Thousands of educational units across the country lack internet access; educational quality suffers

Extra care is necessary when implementing Face-to-Face Learning (FFL) during the pandemic. (Photo: Septiawan)

IO – Deputy for Education and Religious Affairs Coordination of the Coordinating Ministry of Human Development and Cultural Affairs Agus Sartono has declared that the quality of Indonesia’s education has been degraded, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. “However, this overall decrease is not just seen in Indonesia. I believe that the scholastic performance in other countries must be lower than their record in previous years as well,” Agus stated in the webinar “Outlook of Indonesia’s Education 2021” organized jointly by Vox Point Indonesia and NU Circle on Sunday, 3 January 2021.

Agus stated that the quality of Indonesia’s education during the pandemic is much lower than that of other countries. “Our implementation of Remote Learning (‘RL’) is inadequate. This is worsened by the fact that 46,000 of our educational are not wired for mains electricity, let alone the internet. Then there’s the issue of their ability to obtain internet credit, followed by the policy of providing internet credit assistance to lower education students, higher education students, teachers and lecturers. However, despite this burden, we need to resolve the issue of 46,000 educational units that are clearly unable to implement RL,” he reported.

Agus further stated that with the various obstacles that we face, he is pessimistic that we can achieve much learning. “Even though we have not evaluated the situation, let alone getting results that we can base our policies on, I am quite certain that we will suffer low learning achievements. Even units that can only implement a minimum level of RL are still better than units that cannot do it due to lack of access or infrastructure,” he said.

Amid Indonesia’s many educational problems during the pandemic, the issue of holding National Assessment (“NA”) to replace National Examinations (“NE”) has come back to the fore and questions have arisen. “Our biggest challenge is the fact that soon, in March-April 2021 to be exact, we will be holding the NA. Obviously, we need to quickly finish setting up its legal foundation, socialize it, and determine the sampling for its implementation. If we hold NA during the pandemic, I am concerned that the results will not be optimal and that there will be restrictions for its socialization,” Agus said. “The primary challenge is how to ensure that students in the sampling can actually complete the NA properly. On one hand, we don’t want them to be careless during their test, yielding bad results for the entire school. On the other hand, we must not allow schools to take their samples from the smart kids only either.”

Agus further discussed the issue of accepting new students. The Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have started to socialize various issues relating to the replacement of the NE by the NA, including the basis for registering new educational participants. “We continue to use residential zoning as the basis for Acceptance of New Educational Participants (Penerimaan Peserta Didik Baru – “PPDB”),” he said.

Face-to-Face Learning in Pesantrens

Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Director General of Islamic Education Ali Ramdani observes that the Directorate General is careful about implementing Face-to-Face Learning (“FFL”) in Islamic schools. “When managers of madrasahs (general Islamic schools) are asked whether they are ready for FFL, they always say “Yes”. However, when we continue by asking whether or not they really are reopening, they say that they will think about it. Therefore, as our priority is maintaining everyone’s safety and health in madrasahs, our best option for them is still Remote Learning,” Ali said.

On the contrary, pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools) continue to implement conventional FFL during the. “Pesantrens are unique entities that differ from other educational units. They have a long-standing tradition that prevents us from outright preventing FFL,” Ali said. “We can get away with officially requesting madrasahs to implement RL because they implement formal learning. On the contrary, it is difficult to insist that pesantrens not perform Face-to- Face Learning. The best we can do is make a request to them.”

Ali admitted that continued FFL has caused santris (boarding scholars) to facilitate transmission of COVID-19. However, the recovery level among these patients is also quite high. This is one of the considerations accounted for by the Ministry of Religious Affairs when it allows pesantrens to continue implementing FFL. “The fact remains that our santris have relatively strong physiques and a very high level of recovery,” he said. “The number of santris who died because of COVID-19 is not significant: the mortality rate is only one in a thousand. However, the teachers paint another story. 250 of our kiai (lit. “grandfathers”, senior Islamic scholars) have died because of COVID-19 so far. This is a cause of concern, really. We need to pay more and serious attention about how to prevent the spread of COVID among the kiais of pesantrens.”


The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (Komisi Perlindungan Anak Indonesia – “KPAI”) requests a thorough evaluation of Remote Learning issues so far. It believes that various issues should have been resolved by now, as RL has been going on for over 10 months. KPAI Commissioner in Education Retno Listyarti stated that the Government should have other alternatives open for RL, as it is impossible for students to continue RL until graduation. “As this has gone on for more than 10 months, we should be thinking about how to resolve the issue already. We can’t continue RL until graduation. How long are we going to do this RL anyway? How many years?” she said.

Retno believes that the Ministry of Education and Culture must organize Face-to-Face Learning seriously. “The Government should have solid data on regions that are ready for FFL. We need concrete mapping – how many schools are ready and which are unready in each region,” she said. “So far, the Government has not mapped FFL readiness, even though it is extremely important for implementing health protocols. FFL is something that both Regional Governments and parents should support for the sake of the children. Therefore, the Government must set aside special budget for implementing FFL during the pandemic. And that is a significant amount, as there will be a need to provide infrastructure for implementing health protocols. Don’t take it out of the School Operational Aid (Bantuan Operasional Sekolah – “BOS”) funds!”

Member of the House of Representative’s Commission X Ferdiansyah hopes that the Ministry of Education and Culture can communicate better with its partners and stakeholders on how to advance Indonesia’s educational sector in 2021. Meanwhile, the General Chairman of the Indonesia Teachers’ Union, M. Ramli Rahim, admits that Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim has implemented one good policy in 2020, the program for appointing 1 million contract teachers throughout Indonesia as Government Staff under Work Agreements (Pegawai Pemerintah dengan Perjanjian Kerja – “PPPK”). (Dan)