News regarding the COVID-19 has recently become a constant stream, pervading our daily life, with no clear signs of stopping. Such is the case with how deep the COVID-19 goes in threatening all aspects of life. One of the aspects taking the most significant impact is the education system. Some aspects fundamental to the system are forced to be tweaked. Schools need to change their education processes into an online-based one in order to minimize physical contact.
A push towards an education revolution cemented on technological uses looks closer to reality. Essential aspects in remote learning, such as equality, inclusivity, and independence, are in line with Merdeka Belajar, a concept devised by Indonesia’s Minister of Education (Abidah, 2020). Looking into the relationship between the new education system’s potential and technological infrastructures, would an education revolution in Indonesia sound probable? It is also interesting to analyze the correlation between eliminating geographical obstacles and phenomena such as rural rebound and technology distribution in villages. The section below is dedicated to comprehending the two relations above.
A Synthesis between Online and Offline Learning Post-Pandemic
In early 2020, the world was shocked by the discovery of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every sector of our society is scrambling for alternatives, methods, and systems that would function under the pandemic threat. This includes the education sector. Roughly 68 million Indonesian students, including college students, are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (Abidah, 2020).
For the few months that online remote learning is being implemented, the education system in Indonesia has been looking like it is pushed towards a state of revolution to be more compatible with Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0. In an Industry 4.0 era, the education system is projected to develop students’ critical thinking, allowing them to do problem-solving, both innovatively and creatively, while also strengthening their communication skills. Society 5.0, on the other hand, is a concept of technological society, utilizing IoT (Internet of Society), augmented reality, and AI (Artificial Intelligence) into the education system.
The change from learning confined in a classroom into online spheres, such as Zoom Meeting, Google Meeting, Cisco Webex, even Youtube Livestream, allows Indonesia’s education system to undertake their Tri Dharma Perguruan Tinggi more innovatively. This is shown from various programs initiated during the pandemic, such as interdepartmental classes and campuses, RECON (Relawan COVID-19), and COVID-19-themed KKN. One impact done by the pandemic, restriction on physical contacts, paves the way into the development of technology infrastructure, a sector that has been long neglected. This is because the technology infrastructure in some areas is quite lacking in order for the learning processes, which are now online-based, to be done substantively. The government is not the only actor to heed the massive changes brought by the pandemic, students are expected to be adaptable to the change into online remote learning.
Implementing extensive use of technology to assist remote learning helps Indonesia achieve the concept of Merdeka Belajar, as envisioned by Nadiem Makarim, the Minister of Education. Merdeka Belajar advocates an education that is free for all–an environment where the learning processes are fun and comfortable (Abidah, 2020). By making the internet more accessible to remote areas, our education will become more flexible. This is because, first, inequality of access to knowledge will lessen; second, interdepartmental branches of science will rise; third, cooperation between universities will become more common; and fourth, students get more freedom in acquiring knowledge. Another implication in the education revolution in line with technology improvement is that teachers from urban areas can now teach in remote areas–areas that are usually short of professional teachers.
Changes during the pandemic on the education system in Indonesia, such as online remote learning, put forth a crucial question, will these changes be permanent? If we are to deduce from eight months of implementation, the answer is that it is a likely possibility. Research from Hootsuite, done early this year, shows that internet penetration in Indonesia has reached 64% of Indonesian citizens, which is a 17% increase from the last year (Ludwianto, 2020). Furthermore, both students and teachers, who are forced to use the internet for learning, will become used to it if remote learning is going to be the norm. Therefore, a synthesis between online and offline learning might be the way for our education system even after the pandemic ends.
The utilization of online conference rooms by both students and teachers has been done for about a year now. Digitalization of many activities that constitute education processes, such as task submissions, exams, intercollegiate seminars, and students’ graduation, make it unlikely that the education will fully return to the conventional forms–confined in classrooms.
When the pandemic ends, universities, which are now equipped with technologies of many variants, will try to use them further. This creates alternatives to traditional classroom-based learning. The learning processes can also be held online, such as live streaming, similar to the pandemic epoch. The alternation between offline and online learning makes the space for discussions to be flexible, bound by nothing. Restrictions, such as physical boundaries, are going away. For example, if some classroom discussions meet some time restrictions, virtual conferences can be continued. Ideally, some scholars are invited to broaden the discussion scope further, making it more dynamic.A synthesis between offline and online learning will eliminate (or at least loosen) the restrictions put on by the distances students need to go through for submitting assignments, attending lectures, discussions, etc. Even exams can be done through digital means. The learning processes will become more efficient.
Another essential thing to note is, this synthesis way of learning will transcend temporal and spatial barriers, making education more inclusive. It will help push the education revolution–an education that is accessible for all–to come true. A concept that complements synthesis learning in achieving this is referred to as rural rebound.
Rural Rebound Phenomena in Making Education Accessible for All
As defined by Kenneth Johnson, Rural Rebound refers to population transfer from urban areas to rural or suburban areas (Johnson, 1998). Urbanization usually goes hand in hand with modernization. However, it has become a common phenomenon in developed countries that their urban areas are losing population. This tendency–population transfer–happens because it has become easy for people to work remotely in developed countries, making rural or suburban areas, which comparatively have a tranquil atmosphere and a decent place to live. It has become a trend since post-World War II when suburbanization became a thing. However, the causes differ. Back then, it was due to the production of cars, which made it doable for people living in villages to commute. Unlike the current trend, that is caused by the possibilities to work fully via the internet.
It is not only distances between workplaces and home that become the factor into a rural rebound. Infrastructure in suburban and rural areas have also improved. This population transfer started happening in the decade following the Vietnam War to the early 90s in the United States. In that period, the United States underwent a relatively stable and high population growth. Population transfer and repopulation in rural areas became a trend in the second half of the 20th century (Johnson, 2005). This was a reflection of the recovery that was happening in rural areas at that time. Scandinavian countries are also undergoing a similar phenomenon–rural rebound–which makes their population distribution more equal, as is shown by the changes in urban and rural ratio every year. (Adamiak, 2017).
The United States experienced during 1970 to 1998 a phenomenon called deconcentration–individuals gradually moving from concentrated areas into areas with a small population (Johnson, 1998). This counts as a rebound, not reversal–which is the phenomenon of individuals returning to their previous residence. The United States citizens are not going to rural areas looking to garden and farm. They are equipped with the technologies they have in the urban areas and can work remotely. To put it simply, these individuals are modern beings with the freedom to choose where they want to work from.
It is, therefore, interesting that when the pandemic hits, remote activities had become a necessity, when previously it was a luxury. Spatial boundaries, such as distances between work and home, are eliminated, with individuals equipped with decent technologies now have equal opportunities–workplace and inclusive access towards education. The “currency” for education and work is not location but technology. This system–remote working–will probably still be oriented into the system, even after the pandemic ends, due to how efficient it is for corporations, with building rent costs reduced from their budget. Overall, with how many advantages this system gives, it is likely that the practice will broaden and stay post-pandemic.
During the early phase of the pandemic, Indonesia underwent a massive population transfer from urban areas to their hometowns. This transfer is clearly prohibited, as stated in Government Regulation No. 21 of 2020 on Large-Scale Social Restriction to Accelerate The Handling of Covid-19 Pandemic on 31 March, 2020 (Ihsanuddin dan Hakim, 2020). However, from the perspective of a public policy analyst, Agus Pambagio, this measure is overdue. Before Government Regulation No.21 of 2020 was enacted, many informal workers and college students returned to their hometowns. It is recorded that 876 inter-province buses brought more or less 14 thousand passengers from urban areas.
These migrants can be perceived as the first wave of a rural rebound in Indonesia. Forced population transfer during the pandemic might potentially ignite recovery and rural development. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, asked the Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs, Muhadjir Effendy, to anticipate ruralization during the pandemic (Nurrohman, 2020). Metropolitan individuals forced to take refuge in rural areas might alter the culture, especially regarding technology accessibility. Rural individuals might have to keep pace with these comers.
Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo, and his ministers continuously formulate policies in response to COVID-19 with the citizens, especially regarding health, technology, and the education sectors. In the education sector, Minister of Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim, has formulated various innovative policies, such as making an allocation for the education budget, minimalizing college tuition costs in every public college in Indonesia, distributing internet data as big as 50 GB to all college students, and devising an emergency curriculum, consisting of a more straightforward learning process (Kurniawan, 2020).
Progress in rural areas, in conformity with nationwide technology penetration during the COVID-19 pandemic, shows that the education sector in Indonesia holds a promising prospect. In a conference with Media Indonesia, Minister of Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim, declared that the COVID-19 pandemic positively impacts a great deal towards the education system, accelerating its development because of how it forced the implementation of technology on education (Rustandi, 2020).
This population transfer, happening on a grand scale, will impact the cultures in rural areas regarding technology access. The majority of comers consist of retirees and professionals who sensed that there is no more urgency to live in urban areas; with how the internet and the technology are developing equally, is there any point to live in urban areas, with their hustle and bustle? In his press release on 24 September 2020, Jokowi said that “Decline in the economy currently experienced by Indonesia forced many to take refuge in their hometown. Villages act as a buffer zone when ruralization happens, when economic crises happen in cities (The Jakarta Post, 2020). However, are there any efforts done to achieve that end? What will be the consequences if it lets be?
The government and the private sectors have made tremendous efforts to modernize villages, mainly through projects that ease students’ access to education. Through Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH), the government has been instructed by Jokowi to distribute 13.8 trillion rupiahs to communities in villages as a means to combat COVID-19. This includes supplying technology infrastructures and distributing 50GB of internet data (The Jakarta Post, 2020).
Naturally, these measures are taken due to the urgency caused by the pandemic. However, it would not be unlikely that the acceleration of technological penetration will be the catalyst for an education system in which, irrespective of their distances, will receive valued knowledge, as long as their technology equipment deems it possible. Therefore, changes that once were thought to be disasters might prove to bear some blessings, especially for those living in rural, previously away from equal access to education.
Every sector of society seeks alternatives that can work under situations created by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these sectors is education. During the pandemic, the government is forced to integrate technology into the education system. Technology uses become one of the forces that help the education revolution in Indonesia. The change to online classes is a way of adaptation and also a revolution for Indonesia’s education system. It helps realize the synthesis in the education sector in Indonesia, especially for colleges.
The occurrence of rural rebound also indicates widespread synthesis in the education system during the pandemic–the population transfer from urban areas to rural areas–in the context that it will help to learn and work remotely. Technology infrastructures in rural areas, which were neglected for many years, have caught up, making it a revolutionary step in achieving equal technology access.
It might sound like a utopic projection, but the impacts from efforts made by the government, such as synthesis between online and offline learning and equal technology access shouldn’t be downplayed. These efforts help reconstruct the education system post-COVID 19 pandemic to become more inclusive and accessible, especially for marginalized communities. When education is not barred by barriers of all kinds anymore, humans have achieved freedom in learning.
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Authors: Elsya Dewi Arifah dan Refina Anjani Puspita (Intern)
Editor: Jessica Syafaq Muthmaina
Illustrator: Labiqa Haniya (Intern)
Translator: Rumi Rayhan