Could COVID-19 present schools with an opportunity? Could it be a Gojek moment and a Grab moment, when the educational challenges faced by this archipelago find a technological solution?
Could I order a math class and a pizza with the lot at the same time?
Education is sometimes seen as a rich country’s privilege. Money always helps, but education is actually a central part of every culture.
Everywhere I have lived, parents teach their children, elders teach the next generation, gurus and priests teach their disciples, and masters teach their apprentices. Education has been part of every human life since the dawn of time, and every culture has rich resources and traditions.
The idea that education should not simply be a form of indoctrination, but teach students to question and think has only ever enjoyed limited popularity. And the idea that a state-sanctioned education should be compulsory for every child was the hard-nosed invention of the modern European nation-state in the late 19th century.
The nation-state depends on a competitive industrial economy and a massive technically-sophisticated army. Both the economy and the army require a well-behaved, patriotic, educated population.
Curiously, the goals of today’s education departments (often almost as hierarchical as the army), and the methods of instruction (based on the carrot and the stick) have remained fundamentally unchanged.
One teacher, the drill-sergeant, stands in front of a class of 20 to 30 students, and while using a mixture of intimidation and flattery imparts knowledge, according to the rules they have been given.
Whether the system succeeds has always depended on the quality and the commitment of the teachers, and the level of the students’ motivation.
But even at its very best, the traditional educational model works primarily on the idea that one size fits all, one method of instruction will suit everyone, and that everyone will learn at the same rate.
In reality, at least half the students are left behind, floundering, with nothing to do but drive everyone else crazy.
In Australia, plummeting student motivation is dragging results lower in international league tables. Carrots are losing their appeal, and teachers are no longer allowed to use sticks.
In Indonesia, carrots are still effective and motivation seems higher, but widespread issues around the quality and availability of teachers mean overall results are generally poor when compared internationally.
It’s hard to argue the system is working in either country. And yet it has barely changed for 120 years – there seems to be little appetite to challenge the status quo.
There must be ways of sharing outstanding educators (the internet?). There must be ways of reaching students who have different ways of learning (the internet?). There must be ways of developing individual programs (the internet?).
Could COVID-19, which is forcing imminent closure of schools and the compulsory shift to online education, perhaps force changes? And might the changes, in the medium term, give Indonesian schools a new lease of life?
What we urgently need is the educational equivalent of Grab and Gojek.
But I’m bored now, so I’m going to order a pizza with the lot.