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FGD With Subgroup Partners on Non-traditional Strategies in The Indonesian Education Sector

Toyota Foundation Project Update

By Raymond Andaya

In line with the International Law Training and Research Hub’s Toyota Foundation-funded project, “Research, Mutual Learning and Network Formation on Human Rights Best Practices by Non-State Actors in COVID Responses,” the subgroup on non-state entities in the education sector, featuring various actors in Indonesian education, conducted an online focus group discussion (FGD) on 3 September 2022. The Project’s Principal Investigator, Professor Ai Kihara-Hunt, welcomed the four partners to the meeting, which is the first in a series of activities aimed at examining the role that non-traditional strategies in the Indonesian education sector play in helping uphold the human right to access quality education. Hub member, Raymond Andaya, co-facilitated the FGD with subgroup researchers, Agnes Anya and Fathia Fairuza.

The discussions focused on five general topics:

  • Context: Education in Indonesia

  • Teaching during the pandemic

  • Network for advice and assistance

  • Post-pandemic transition

  • Helping uphold the human right of access to quality education

The participants of the FGD are teachers from formal and informal education institutions/organizations that have adapted teaching strategies based on the perceived needs of students, and on the challenges and opportunities they face amid the changing landscape of the education sector in Indonesia:

  • Fransiscus Xaverius Fri Harna, teacher, SD Kanisius Kenalan, Magelang, Central Java

  • Zakharia Primaditya & Putri Kitnas Inesia, founders and teachers, Kawan Kasih Tumbuh, Kosarek, Papua

  • Meutia Nadhilah, principal, Menlo Park School

  • Mohamad Djodi Hardi Prajuri and Rida Farida, co-founders and teachers, Bright Micro School, Depok, Indonesia

The following preliminary findings emerged from the discussions:

While there is recognition of the progress made towards enhancing access to education in the country, some long-standing challenges remain. For instance, Mr. Zakharia Primaditya (Adit), one of the founders and teachers of Kawan Kasih Tumbuh in Kosarek, Papua, notes the enduring challenges for students in remote areas of the country especially amid the increasing reliance on online-based, technology reliant education strategies. His fellow teacher in Kosarek, Ms. Putri Kitnas Inesia (Putri), adds that limitations on access to technology and infrastructure have made students in remote areas of the country more isolated, and have compelled teachers to find more creative ways to teach. Another challenge has been the focus on standardized modalities of teaching and assessment, which according to Mr. Fransiscus Xaverius Fri Harna (Frans), a teacher at SD Kanisius Kenalan in Magelang, Central Java, tends to lead to a disregard for non-academic aspects of a holistic learning experience. Similarly, Ms. Meutia Nadhilah (Meutia), principal at the Menlo Park School, believes that standardized assessments tend to generalize student competencies, thereby preventing teachers from identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses. This challenge is aggravated by the tendency for teachers to have inordinate amounts of administrative tasks on top of teaching. This, according to Mr. Mohamad Djodi Hardi Prajuri (Djodi) and Ms. Rida Farida (Rida), co-founders and teachers at Bright Micro School, restricts teachers’ ability to help students identify and nurture learning objectives. While modalities based on standardized teaching and assessment are changing through reforms recently instituted by the Ministry of Education, the impact of such reforms have yet to be seen.

Implementation of teaching strategies that have been contextualized, personalized, and adjusted to students’ needs and environments. Such is the case for both online-based learning systems as well as the ‘micro school’ approach, which maintains a small number of students per class. These strategies ensure personalized learning and, according to Djodi, allows teachers more “flexibility and freedom in delivering learning materials.” In some cases, conventional modalities of teaching are still deemed appropriate, but are tailored to acknowledge the specific contexts and ways of life of the communities in which schools operate. For example, In Kosarek, where communities do not use the Indonesian language, teachers deemed it appropriate to utilize the students’ mother tongue, gradually incorporating Indonesian into mother tongue-based multilingual learning content as students progress through grade levels. Putri notes that this strategy of gradual incorporation helps “bridge them [students] into the formal curriculum of the State.” Finally, teachers in remote areas of the country integrate context-based vocational and soft skills development, in recognition of the specificities of communities which students are part of. This is particularly true for schools in remote areas like Magelang and Kosarek.

The adaptability of teaching strategies as non-traditional actors in the education sector helped the teachers become more open to reformulating the education paradigm, thereby addressing various limitations and constraints. In Kosarek and Magelang, where teachers and students face material, infrastructural, and even geographic limitations, teachers emphasized, and convinced community members, that learning vocational skills, soft skills, and cognitive understanding are just as valuable as traditional scholastic education. During the height of the pandemic, when schools were affected by closures and restrictions to mobility, teaching strategies, such as the ‘door-to-door teaching’ approach in Magelang, has changed peoples’ perceptions on space and modality in formal education. Meanwhile, the pivot towards online based and micro school learning strategies also presented opportunities to address difficulties typically faced by students in traditional schools. Gaps in learning ability and socialization challenges in schools, such as in cases of bullying, were addressed by personalized teaching approaches in small-class settings, exemplified by micro schools. With the gradual easing of restrictions, hybrid learning has become an option, incorporating offline activities into online-based teaching methods. Such is the transition strategy for the likes of Menlo Park School, which highlights its international curriculum and its focus on the principle of self-regulated learning to provide students with a holistic learning experience despite the drastic shift in teaching approaches.

While collaborative partnerships with communities and civil society exist, network opportunities for non-traditional strategies to be recognized and integrated into the state’s formal education system must be strengthened. Independent pilot programs like micro schools are typically initiated without formal coordination with state authorities, but some teachers, like Rida, formulate their teaching modalities using the same approaches recommended by the Ministry of Education. Their model of education revolves around direct communication with parents as partners in the students’ learning process. Djodi suggests that support from the government, such as through the provision of learning space that can be used for small-class settings, can go a long way towards expanding the practice. Online-based schools also use partnerships to provide a learning ‘space’ for their students, such as in the case of Menlo Park School’s links with Ruangguru, an Indonesian start-up company focused on education. Most importantly, however, independent programs like online learning and micro school systems could benefit from the formalization of operations through legal permits from relevant State authorities.

The school in Kosarek is also, essentially, an independent movement that could do well from increased support from the government. The initiative, nonetheless, benefited from its links with civil society. Their learning material, for instance, came from a linguistics organization, the Summer Institute Linguistic (SIL). The linkage enabled the teachers in Kosarek to provide a structured mother tongue-based learning program. Key to these types of schools’ operations is their strong partnership with community-based organizations. For example, the school in Kosarek relies on its collaboration with the umbrella of Christian church organizations in the area. Operating in a predominantly Christian community, the school, and its teaching approach, is an acknowledgement of the need to contextualize the crafting of education strategies.

In the post pandemic transition, non-traditional teaching strategies must highlight best practices, and incorporate them with conventional education strategies, to ensure a holistic learning space for students. Micro and online-based teaching approaches must maintain creativity in teaching approaches to ensure that they remain relevant during the easing of mobility restrictions. For instance, ensuring that online learners are getting quality pedagogy and opportunities for higher education can assure parents that online schools can also provide a holistic learning experience for their children. While not a new paradigm in education, the need for continuous holistic learning was no more significant than during the height of the pandemic, as evidenced by the experience of teachers in Magelang. As the school returns to in-person teaching, the teachers have incorporated practices used both before and during the height of pandemic restrictions into teaching modalities in the current transition period. This includes direct engagement with parents and students in the community space, as part of applied holistic education strategies.

Teachers perceive their non-traditional, alternative strategies as contributions to upholding the right to access education through opportunities they provide to students who would have otherwise been constrained by the challenges faced in conventional education settings and the limitations caused by material and infrastructural conditions of the communities in which they belong. First, micro and online school models are perceived to be options to students for whom conventional learning has been restricted for various reasons, such as during the time of school closures caused by the spread of COVID-19. These strategies are aimed at changing mindsets on the ability of students to personalize their education towards their long-term life goals and are deemed to provide alternatives to the one-size-fits-all curriculum in formal education systems. Second, community-oriented schools like the ones in Magelang and Kosarek use adapted education strategies that are deeply anchored on the teachers’ acknowledgement of the context-specific resource and geographic constraints of students and the societies they belong to.

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