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Jakarta Post

COVID-19 disruption and the widening digital divide

  • Anita Lie


Surabaya, East Java   /   Sat, May 2, 2020   /   08:52 am
COVID-19 disruption and the widening digital divide Early education: Students of Bina Tunas Jaya early childhood education center play on a slide during their school break at Kramat Jati wholesale market in East Jakarta in this file photo. (The Jakarta Post/I Gede Dharma JS)

As we celebrate National Education Day, the abrupt disruption generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to shift to online learning with no or little preparation in terms of internet access, teacher capacity and student-parent readiness.

For the past month, online learning has been implemented with varying levels of quality. At best, a few teachers have managed to execute online learning by engaging students in different learning management systems (LMS). Such teachers had used LMS as part of their blended learning even before the pandemic started.

Furthermore, they are used to designing project-based learning activities. Therefore, when the COVID-19 outbreak compelled all schools to close and students to learn from home, they hardly faced adjustment issue.

At worst, however, learning is simply not taking place for many students. Their teachers lack resources to engage in online learning and many students do not have access to internet connection and the necessary gadgets.

In between those two points, a majority of teachers in Indonesia are grappling with the challenges of delivering learning assignments to their students at home. Many of them resort to distributing weekly paper-based assignments to parents.

Recently, the Education and Culture Ministry has turned to use the national television broadcaster TVRI to deliver learning packages. This effort needs to be further expanded as there are still concerns about access and availability of all the learning materials across the Kindergarten to Grade 12 curricula.

All in all, the pandemic has shed a light on the widening digital divide that will lead to serious implications on the human capital development in Indonesia. On the other hand, this enforced learn-from-home situation can also be a window of opportunity for the ministry to spearhead a new education paradigm and movement that would overcome prevailing quality inequalities across Indonesia.

The crisis has brought awareness for the necessity of connectedness by means of technology. Teachers across Indonesia have varying degrees of professional development opportunities and hence Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK). The learn-from-home enforcement has served as a litmus paper revealing teachers’ diverse competence levels as well as unequal learning opportunities across the country.

First things first during this crisis, when the connection issues (internet or television-radio) can be resolved, this can further open doors to jumpstarting the impoverished schools particularly in remote regions.

One key issue in the quality disparity in Indonesian education is the distribution of qualified teachers. Despite the government’s effort to build road infrastructure, it would take more years for development — particularly outside of Java — to catch up. Most teachers are reluctant to be assigned in underdeveloped regions and so the vicious cycle prevails.

It would be less expensive and more feasible to install technology infrastructure than to find committed teachers to be placed in remote areas. When the COVID-19 crisis is over, hopefully, as Education and Culture Ministry expert staffer Iwan Syahril has expressed, “the anxiety for using technology will be reduced and the readiness level will increase”.

The shortage of competent teachers in remote regions can be overcome with community-based education utilizing technology to deliver distance learning and engaging trained local tutors. This crisis may also be an opportunity to gather the learn-from-home best practices and develop a home-school learning partnership model. A child’s education, after all, is the sole responsibility of parents.

The outsourcing of education by parents to schools needs to be revisited to return to the essence and goal of holistic education of a child. The formal education enterprise is certainly still needed but has to transform its role and strategies even after the pandemic is over.

The pandemic’s disruption is currently causing quick fixes and emergency actions in the education sector and domestic crises at home. A teacher in Kediri, East Java, Bambang Yulianto, describes the learn-from-home mode as “sending a breeze in school into a tornado at home”.

Turning this crisis into opportunities for growth requires concerted efforts by all parties.

What is urgently needed by teachers and students is free internet access so that online learning can be conducted optimally. The ministry’s decision to allow school operational aid (BOS) to be used for internet connection costs should be highly appreciated.

It is time for telecommunication providers to bear their social responsibility during this crisis. They have given free internet charges to access certain education apps. This free access should be extended to other apps and LMS. Furthermore, they also need to expand their areas of service and include regions that cannot afford connectivity.

The ministry has launched platform that allows teachers to share lesson plans, articles and tips for better teaching. This teacher-sharing platform serves as a springboard to develop a virtual community of practice among teachers and should be further promoted to a wider circle of teachers. To capitalize further on this platform, virtual modules for professional development can be uploaded there.

Finally, the ministry has stated that the focus of learning materials delivered on television was on literacy, numeracy and character education. In regard to the abrupt disruption and the lack of readiness, education stakeholders need to lower their expectations as far as content mastery is concerned.

Students may catch up on the mastery of content knowledge when the connectivity issues can be resolved later. Given the dire circumstances, now is really the time to reflect on what is the true essence of education.

Happy National Education Day.


Professor at Widya Mandala Catholic University Surabaya

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.