Indonesians have embraced technology enthusiastically, taking advantage of rising incomes to buy smartphones that give them access to a host of social networking platforms and other services.
Like many parts of developing Asia, the country is a “mobile-first” environment, where – thanks to the proliferation of inexpensive phones by manufacturers like China’s Xiaomi – people are more likely to access the internet through their phones than through a computer.
In 2015 Indonesia had 52.2m active smartphone users, a number that is expected to rise to 69.4m in 2016. By 2018 there are forecast to be more than 100m smartphone users across the archipelago, the fourth-highest level in the world after China, India and the US. Against that backdrop, and Indonesia’s geographical and fiscal realities, it is perhaps not surprising that the government has turned to technology as a cost-effective way to expand learning and ensure more people – not just schoolchildren – are able to access education.
Indonesia set up its own schools broadcast, TV Edukasi (TV-E), in 2004 and is part of SEA EduNet, a satellite-based learning platform designed to share educational materials among countries in South-east Asia. In 2006 it launched Jardiknas, a national education network to connect all the state’s various educational institutions.
Digital tools are being introduced throughout the system, from basic education to tertiary, spawning a flurry of start-up activity in the sector. Novistiar Rustandi, CEO of learning management firm HarukaEdu, told online magazine e27 that the size of the market in higher education alone will reach $15bn by 2030, compared with $3bn in 2014.
President Joko Widodo’s government has made improving basic education a priority, and indicated that it sees technology as a way to provide teachers with the means to teach innovative lessons while closing the performance gap between rural and urban schools, and between poorer and richer provinces.
Partnerships between telecoms companies and global IT giants have been signed – for instance, e-Sabak signed an agreement with Telkom Indonesia to replace traditional textbooks with tablets and e-books. More remote areas will be among the first to receive the tablets.
In December 2015 Indosat Ooredoo pledged $1m over five years to enhance digital education. Working with two foundations, it will provide tablets loaded with the relevant apps and software to schools in five provinces. Cloud-based interactive learning materials will be introduced in 65 schools and Indosat Ooredoo will work with the Ministry of Education to train teachers in the relevant IT skills.
Microsoft has pledged to provide software to all the country’s schoolchildren, and is working with the government to help teachers who may not be as comfortable with technology as their tech-savvy students. “We are developing software and tools for classroom activities to help teachers keep up with current trends and culture,” Andreas Diantro, president director of Microsoft Indonesia, said at a roundtable on education in 2015. “Today’s children are digital natives. Therefore, we should provide the bridge to minimise the gap.”
Indonesian start-ups are also eyeing opportunities in education technology, focused on the provision of online classes. Ruangguru, which launched in 2014, connects tutors and students, and now offers both online and offline courses. It secured funding from Venturra Capital, linked to the Lippo Group, in December 2015. HarukaEdu, meanwhile, which provides online education programmes, participated in Google’s Launchpad in 2016. Education experts say there is potential to use technology to improve teacher training as digital keeps training local by providing teachers with interactive and video tools.
Scale Of The Challenge
While these digital initiatives have generated plenty of positivity, underlying infrastructural problems may limit their potential. In its “Global Information Technology Report 2015”, the World Economic Forum ranked Indonesia 79th out of the 143 countries it surveyed. However, it dropped to 98th in infrastructure and digital content, which looks at network coverage, bandwidth and electricity production. This factor raises questions about the effectiveness of digital education in a country where some schools have neither internet nor power.
“Out of 208,000 schools in Indonesia, 118,000 have been connected to internet, whereas 17,000 … still experience a lack of electricity,” Anies Baswedan, former minister of education, said at a roundtable on technology in education that was held in April 2015. “How can we expect schools to construct good citizens when basic standards for schools are only partially fulfilled?”
Papua, the country’s poorest and most eastern province, provides an indication of the scale of the challenges. When ACDP Indonesia, a cooperative initiative by the Indonesian and Australian governments and the ADB, carried out an evaluation of TV-E and other IT initiatives in Papua, they found that most schools surveyed had less than five computers, with few laptops and no tablets. It also found that teachers were more likely to use ICT than students, but did so for administrative purposes rather than for lessons.
A lack of electricity also affected attempts to use technology, with unstable power in urban areas and only 30% electrification overall. Some 78% of primary schools and 8% of secondary schools relied on diesel generators after dark. While Indonesia’s infrastructure development plans address some of these problems, Google is working on a technology that uses large balloons in the sky to ensure remoter areas have internet connectivity. In 2015 Google signed agreements with Telkomsel, Indosat and XL Axiata to start testing the technology – titled Project Loon – in Indonesia.
Beyond schooling, there has been a rise in the number of online courses available at the tertiary level. August 2015 saw the launch of IndonesiaX. In partnership with EdX, founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it provides massive open online courses specifically tailored to Indonesian students. From an initial course in law, it has expanded its offerings to deliver more subjects from more universities, including local institutions such as the University of Indonesia.
EdX also includes courses from Indonesia’s Open University (UT), which launched in 1984 in the archipelago, making it a pioneer in the field of alternative learning. The institution currently has more than 450,000 students. Its rector, Tian Belawati, wants the university to make more use of technology, but said that infrastructure constraints temper her optimism.
“More than 70% of UT students do not have access to [an] adequate internet connection, so the learning tools we need to use vary,” she said in an interview with online magazine SWA in May 2016. “If we stop offering learning through conventional means … likely we will be closing access.”