Notes on National Education Day 2021

Indra Charismiadji Director of Education Vox Populi Institute Indonesia

IO – We celebrate National Education Day 2021 amid uncertain conditions, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Learning from India, which is suffering from an even worse COVID-19 wave than the first one; from European countries, which are having a hard time suppressing the number of infections, Indonesia should also do what it can to prevent the worsening of conditions here in the Archipelago.

In terms of education, the Government has yet to take any new strategic step to anticipate possible new surges in the number of COVID sufferers. Even though the Indonesian Pediatricians’ Association (Ikatan Dokter Anak Indonesia – “IDAI”) has formally issued a recommendation to delay face-to-face learning in schools, the Government continues to insist on restarting face-to-face classes in July 2021 based only on the vaccination of educators and educational staff – a vaccination whose efficacy is yet unproven, especially when one considers new variants such as the “B1617” sweeping India.

In view of this continued development, IDAI concludes that remote online learning is the best way to educate our children for the moment. Unfortunately, the majority of relevant authorities in Indonesia, spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology, judge that online learning results in learning loss and various other negative impacts.

I am one of those who believe that online learning will actually generate learning gain, or exert a positive impact on children’s education. Naturally, the method to be used must be different from traditional ones. Nothing positive will come from teachers lecturing for hours on end in Zoom rooms and then assigning a mountain of tasks to students.

As an analogy, if we cook rice in a rice cooker, we wouldn’t be putting rice cooker on a stove like when we use dandang rice steamer. The rice produced will have a different taste and texture, but we will still call them both “rice”. If you ask a person which one is better, it will depend on who you ask. Like Alvin Toffler said, “Illiterates in the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who are unable to learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Educational authorities must first unlearn the old learning models and paradigms before they can relearn new methods such as Project-based Learning for implementing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) learning effectively on students.

From March 2020, when Remote Learning was first instituted, until now, there has been no effort to improve the quality of online Remote Learning. There has been no massive teacher training, parental guidance, or learning stimulation for students. In fact, as I have just said, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology prefers to judge that Online Remote Learning will definitely generate bad results. Furthermore, it has more than once “enforced” the reopening of schools by issuing no fewer than 3 (three) (!) Joint Decrees of 4 Ministers concerning Face-to-Face Learning. This is a stark irony, because they push for physical education of Indonesian children in the digital era instead of educating these children into digitally savvy HR.

The second National Education Day note is the endless series of brouhaha brought in by different, conflicting educational policies since the start of the Indonesia Onward Cabinet. I conclude that this mess occurs because of lack of academic pre-studies, lack of public involvement, and zero public testing when these policies were made. Add to this mixture horrible, elitist, unidirectional public communication, and the condition can only get worse, especially among educational professionals.

I honestly admit to being surprised by the fact that the additional duties of taking care of Indonesia’s research and technology are foisted on a Ministry that has not carried out a single research project in the formulation of its policies within the past 18 months! If this condition is not resolved in a structured, systematic, and massive way, all educational issues will be filled with brouhahas, clarifications, and revisions all the way until 2024. There will be no energy, time, and resource left to actually perform the primary duty of actual efforts to educate the people properly.

I will leave a final note for the day that should have been an exciting one: There is a real danger of having a “lost generation” right before our eyes. The impact of these conflicts won’t be showing by 2024. Everything will only be clear by 2034, when the current batches of educational participants enter productive age. The dream of the demographic bonus will turn into a demographic disaster if no rapid and actual corrections are made.

Happy National Education Day 2021 to all Indonesians. Let’s hope that Indonesia can manage its education better, so that we can brilliantly achieve our founding fathers’ aspiration of generating an intelligent nation, an advanced civilization, and prosperous citizenry.