The Jakarta Post
Wearing a black-and-gray scarf as a face mask, teacher Fransiskus Xaverius Faimau, 37, in North Central Timor regency, East Nusa Tenggara, was showing his class of five children study materials on his laptop under the glaring sun when one of the girls interrupted him.
“Sir, when can we gather again with our friends at school? We miss wearing our school uniforms,” Fransiskus recalled the comments of his fourth-grade student.
“We will have to wait for the [government’s] announcement. You can wear your uniform but you will have to wait for your teachers to come to your house first," Fransiskus told The Jakarta Post recently, recalling his answers to the student.
Every weekday morning, at least two teachers from Kecil Fatutasu elementary school go to two or three houses to teach students living in a particular neighborhood in small groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For two of his far-flung students, Fransiskus has to ride his motorcycle for 5 kilometers and then walk for another 30 minutes across rivers. He sometimes teaches them in an open field while their parents work on their land.
“Children have to keep learning because if we just leave, they will go back to square one as they will play around and forget what has been taught to them,” Fransiskus said.
Many other teachers in Indonesia like Fransiskus have gone the extra mile to teach students, often without the internet or electricity, as schools have been closed since the government urged people in March to work and study from home during the pandemic. Authorities have called on schools to turn to e-learning and educational programs on TV as an answer to the problem of school closures.
But the digital divide remains a problem, with a 2018 Indonesian Internet Providers Association (APJII) survey showing that internet usage is centralized on the most populous island of Java and other urban areas.
Indonesia is also facing gaps in school participation and the quality of education between better-resourced and less well-resourced areas.
“And at a time when all parties have been caught flat-footed because there was no preparation to deal with this [remote learning], the creativity of the teachers supported by parents and the community is an important asset in a healthy learning process,” Cahaya Guru Foundation chairwoman Henny Supolo said.
In Berinang Mayung in remote Landak regency, West Kalimantan, e-learning is also not an option for Heriyanto, 52, a fifth-grade teacher at SD 08 state elementary school. Most of his students have neither television nor even an electricity supply, let alone internet access.
Wearing mask, Yuliana (right), a teacher at SD 08 state elementary school in Berinang Mayung in Landak regency, West Kalimantan, teaches a student (center) who is accompanied by her parent. (Courtesy of/SD 8 elementary school headmaster)
Heriyanto and his fellow teachers also go door to door each day during the pandemic to teach their pupils despite possible exposure to the virus that has infected at least five people across Landak regency.
During the home visits, Heriyanto always reminds his students to wear masks and wash their hands before joining his lessons. “I also always make sure there are no more than five students in one group,” he said.
Heriyanto has 23 students in fifth grade but he has lost contact with eight of them since the pandemic began. The eight students live in remote villages that cannot be reached by Heriyanto on his motorcycle.
The school has seven teachers and 146 students in total and the pandemic has changed the way they study and teach, with headmaster Kristina Ponia saying they “are trying to keep the students safe, at the same time preventing them from being left further behind [in education].”
Meanwhile, facilitators from education consultant Willi Toisuta and Associates have been working with local village heads and teachers in Teluk Bintuni, West Papua, since mid-March to distribute printed modules to help teach about 300 students daily from five schools.
They have designed the program to actively engage students through projects related to their daily activities, such as learning physics and mathematics from the boiling point of cooking water. They also provide guidelines for parents on how to assist their students in the learning process.
While waiting for the government’s next move before deciding the program’s future, the consulting firm’s managing director Eka Simanjuntak urged the government to use scientific evidence as a basis to open schools, such as determining the risk of infection among children and the impact of closing schools on them.
Authorities have said that school reopening will only be allowed in regions listed as “green zones”, where no COVID-19 cases have been recorded. It is also expected that the academic year will begin around July 13th but the learning process will not necessarily be face-to-face at school, depending on the region. As of May 30, health authorities listed 102 regencies and cities as green zones, of the total 514 regencies and cities in 34 provinces.
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the education sector would be the last to be reopened, with plans to reopen school campuses by the end of the year or at the beginning of 2021.
But remote regions are not alone in facing similar hurdles. In Malaka Jaya, East Jakarta, SD 11 state elementary school teacher Syarifah Widiyati Agustin has to extend deadlines until late at night for students to report back to teachers, as students have to wait for their parents or siblings before they can use a phone to do home assignments.
She also previously had to spend her own money to buy mobile data for her students to continue their remote learning before the city administration allowed schools to re-allocate their Education Operational Funds (BOP) for mobile data. Some parents, she said, could not afford to buy mobile internet data for their kids.