Minister of Education and Culture to allow schools to reopen in January

Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim. (Photo: SETKAB RI)

IO – The Central Government has authorized Regional Governments to implement face-to-face learning in schools starting the even semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, in January 2021. “The Central Government, through a Joint Decree of 4 Ministers, has adjusted its policy and authorized Regional Governments, Regional Pffices, or Minister of Religious Affairs Offices to determine the issuance of face-to-face learning permits in schools under their authority. Therefore, Regional Governments and schools who believe that they are ready to carry forward with schools face-to-face must prepare themselves from now on until the year ends,” said Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim, in an online press conference on Friday (20/11/2020).

Nadiem stated that Regional Governments can issue the permit to reopen schools simultaneously or gradually. They are free to determine which schools get reopened first, based on their ability and readiness to strictly implement health protocols during face-to-face learning. “These schools are appointed, based on the results of the relevant Regional Heads of their readiness for face-to-face learning. They have satisfied all health protocol criteria in the checklist for this readiness,” he said.

Therefore, schools may be reopened for face-to-face learning in January 2021 case-by-case, not based on the COVID-19 zoning location of the school itself. Earlier, the Government only allows schools in Green and Yellow Zone to implement face-to-face learning. “The zoning map is no longer the blanket requirement for permitting face-to-face learning. Now, Regional Governments make the call, as they can select individual schools in their areas in more detail,” he said.

532,000 educational units had applied for face-to-face learning permits by November 2020, while 87% of schools throughout Indonesia still educate their students remotely or online.

42,48% of these have filled in a health protocol checklist: First, availability of clean and decent sanitation facilities, including toilets, hand-washing facilities that include soap and running water, and provision of disinfectants.

Second, Access to sufficient health service facilities. Third, implementing mask-wearing compliance. Fourth, possession and use of thermoguns. Fifth, mapping educational unit members who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and finally, obtaining the approval of the School Committee and/or Parent/ Teacher Associations.

Even though certain schools and regions may have decided to restart faceto-face learning, the students’ parents get the final say in wather they will allow their children to go to school or not. “Basically, face-to-face learning will be allowed, not mandated,” Nadiem said.

Negative Impact

A learning survey held in October 2020 on 532,000 educational units, starting from Elementary School to High School, shows that 226,000 schools or about 42.5% responded positively to the idea of remote learning, and only 13% demand schools in face-to-face mode. It further found that remote learning can exert a negative impact on students. “More than 68 million educational participants participate in remote learning, with various geographical, social, and economic conditions. Those blessed by living in areas with good internet connections and in families with sufficient financial strength to ensure continuous connectivity have no problems: teachers can teach them online using various apps and they can perform group discussions using social media. However, it is not so easy for those living with weak internet access. For them, we try to lessen the gap using other media such as TVRI and RRI, and we even have teachers visit the students’ homes instead,” the Minister said.

Nadiem stated that constant remote learning might turn into a permanent risk that may cause dropouts, as many children are forced or encouraged by their parents to work. “This is also due to the worsening of families’ economy because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents are taking their children out of schools because they think that schools don’t play much role in improving children’s competence during remote learning. In the end, many children end up stopping learning even remotely. The longer the condition lasts, the bigger the risk of this happening,” he said. The lack of interaction with teachers, schoolmates, and the outside world due to the pandemic increases the stress of remote learning among children and their parents. “Other than this psycho-social pressure, there is a real risk of increased child abuse during prolonged remote learning. The prolonged increase of parental frustration due to reduced income and added responsibility of teaching the children at home might cause them to lash out on their children at home. Teachers do not have the capability to detect any incidence of household violence, and this is one our most important considerations on the matter,” he said.

House Supports Reopening

Chairman of House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat – “DPR”) Commission X Syaiful Huda supports the plan to reopen schools for face-to-face learning. However, as always, it must be accompanied by strict health protocols because COVID-19 infection continues. In fact, it shows a trend of increasing within the past few weeks.

“Reopening schools for face-to-face learning is currently a necessity, especially in the regions. Remote learning is ineffective because of lack of proper facilities there. For example, students in the regions tend not to have internet-accessing gadgets and internet access in the regions is uneven, while they must still learn somehow. In some regions, children literally cannot study at all because schools are shut because of COVID-19 and there is no way to teach them remotely. This is reported by the World Bank: that Indonesia might suffer from loss of learning for a large number of our children,” he said.

Huda stated that the threat of loss of learning is not a petty one, because it causes a domino effect that our children fail to get the necessary competencies according to their age level. “We received reports that the number of child workers has increased during the pandemic, as they are forced to assist their parents to survive economic problems,” he said. “Reopening schools for face-to-face learning returns educational participants to their proper learning ecosystem. Most of them have lost the learning ambience and atmosphere that only face-to-face schooling provide. They are practically released from routines and discipline of learning at school. By doing this, the students will return to the routines that they need to put their mindset into learning.”

Huda requests that the Government ensure that schools are reopened only after they satisfy the necessary requirements, such as available disinfectant chambers or other facilities, soap and faucets (if possible, sinks) for hand-washing, and flexible studying.

“This includes schools ensuring that physical distance is maintained by regulating seats in classes and rotating their school time so that everyone gets to experience schooling properly. Learning periods must also be flexible. For example, each student need only come to school 2-3 days a week and study there for 3-4 hours in turn,” he said.

The Government must further provide a special budget to ensure that the necessary facilities to implement health protocols are really available in schools. “The World Bank reports that 40% of schools in Indonesia still do not have toilets, while 50% of schools do not have sinks with running water, a necessity during this pandemic. We hope that a special budget will be allocated to ensure the availability and proper operation of these essential facilities before

schools reopen for real,” Huda said.

He further stated that the Ministry of Education and Culture and Regional Government must intensively coordinate with relevant parties for reopening schools for face-to-face learning. It is necessary to ensure that face-to-face learning is performed under strict health protocols to avoid possible generation of new COVID-19 infection clusters. “The Joint Decree of four Ministers state that Regional Government through its COVID-19 Task Force, schools, and the students’ parents all have their equally important roles to play in allowing face-to-face learning. They must intensively coordinate, in order to make quick decisions according to the dynamics in the field, including immediately stopping face-to-face learning in any school where even a single teacher, staff, or student is reactive for COVID-19,” Huda said.