Indonesia Education and Culture Minister : Driving education reform through technology

The appointment of Nadiem Makarim as Education and Culture Minister has raised hope, excitement and anxiety, on whether the former CEO of Gojek, the application for ride-hailing and now many other services, could be the right solution for long-waited education reform.

According to his keynote speech at the Currency Day event held in 2017 by the Finance Ministry, Nadiem suggested several subjects that should become compulsory in the secondary and tertiary education curriculum — coding, programming, statistics and psychology. He believed the combination of these subjects is critical and worth-investing for our human capital in the future economy.

Surely further use of technology would be one of Nadiem’s core strategies in the next five years. However how far have education technology platforms contributed to our education system?

So far they do not appear to provide sufficient support for schoolteachers that might enhance the edtech ecosystem in the formal learning institution.

We need to compare how the business process in edtech companies work with how companies like Gojek disrupted the transportation industry.

While companies like Gojek have shifted people’s behavior in mobility and facilitated various on-demand services while changing business in the informal sector, though accompanied by many protests and clashes with conventional drivers and still unresolved issues of regulation, edtech players have done little in disrupting annual routines in education, such as national exams and university enrollment tests. Meanwhile edtech players have not provided sufficient incentives and empowerment for school teachers to participate in their ecosystem.

First, big edtech companies such as Ruangguru, Zenius, and Quipper design their services to match with annual exam/test agendas, to meet market demands in accessing their products and services. While this might transform teaching and learning activities, there have not been much reforms a in the school system.

A professor in edtech from Australia’s Monash University, Neil Selwyn, argues that while edtech indeed offers innovative forms of learning, its potentials are unlikely to be achieved as long as there is no political will and commitment to redesign the school system as the formal learning institution.

The school is identic with its structured, hierarchical, and inflexible learning environment which often hampers students to pursue their interests and talents. Students must follow the rigid curriculum and subjects while hardly participating in lessons they like. As many have noted, the learning and training system is outdated “due to its pre-internet ways of thinking”, Selwyn writes.

How things work at school might contradict edtech features. Edtech has potentials to enlarge freedom of choice in learning, strengthen personalized and flexible training, and support inclusive education based on students’ needs and interests, as noted by a study published by …. Researchers believe that higher frequency of technology usage in school could increase new competencies and skills that students need to acquire before entering the future job market.

Edtech players’ marketing strategy and business processes that support status quo traditions are the reasons behind insignificant change in the education system.

Second, edtech platforms in Indonesia barely empower schools and teachers because most of their products and services are similar to private tutoring agencies, known by their acronym bimbel. The main difference in their services with conventional agencies is that most of their delivery is conducted through online sites or gadgets. Besides, the contributions of edtech platforms to students from disadvantaged families and unschooled communities remain unknown.

In Indonesia, it is common that annual examination and school/university enrollment stimulate the growth of private tutoring agency businesses. Such agencies offer supplementary teaching outside school for students who expect to achieve standardized passing grades or pass the entrance examinations, mostly with high fees.

Interestingly, offline private tutoring agency and edtech platforms use similar promotional campaigns; to deliver better access for quality education. Instead of fixing the dissatisfaction of the students and parents towards school as the primary education provider, private tutoring agencies and edtech companies choose profit from the condition. More importantly, most of the educational contents provided by edtech platforms are mostly delivered by private tutors with low participation from school teachers.

Unlike Gojek which employs a large number of people previously working as conventional motor-taxi drivers and informal sector professions, the social and economic contribution of edtech platforms to teachers is still questionable. Furthermore, the edtech platforms might widen inequality in education as poor students are unlikely to be able to afford them.

With critical issues such as curriculum improvement, poor education delivery and the need to empower education stakeholders, edtech is undoubtedly essential and vital. But its impacts will not be feasible without sufficient political support and accommodating policies.

With a technologist such Nadiem on board, edtech platforms might obtain friendly policies that enforce innovation and technology usage in school, which are urgent for future human resources – the very reason why President Jokowi appointed Nadiem. The full potentials of edtech will only be acquired as long as there are supporting education system and curriculum, changes which Nadiem himself suggested.

To improve education his policies should not only use advanced technology and innovation, but also make these reforms more open and accessible for all, more importantly for disadvantaged students and teachers.

Without sufficient participation from such stakeholders, even technology and innovation might not be able to reform our education. Perhaps firms like Gojek can continue to provide lessons – at least the urge to continuously learn and progress, as their drivers, for instance, still report shortcomings of their “partnership” in the digital business.

 

Agie Nugroho Soegiono – Teaches e-governance and public policy subject at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Airlangga University