As the pandemic has unfolded, we could all be forgiven for too soon assuming we had seen the worst of its effects. Around the globe, restrictions have been followed by relaxations, but then also the inevitable return of outbreaks.
In Jakarta, the Indonesian capital and most populous city, Governor Anies Baswedan has reimposed large-scale social restrictions (PSBB), with various regions following suit. Educators, parents and school children watching this back-and-forth should rightly be concerned about whether their leaders are getting it right when it comes to learning and safety.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Education and Culture has continued to grapple with distance learning for the 68 million students whose schools remain closed across the archipelago.
The ministry’s distance learning approaches have varied, from online learning resource hubs to educational television programs broadcasted by the state-owned television, TVRI. More recently, the ministry has announced a new policy to support students with 35 GB and 42 GB mobile data packages to facilitate distance learning.
However, despite the increased adoption of distance learning in Indonesian schools, about 60 percent of Indonesian students do not have internet access and digital technology devices. Moreover, region-to-region and local variations in economic and social conditions clearly point to diverse issues beyond digital technology devices that require the attention of policy-makers and educators alike.
We should listen to the students’ voices. While educators might be meeting the challenges of online learning, there are still the same age-old challenges that should make us question our hopes for a return to normal. For example, the continued domination of teacher-centered approaches in Indonesian classrooms should give us a pause to consider how these practices have always privileged order and compliance above freedom and creativity.
Our children, born into this age of seemingly endless crises, also know that the future will need their labor and wherewithal if solutions are to be found. Yet, we seem to be stuck doing education to our students rather than with them.
In this moment of crisis, educators and communities grappling with their day-to-day challenges have risen up to meet the demands of their particular local situation. For instance, in some villages, distance learning is being conducted in the village meeting hall where a group of students meets to reach their teachers using free WiFi funded by the village.
These types of partnerships between schools and relevant institutions and partnering with local public health centers are really important to ensure that distance learning activities and small-scale learning activities are conducted safely.
This is the time for transformation to take place. Policymakers need to have a clear picture of these local solutions, but also the diversity of challenges within and between regions, if they are going to better target their interventions. For instance, the Education and Culture Ministry could establish regional and local task forces to understand just how local teachers are adapting to teaching and learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
These types of investments will be crucial to Indonesia navigating its way out of the precarity of this moment.
Even now, economists grappling with the implications of the pandemic have argued that investing in education could future-proof the economy. However, this future-proofing is less than inspiring, considering that education has long been yoked to our “more-ish” global economic model, which at its core underpins an endless quest for growth that we all quietly know is leading to the catastrophic destruction of our biosphere.
Yet, the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to the fourth-largest education system in the world cannot be separated from the local context and culture. Thus, policymakers would be wise to consider the diversity of issues and factors arising from the various regional and local contexts to create multilayered solutions to teaching and learning in the COVID-19 pandemic.
A one-size-fits-all approach will certainly not work.
George Variyan is a lecturer of Globalization Leadership and Policy at the School of Education, Monash University. Agus Mutohar is a lecturer at the School of Islamic Education and Teacher Training of Walisongo State Islamic University Semarang and a PhD candidate at Monash University.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.