and acceptance?

Can an education be ‘international’ without being tolerant and inclusive?

Here’s an odd (and oddly personal) question for you: last time you participated in an orgy did you notice the ‘gender composition’?

I would never be so impolite as to expect a response. The Indonesian government would though.


Because the Indonesian government is now asking foreign teachers if they are gay. Billed as a ‘psychological exam’ (no, I’m not joking) they are being asked questions designed to reveal their sexual orientation, such as:

“The gender composition of an orgy would be irrelevant to my decision to participate.”

“I would feel uncomfortable knowing my daughter’s or son’s teacher was homosexual”.

“Celebrations such as gay pride day are ridiculous because they assume an individuals’ sexual orientation should constitute a source of pride.”

The architects of this questionnaire (officials in the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture), are aiming to ‘eradicate’ the ‘disease’ of homosexuality from Indonesian life, and international schools are a target.

Under a 2015 government regulation that prohibits international schools from hiring foreign teachers who have ‘an indication of abnormal sexual behaviour or orientation (e.g. paedophilia)’, the questionnaire has begun to be implemented to test for LGBT orientation, and is expected to be applied in all 168 international schools in the country.

I am fully sensitive to the fact that international school managers and teachers in Indonesia will have to lay low and not publicly speak out about this appalling infringement of human rights. Their visas, lifestyle and jobs are on the line, regardless of whether they are LGBT or straight.

But I have no such inhibitions.

However, I am not going to lambast the pitiful actions of the Indonesian government and MoE — they don’t warrant serious comment.

No, the purpose of this article is to ask organisations such as the Council of International Schools, the Cambridge Assessment, the International Baccalaureate, FOBISIA, and WASC how they are going to respond. Are they just going to sit tight and hope this unpleasantness goes away?

Because if so, they are deluding themselves.

These organisations are the acknowledged and respected validators of international education. Every parent and child who attends their accredited schools can be confident the educational process adheres to international standards, not the warped medieval standards of a radical religious ideology.

If these accrediting bodies don’t speak out against discrimination, who will?

Chris Briggs on Unsplash

Someone from the international school sector needs to stand up and directly challenge what is nothing less than a fascist action by those who have been radicalised to believe that LGBT identities are a “disease, caused by carefree lifestyles and which can be overcome by getting therapy’.

I doubt there are many international educationalists who believe this rubbish. Certainly, I have not come across one in decades spent working in education around the world. I have certainly come across homophobia outside of education, but not in the profession itself.

But it is not enough to recognise how appalling this is. We, as educationalists, need to stand up for what we believe in.

Isn’t that why we do the job?

Surely it is not to raise homophobic children nor marginalise LGBT identities.

Just the opposite.

To be silent is to be complicit. While large parts of the world are becoming more liberalised and open, there is regression in countries such as Indonesia, Brunei, Uganda, India and Nigeria. Even the USA, while making great strides in LGBT rights in recent years, has states such as Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina with statutes that resemble Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws.

When international school teachers get asked these questions…

“A sexual education curriculum should include all sexual orientations”


“Teachers should try and reduce their student’s prejudice towards homosexuality”

…are they going to answer negatively in order to save their jobs? Are they going to lie?

Because, if they do lie, then they are they denying their own professionalism, their professional identity.

To even go along with such ‘tests’ is to undermine what it means to deliver an international education in the 21st century: community, inclusiveness, international mindedness, tolerance, empathy, global citizenship, respect for diversity, critical thinking, acceptance.

This is the dilemma facing international school teachers in Indonesia right now. And they should not be expected to have to face this dilemma alone.

The CIS, the IB, and the rest would do well to issue a combined public statement condemning this test and any similar actions by any government which directly seeks to interfere in the pursuit of inclusiveness, a central tenet of international education. Indeed, a tenet these organisations have spent years establishing and implementing.

Or will these august bodies, having established themselves as the arbiters of ‘quality international education’ and all that entails, remain silent so as ‘not to rock the boat?’.

Frankly, if so, that is just not good-enough.

Any organisation that sets itself up as the standard for international education must be strong and brave enough to stand by its own principles.

Ultimately, the Indonesians must ask themselves if they really want international schools. Because if they don’t then at least the 168 international schools in Indonesia, the parents, staff and students, know exactly where they stand. And if Indonesia does want international schools then they must accept them as bastions of international values, not places of prejudice, intolerance, ignorance and medieval stupidity.

Some lines just cannot be crossed.

Dr Stephen Whitehead (opinions are author’s own)

For those interested, Dr Whitehead’s latest book, Toxic Masculinity, can be found here.

This article originally appeared in EDDi: Educational Digest International.



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Dr Denry Machin

Dr Denry Machin


Educationalist. Writer. Sharing (hopefully wise) words on school leadership and management.