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Indonesia's learning gap spanning two decades: Minister

Jakarta Globe - June 26, 2023

Jayanty Nada Shofa, Jakarta – Education Minister Nadiem Makarim unveiled on Monday the substantial loss of learning opportunities in Indonesia, a problem that predates the school closures brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indonesia, known for having one of the world's lengthiest school closures during the pandemic, faced a challenging situation.

The World Bank reports that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesian schools remained fully or partially closed for a staggering 644 days, equivalent to approximately 21 months. The sudden transition to remote learning significantly impacted the skills of Indonesian students.

Comparatively, fourth-grade students in Indonesia in 2023 exhibited a decline of 11.2 months in math skills and 10.8 months in language skills when compared to their counterparts in the pre-pandemic year of 2019. The situation worsened for students from impoverished households, with math and language skills showing a loss of 18.1 and 27.2 months, respectively.

Nonetheless, Nadiem highlighted that Indonesia's experience with learning loss was not novel.

"All we know about learning loss is the deceleration of learning caused by online schooling. That is accurate, but Indonesia actually has been suffering from lost learning opportunities for the past 20 years," Nadiem told a World Bank conference in Jakarta on Monday.

"The loss of learning opportunities over the past 20 years are caused by an inflexible curriculum and schools not getting the same access to resources and teachers, among others," he said.

Presently, schools are embracing greater flexibility through Nadiem's flagship educational reform program known as Merdeka Belajar, which translates to "Independent Learning." Under this initiative, schools are given the choice of adopting the 2013 curriculum, the concise emergency curriculum, or the independent curriculum, also known as "Kurikulum Merdeka," which the government claims to be more streamlined yet comprehensive in nature.

"Previously, there was this mindset of the curriculum being the place for every interest of high-ranking officials. [...] As a result, there is massive coverage that teachers have to implement by policy. Most teachers then are forced to keep moving forward in the curriculum, even if their students have not caught up," Nadiem said.

During the pandemic, the education ministry conducted experiments to compare learning losses between schools with extensive curricula and those implementing a more condensed emergency curriculum. Nadiem revealed that schools with a concise curriculum experienced lesser learning setbacks.

"Less is more. It allows teachers to focus and go in-depth into the curriculum and to focus on the real foundational concepts and processes of learning that truly matter. Not the amount of information," Nadiem told the forum.

Source: https://jakartaglobe.id/news/indonesias-learning-gap-spanning-two-decades-ministe