Children in Java share their concerns – and hopes – with leaders amid COVID-19

In a virtual child-led dialogue, children and adolescents spoke directly with government stakeholders about the challenges they face and potential solutions

Emeralda Aisha, Communication for Development Officer
Students in a webinar
26 August 2021

Like many children across Indonesia, 12-year-old Hetin is worried about her education for possibly a third consecutive school year of remote learning as a result of COVID-19.  

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to understand multiplication in my math classes when I enrol in junior high school next year,” she says. 

Hetin is not alone. Aryo, 11, feels that he and his classmates are struggling with online lessons and wishes that their classes were more interactive. Their concerns reflect the realities facing millions of Indonesian students who have not returned to classroom-based learning since early March 2020 due to COVID-19 social distancing measures. 

During an event Listening and Answering Children Voices: Me and My Voice are the Future held virtually on 19 August 2021, Aryo and Hetin finally had a chance to voice these concerns directly to local leaders. 

The event, which was organized by NGO Akatara Jurnalis Sahabat Anak (Journalist Friends of Children) and UNICEF, invited 40 children from East Java Province to participate in a child-led dialogue. The participants included children living in both urban and rural areas, children with disabilities and out-of-school children. 

Webinar with children
Forty children from East Java Province, including children living in both urban and rural areas, children with disabilities and out-of-school children, participated in the child-led dialogue via Zoom.

Over the course of several listening sessions, the participants shared their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic with officials from the Provincial Education Office and the Provincial Office of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection (WECP). 

With online learning still a challenge due to poor internet connection, a lack of devices and digital literacy skills, and parents being unable to assist children, the participants asked for greater guidance and support. Nadhiva, 12, whose parents both work during the day, said she did not know who could help her when she had difficulty with her lessons. 

Dr Andriyanto, Head of the WECP Office in East Java, understood Nadhiva’s issues. He cited a survey which showed that only around 3 out of 10 children (36 per cent) have been helped by their parents with online learning during the pandemic. 

“We hear your voices, and we are taking note. Don’t worry,” Dr Andriyanto said to the participants. 

Dr Andriyanto
Dr Andriyanto, Head of the WECP Office in East Java, directly addressed the concerns of participants during the interactive session.

He encouraged the students to become agents of change to support their peers during the pandemic. “It is important for all of you to interact with your teachers and friends, knowing that you're not alone in the situation,” he added. 

After an interactive session, the children presented their asks and recommendations to the leaders. Rania, 15, who spoke on behalf of junior high school students, expressed her hope that the COVID-19 response could be more child-friendly and that adults could help them better adapt to the challenging situation. 

Ratu, 17, highlighted the hidden impacts of the pandemic on children, particularly increased exposure to child marriage, and asked for greater access to sexuality education in response. “Sexuality education shouldn’t be taboo,” she explained. “It is our right to have education about reproductive health so we can understand the risks.” 

Graphic recommendations from SMP students
A graphic outlining the asks and recommendations from junior high school (SMP) students to the government stakeholders.

At the end of the event, Vice Governor of East Java, Dr. Emil Dardak, delivered a message to the participants emphasizing the need to work with children. 

“As adults, we should never underestimate children, even those who are very young,” he said in a video recording. “Children have experiences that we might not always understand, so it is important to take time to listen to them and provide them with opportunities to be involved in decision-making processes that affect their lives.”  

As part of his commitment, he signed a pledge to always listen to children’s voices in efforts to make cities more child-friendly and to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr. Emil Dardak
Dr. Emil Dardak, Vice Governor of East Java, holds up a signed pledge to listen to children.

Rizky, 17, a youth facilitator who hosted the event, couldn’t hide her excitement after hearing the dialogue between the young people and the local governments. 

“What makes me happy is not only the responses and commitments from the government but how children have shown that they are brave and full of initiative and creativity in making their voices heard,” she said in her closing remarks. “We have seen the government sign the pledge, so now it’s time for us to continue speaking up for our rights.”