How Covid-19 can change education, for the better

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Indra Charismiadji Director of Education Vox Populi Institute Indonesia

IO – The school directive issued on November 20, 2020 by the Education and Culture Ministry, covering school year 2020/2021, spelled out the various negative impacts that may affect students during the pandemic, if in-person learning isn’t resumed immediately. Specifically, the document warned of the threat of dropping out of school, because parents do not see the role of schools in the teaching and learning process, constraints on growth and development due to gaps in learning achievement, the risk of “learning loss” both in terms of cognitive and character development, and the emergence of psycho-social stress and domestic violence because many children and parents are under pressure from having to stay at home over a prolonged period. 

Is this the case? If we look at what happened to most schools in Indonesia, there is some truth in this statement, but it missed the big picture. The good news is that not all schools are the same. Here are just some of the many inspiring stories about learning transformations during the pandemic. 

Mrs. Andar, a Civics teacher from SMA Pangudi Luhur St. Yosef Surakarta said that her school had successfully implemented Long-distance Learning (PJJ) using the Collaborative Learning model. Mrs. Wahyu, Principal of SMP Regina Pacis Solo, also succeeded in transforming her school through Integrated Learning. Mr. Pipied, a creativity and entrepreneurship teacher at SMA St. Maria Malang has implemented the Blended Learning concept. And Mrs. Maria, a biology teacher from SMA Ursulin Surakarta, has also tweaked how she teaches by combining Integrated Learning with an international program from the United States. 

Even though the methods used by those schools go by a different name, the basic concept is still the same, namely STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) integrated into project-based learning. Students are no longer spoonfed, no longer given questions, tests, or exams. Instead, they are asked to work collaboratively in groups to come up with a real project that can benefit the community with in the process of learning objectives from several subjects that are integrated into one. The works they create are mostly animation, applications, blogs, podcasts, digital comics, advertisements, and so on. 

Students can set their own schedule (not based on school hours), adjusting their own learning pace; it is a learning process that is truly liberating. This learning model is often referred to as asynchronous or on-demand learning. The teacher merely acts as a facilitator and motivator for students. Their energy is better allocated for helping students in need. 

According to Mrs. Wahyu, with this kind of learning model, children have become happier and more enthusiastic because they don’t feel burdened. Students’ basic literacy and digital literacy have also improved significantly. The ability to think critically, collaboratively, communicatively, and creatively, which are key skills for the 21st century, is automatically burnished through this kind of learning, according to Mr. Pipied. To illustrate his point, he used a group of Year 10 students who didn’t known each other, had never met the teacher, and even live in different regions (Malang, Kalimantan, Flores and Papua) but they were able to learn and work together, which he found really extraordinary. 

In terms of character education, Mrs. Andar begged to differ. According to her, with this new model of learning, children’s character is actually much better-developed than with traditional in-class teaching. Students have become more independent, responsible, honest, hard-working, and respectful toward each other— something that might never have happened if there had been no pandemic, according to Mrs. Maria. 

The successful learning transformations shown above prove that the negative impacts of long-distance learning seem to only manifest in schools that do not want to adapt to a new reality or are resistant to change. The pedagogy of long-distance learning enabled by digital technology is starkly different from the in-person learning that we are used to. Thus, if educators do not have the appropriate pedagogical skills, a learning progress will be hindered. Not to mention the weak personality, professional, and social competence of teachers in Indonesia in general.

In conclusion, the absence of in-person learning is not the root cause of negative impact on education, but the quality of Indonesian education itself, which is far from liberating. If we take a close look, what happens during study at home so far is not that much different from faceto- face learning in the classroom. There is no paradigm shift. Students are still being “lectured”, merely given assignments to do and questions to solve, which of course resulted in a “learning loss” because they are feeling stressed out all the same. 

What the government needs to do is to appreciate and make an example of good practices from schools that have successfully transformed into modern-age institutions able to implement hybrid learning by marrying information technology with the changing role of the teacher in the digital age. These good practices can be used as a model for teacher training throughout Indonesia which of course will be more productive than simply returning to the traditional model known for its poor-quality results. 

Regardless of the pandemic, the government is responsible for educating the children of the nation. Thus, it must not give up and lose hope in improving the quality of education in Indonesia, especially since there are many successful examples that only need to be scaled up. As I have often said on various occasions, if education is not seriously addressed, the dream of the nation to reap benefit from its demographic bonus can turn into a demographic disaster. Currently, many parties need to collaborate so that the dream of Indonesia Maju (Indonesia Onward) can be achieved in a timely manner, as envisioned.