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Indonesia teachers go extra mile to connect offline students, bridge distance learning

Teachers ride pillion on scooters as they make their way up a dusty, unpaved road in rural West Timor, Indonesia.

Despite many schools remaining closed because of COVID-19, teachers refuse to let the learning stop.

A makeshift outdoor classroom is set up under a grass-thatched roof. Students wear school uniforms and masks. They hold open their hands as a teacher squeezes sanitizing gel from a tube. Sitting on plastic chairs, they work on their laps as learning continues despite the pandemic.

While it is back to school for many of its Asia-Pacific neighbors, Indonesia’s government continues to grapple with flattening the coronavirus curve.

According to a report by Al Jazeera English, many educators do not know when teaching without a classroom will end. And not all students have the means of getting online for distance learning.

“We cannot do online learning because there’s no internet access and people don’t have computers, laptops or mobile devices,” said Remigus Sua, a teacher from St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Insana district.

Bringing classroom to students

Education disruption is particularly critical in communities with no internet access. In many remote provinces in Indonesia, teachers say they have no choice but to travel long distances to support their students. And they are trying their best with limited resources.

Remingus and other teachers go from village to village five days a week to meet with students who are unable to get online.

Schools in Isana district, outside of Kupang, West Timor — and in many other communities across Indonesia — have been closed since March. Many teachers decided to start visiting the villages of their students, because without internet access or electricity, online learning was not a viable solution.

School closures in Indonesia due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online learning has affected around 68 million students from pre-school to higher education levels.

In Central Java, teacher Henrikus Suroto vowed his students wouldn’t be cheated out of their education.

“The only solution is to be close to students with door-to-door teaching,” said Henrikus in an interview.

“We are thankful that even though the road to our village is bad and it’s very far away, the teachers are still willing to come and teach us,” said student Sisilia Olivia Eli.

Curriculum essentials

With some degree of distance learning for the foreseeable future, Indonesia’s education ministry restructured the curriculum and focus on the essentials. 

“So we created this new kind of emergency curriculum that dramatically simplified the competencies and achievements,” said Education Minister Nadiem Makarim at an online forum in August.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the disparaties between the haves and the have-nots. Getting both teachers and students online has been a challenge.

“We’ve heard the biggest issue is the affordability of data. So we are fighting for some support in the data cost perspective,” said Nadiem. 

“We are undergoing discussions with operators of telcos as well, to be able to achieve that. So fingers crossed, I cannot promise anything, but it’s something that we will fight for.” 

Community hot spots

In Tangerang, outside of Jakarta, the local government set up an internet hotspot in a community center for students to do their homework.

“We started online learning in March. I really miss my school and I would like to go back,” said Fitrianan Nurul Nisa, a student.

Even for teachers who need to prepare online course materials, without the necessary resources or digital skills, it’s a challenging pivot. Some teachers are allowed into their empty classrooms to use the internet to teach remotely.

“Teachers are working twice as hard,” said teacher Siti Humiasih, from her desk in an empty classroom. “We are being overworked.” 

LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia
LEARNTech Asia showcases innovation in learning in Asia. We feature stories and resources in online learning, workplace learning, adult education, EdTech, and creative solutions by teachers and trainers in learning institutions, non-profits, and enterprises that enhance human capacity and inspire communities of lifelong learners.