Back to school, wherever students are

A look into how students across Indonesia are returning to school amid the pandemic

Yenni Karubabamlistens to a lesson on a radio at home
UNICEF/UNI347352/Firdaus Syahril
14 August 2020

Caption (above): Yenni Karubaba, 21, listens to a lesson on a radio at home in Jayapura.

Since schools in Indonesia were closed in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the landscape of children’s education has been profoundly altered. Over 60 million students, their teachers and families have been impacted. UNICEF is committed to ensuring that all children in Indonesia continue to learn no matter where they are and is working with the government and partners to minimize the disruption to education.

With the 2020-2021 school year starting on July 13, students around the country have resumed their studies. UNICEF photographs from the past six months show how children were learning at the beginning of the year, and how they have confronted the unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic.

Learning in school before the pandemic in Papua

Dedi Kilmi walks home from his elementary school
Dedi Kilmi, 11, walks home from his elementary school in Sorong district, West Papua.

Before the pandemic, 11-year-old Dedi Kilmi had to walk up to 4 kilometres on some days to his elementary school in West Papua. Even without shoes or a backpack, he was still happy to make the journey to attend class.

In Sorong district, the rates of literacy are lower than the national average. In response, UNICEF launched the Early Grade Literacy programme to improve the skills and creativity of teachers and to help schools provide a better learning environment, such as a reading corner with educational books for students.

Since the programme was implemented in his school last year, Dedi has begun to write more and enjoys creating stories about his family when they go to the fields to pick vegetables. Dedi has high hopes for his future: “I want to be a pilot. I want to fly,” he says, looking up at the sky.

Maria Air and her friends walk near a study hall in an all-female dormitory
Maria Air, 14, and her friends Martha Seseo (left), 13, and Rofina (centre), 14, walk near a study hall in an all-female dormitory, Sorong district, West Papua.

Maria, 14, is a leader among her peers. She leads her classmates during their physical education class and is the centre of most conversations during breaks. But during class, she stays quiet and doesn’t raise her hand to answer questions. According to teachers at her junior secondary school, Maria – like many Papuan students – is shy and can be hesitant to speak up around outsiders.

Maria has no shortage of ideas on how the school can be improved for students and looks forward to putting them into action once her school reopens. Through the “Supporting Girls to Thrive” programme launched by UNICEF in November 2019, students like Maria will have more opportunities for meaningful participation in school and her community.

Flora Dita Cahyani studying at her home
Flora Dita Cahyani, a student in SMP 9 Sorong, studying at her home in Sorong, West Papua.

Dita, 14, is an avid learner and enjoys participating in math and science classes as well as the student council in her junior secondary school. But every year during the rainy season, her house floods, making it difficult for her to concentrate on her studies. Rubbish left behind by crowds of marketgoers clogs the storm drains on her street, causing the rainfall to inundate her neighbourhood.

In other provinces in Indonesia, local governments have established forums and platforms to allow adolescents and young people to participate. But none currently exist in Sorong and, as a result, the idea of sharing her ideas on how to fix the issue with the government is something Dita has never even considered.

Once her school reopens, the “Supporting Girls to Thrive” programme will enable Dita to exchange information with other young people around the country, engage in dialogue with policymakers and create positive social change in her community.

Learning at home after the pandemic

Kesya dan her classmates work on an assigment at her home
UNICEF/2020/Mohamad Saroni
Kesya (centre), 14, and her classmates work on an assignment at her home in Sorong.

“I like being in school more than at home,” says 14-year-old Kesya with a polite laugh. “It’s more difficult for me to learn at home since I have two siblings who keep asking me to play with them, and they always make a mess.”

Although Kesya is normally shy around her classmates, she has been more outgoing and engaging while studying at home, a change that her teacher Ms. Marni attributes to the life skills education programme supported by UNICEF which aims to create a more positive learning environment.

The life skills education programme has also helped Ms. Marni to design activities for her students to maintain their analytical thinking, including a mind-mapping exercise of COVID-19 requiring them to list the symptoms of the virus and ways to prevent infection.

Melan, 14, draws a comic in her home in Sorong
UNICEF/2020/Mohamad Saroni
Melan, 14, draws a comic in her home in Sorong

Melan, 14, has been studying at home in Sorong since March. A few weeks ago, she received her report card and learned that she passed grade 8. But while she has been able to keep up with her studies, she acknowledges that it hasn’t always been easy.

“This virus makes me nervous,” says Melan. “I’m sad because so many places are closed. I’m the only child in my family, so I miss my friends and my teachers, especially my counsellor teacher.”

While attending focus group discussions on mental health that were led and facilitated by UNICEF, Melan learned how to better cope with her fears. She also learned how to develop materials such as comics, posters or videos that she could use to raise her voice and share information.

Feli, 5 (left), and Kimy, 6, study at home with their father in Jakarta.
Feli, 5 (left), and Kimy, 6, study at home with their father in Jakarta.

Feli and Kimy have been studying at home since their school in Jakarta closed, so their teacher has been sending them daily assignments.

“I like studying at home, especially learning Arabic words with my dad and my sister,” said Kimy, adding that she misses her friends but that learning at home means she gets to spend more time with her parents.

Children, especially the most vulnerable, are among the most severely impacted victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of its emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia, UNICEF is working with the government to provide support and guidelines for distance learning and child protection while schools are closed.

Students taking part in class at the orphanage where they live in Jakarta.
Students taking part in class at the orphanage where they live in Jakarta.
Ais, 7, washes her hands at an orphanage where she lives in Jakarta.
Ais, 7, washes her hands at an orphanage where she lives in Jakarta.

Ais, 7, has been living in an orphanage in Jakarta since 2016 and attends a nearby elementary school. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the orphanage has implemented new rules for the children to stay and study within the premises.

Ais learned how to wash her hands correctly with the help of a song she memorized from school. To help children like Ais meet their basic needs, UNICEF delivered sanitation and personal hygiene kits for over 1,700 childcare centres all over Indonesia.

Evan, 10, replaces the tire on his bicycle outside his home
Evan, 10, replaces the tire on his bicycle outside his home in Jimbaran village, Central Java.

Evan, 10, was diagnosed with hyperactivity and is not yet able to read and write. He is currently in the second grade in an Islamic primary school about an hour away from his home and stays in a dormitory at school. Evan says he learns better when he is with his friends and teachers who look after him and support him.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, however, Evan’s school was closed, and he was sent home. Most learning is done online now, but Evan struggles because he can’t read and has difficulty sitting still for long periods of time. His parents are also illiterate. Adjusting to distance learning can be more difficult for children with disabilities as many rely on additional support at school. Remote teaching, therefore, must be adapted to better meet their needs by providing a variety of support, including inclusive reading and learning materials.

To support the education of children with disabilities during the pandemic, UNICEF is working with partners to assess emerging needs, particularly in regard to their learning and mental health, and to develop online and offline learning materials that are accessible and disability friendly.

Dimas, 14, exercises at home in the morning in Jayapura.
UNICEF/UNI347340/Firdaus Syahril
Dimas, 14, exercises at home in the morning in Jayapura.

With daily class schedules disrupted, establishing a routine at home is key. Dimas and his friends are required by their school to exercise every morning at home before they begin their online studies so that they remain fresh and focused throughout the day. With students missing out on physical education, sports and exercise are also an important means to lower the risk of weight gain and obesity.

Moreyna, 6, follows an educational TV programme at home in Jayapura, Indonesia.
UNICEF/UNI347291/Firdaus Syahril
Moreyna, 6, follows an educational TV programme at home in Jayapura, Indonesia.

About one in three households in Indonesia lacks internet access. To support students to continue their studies offline, the Government of Indonesia is broadcasting an educational TV programme called Belajar dari Rumah (Learning from Home) through the TVRI network to help children learn from home. The programme, which is organised by the Ministry of Education, broadcasts shows from Monday to Friday for school-aged children from preschool to high school that cover a wide range of subjects.

To help assess the effectiveness of the programme, UNICEF supports education authorities to conduct regular surveys involving teachers, parents and children. The surveys, which are SMS-based to reach areas with no internet access, collect feedback on home learning activities to ensure every student is receiving the support they need.

Kenzie, 10, studies at home with his grandfather
UNICEF/UNI347351/Mulyadi Daud
Kenzie, 10, studies at home with his grandfather in Jayapura, Indonesia.
Chalista, 7, studies at home with her brother Yance, 5, in Jayapura.
UNICEF/UNI347327/Ronaldy Ifak
Chalista, 7, studies at home with her brother Yance, 5, in Jayapura.
Edita Sefa helps her daughter Tesa, 4, with her schoolwork at home
UNICEF/UNI347328/Ronaldy Ifak
Edita Sefa helps her daughter Tesa, 4, with her schoolwork at home in Jayapura.

With schools in Papua province closed since March, families have had to play a greater role in their children’s learning. But for many students and parents, distance learning is new. Schools can help support families to provide a safe learning environment at home, and teachers can stay connected to parents and students to answer questions and provide guidance.

Elementary school students learning outside of a home with guidance from their teacher
UNICEF/2020/Ermi Ndoen
A small group of elementary students from SDN 01 Naioni gather for class outside of a nearby home in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara province.

In Kupang, learning has resumed for elementary school students but looks much different from before. Although face-to-face learning in classrooms is still prohibited, groups of up to five students are now permitted to gather outdoors at a neighbourhood meeting point where they are met by a teacher. The students, who meet three times a week, sit on the ground as their teacher guides them through reading, writing or math assignments, depending on their grade level.

The new learning from home policy was issued by the local government in Kupang to support children in low-income farming communities whose families cannot afford to buy a mobile device or Internet quota to access online learning.