Linda Yulisman, Jakarta – Indonesian mother Ekarina resorted to private tutors to teach her only daughter, Athira, from February this year as kindergartens were shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Along with two to three other kids, the five-year old learns to read, write and count thrice a week at an early learning centre in her housing complex. She also studies the Quran five days a week with another peer.
Ms Ekarina, who believes online learning does not suit kids, told The Straits Times: "It's better to focus on enhancing my daughter's basic skills like reading, writing and counting, and immersing her in religious education ahead of elementary school next year."
With over 3.3 million Covid-19 cases nationwide, she remains cautious: "I always remind my daughter to wear a mask all the time."
The 35-year-old content writer does not mind spending 320,000 rupiah (S$30) a month – five times the tuition fee of a kindergarten – for the convenience of the two private courses.
"They have their own modules. So, I only need to guide her to repeat previous lessons at home," she said.
Like Ms Ekarina, some other parents have enrolled their children in private tuition programmes that offer better educational materials and teachers.
Although schools are shut under the country's partial Covid-19 lockdown, such centres continue to operate, limiting the number of students in a group.
Inadequate funding, poorly trained teachers and a lack of infrastructure have long dogged the country's education sector.
Among students in 80 countries and economies, Indonesians scored among the lowest in mathematics, reading and science, according to the triennial 2018 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment report. They also lagged behind their peers in South-east Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which according to Unicef has forced 60 million Indonesian students to suspend their studies, has only made the situation worse.
While many Indonesian parents believe virtual classrooms are not ideal for their children's learning, they have accepted the necessity.
University lecturer Natalia Widiasari, 41, bought a mobile phone for her eldest daughter Angela Kiana Anindita, 12, while providing her younger daughter and son with shared laptops and mobile phones to study online.
"Online learning is the best option for now as it's risky to go outside the home," Ms Natalia told ST. "But, for primary education, online learning has its disadvantages – children cannot socialise and their movements are limited."
Her daughter Kiana, who is in a private junior high school in Bogor, West Java, said: "Studying online is more complicated because I must watch my mobile phone for hours, while taking notes.
"Sometimes the explanations given by my teachers are not clear. I often have questions, but I must take turns with my friends to ask."
Then there is the connectivity blight. "I go in and out of Zoom because I lose the Wi-Fi connection," Kiana added.
Other parents are worried about their children suffering from the adverse long-term impact of extended screen time and lack of physical interaction with friends.
Producer Rahel Aryani, 42, said her two boys, aged 11 and 15, now spend between two and five hours a day on laptops, up from a maximum two hours before the pandemic hit.
She has set rules to ensure they spend time on offline activities like reading books and physical exercise. On the laptops, "the main rule is that I ask them to create works – writing, drawing, or musical composition", she added.
Meanwhile, the authorities are trying to get young people vaccinated in a bid to reopen schools. As at Friday (July 30), about 3.4 per cent of the 26.7 million youths aged 12 to 17 have received their first jab.