Opinion | Is There Still a Place For EdTech Now That We’re “Back to School”?
Updated: Apr 19
First published in The Jakarta Post (4/11/21).
When we think of EdTech in Indonesia, we often think of online bimbingan belajar services such as Ruangguru and Zenius. But the reality is, EdTech is much more than that. EdTech, which stands for Education Technology, refers to digital technology to facilitate, as well as enhance the learning experience for both students and teachers.
This definition is broad enough that even web conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Google Meets, which were not necessarily created for educational purposes, are now considered part of the larger EdTech umbrella.
A survey of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) demonstrated that teachers used a variety of EdTech products and services such as Learning Management Systems (e.g. EdModo and Canvas) and interactive platforms (e.g. Kahoot and Menimeter) to facilitate distance learning in the past 18 months.
Despite the availability of these tools and technology, we saw a significant case of learning loss and teachers, parents and governments alike worry that students may have ‘lost’ their academic skill and knowledge, or experienced a halt to their academic progress, as result of the pandemic.
The World Bank estimates that students have lost approximately 0.9 years of learning, and Indonesia’s PISA score has gone down by 25 points as of June 2021, leading to significant repercussions in the long run, especially for the development of high quality human capital in Indonesia.
As reported COVID_19 cases began to lower and slow down, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology (MOECRT) mandated that schools should now adopt hybrid learning, allowing students to take the option of attending classes in-person while abiding to the safety protocols. Even UNICEF and the World Health Organization have encouraged schools throughout Indonesia to reopen.
But does that mean that EdTech failed us in remote learning? Not really. But there is a clear signal that there are gaps in our education systems in facilitating a smooth transition from traditional face-to-face learning to technology based learning, especially in terms of digital skills development.
Low digital skills: what happened?
Teachers and students were unprepared to integrate technology into their learning and teaching experience, because they may have lacked the competencies to do so. For many, especially those living in rural areas, this was the first time they have had the opportunity to utilize these types of products, services and platforms.
For example, prior to the pandemic, 70% of teachers in Papua reported that laptops and smartphones were only used for administrative tasks and to create class content (Owen et al., 2015). In these cases, the sudden shift towards distance learning meant that both teachers and students were playing catch up as they struggled to navigate these EdTech platforms.
Under both Regulation No. 16/2007 and No. 74/208, teachers are required to have and develop the necessary competencies to utilize technology for the educational development of their students. But in practice the extent to which teachers are actually engaged with technology remains limited.
According to Widodo and Riandi (2013), there has always been a teacher-centered pedagogical culture in Indonesia and consequently, face-to-face learning remained a preference ,with technology solely being used as a tool to create assignments and lesson materials.
In general, Faloon (2020) found that in these programs, the development of technology and pedagogy skills are treated separately. Consistently, teachers in Indonesia have also reported a lack of support and training to develop their skills in integrating ICT into their pedagogical practices. A report from VOC Populi Institute Indonesia found that only 2.5% of teachers have good digital competencies.
ICT was unfortunately removed from the national school curriculum in 2013, limiting students’ opportunities to develop their technological skills. While some students may be able to develop those competencies at home, it still depends on their access to the required technologies (laptops, computers or smartphones).
Meanwhile, as teachers themselves struggle with the adoption of EdTech, students may have to look to their parents for guidance. Unfortunately, EdTech have tended to overlook parents' involvement in their children’s education. Parents were not even familiar with these novel products, services or platforms, and therefore were limited in their capacity to support their childrens’ online learning.
The future of EdTech
Now that students and teachers have slowly returned to school, we need to take the lessons learned from distance learning during the pandemic and apply them to our formal education systems.
While face-to-face learning may address learning loss, that does not mean digital pedagogies and the integration of ICT into the classroom is not effective and no longer needed for the future.
MOECRT is supporting the continuation of EdTech integration into formal education through the Red and White Laptop program. This may address the accessibility and affordability of EdTech devices for students. Furthermore, Regulation No.37/2018 also reintroduces ICT into the national curriculum, making it compulsory starting from middle school (SMP) thus providing more opportunities for students to develop technological competencies.
According to Unicef, there are four types of skills that children and adolescents need to be successful in school, work and life: foundational, digital, transferable and job-specific. Furthermore, as business operations are increasingly automated, future employees will need the necessary digital skills to operate these technologies. This signals the need for formal education to provide opportunities for students to develop this skill too.
But it’s not just students we need to focus on; we must also ensure that teachers and parents are able to develop these competencies because in turn, they support, guide and lead the students’ digital learning and literacy.
EdTech companies should not only focus on the user interface and experience of their products, but they need to take into account that they ultimately play a significant role in the successful integration of these technologies in the school context. They need to pay attention to the capabilities of schools to purchase and utilize EdTech within the teaching and learning environment.
EdTechs can also contribute to teachers’ ICT training. Extending trainings to teachers within formal schooling could benefit both the company and the schools - teachers can upskill their digital skills and thus incentivize schools to subscribe to the EdTech’s products, platform or services.
However, it remains important not to forget the structural limitations of distance learning. EdTech market penetration has been mostly concentrated in Java reflecting the uneven digital landscape in Indonesia. The majority of the population still does not have access to affordable and adequate internet that can support online learning.
The adoption of EdTech in formal education must be accompanied by progress towards an even distribution of internet connectivity across the archipelago so that schools have an incentive to integrate technology into their education ecosystem. The absence of good connectivity will In the long run lead to a widening of the digital divide, limiting the future career prospects and competitiveness of some of the students.
These problems have existed before the pandemic. So while we are moving on from 100% distance learning, we can no longer overlook the infrastructure barriers that substantially limits the effectiveness of online learning.
Although teachers no longer need to schedule their classes over Zoom, that does not mean Zoom is no longer a tool to be used in the teachers’ pedagogies. Face-to-face learning provides a larger support system for students to develop their digital skills.
EdTech is here to stay, and together with face-to-face learning, the combination can truly enhance the overall education experience for students, teachers and even parents. But we have to pay close attention to how to support the seamless integration of these products, platforms and services into the formal education.