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A Difficult Choice for Education

The unexpected outbreak of Covid-19 has caused disruptive changes from traditional classroom learning to online learning. Now, after more than 1.5 years, most of the children and students are still learning from home with their computers, laptops, or smartphones. Students of elementary schools and middle schools are especially impacted by missing the social dimensions of learning which they need for developing their personality. Although online learning may help them to connect to each other and to collaborate, research shows that it is less interesting and not appreciated by stakeholders for various reasons.[1] Considering the importance of that social dimension of learning, Indonesian Minister of Education, Nadiem Makarim, encouraged the schools to reopen classroom learning. At a press conference last March, he clarified the requirements that the schools need to fulfill before allowing their students to come to school. Firstly, all teachers must have been vaccinated. Secondly, schools have to enforce strict health protocols. Consequently, they will have to reduce the amount of the students who can come to school. Makarim said, “If the schools continue online learning, students may experience “loss of learning”. The students, especially those of elementary and middle school levels, need to socialize for developing sensitivity to their social context.

But it turns out that Indonesia is seeing a significant rise in the number of Covid-19 cases since mid-May.[2] Many presume the high mobility of millions of people during the Eid al-Fitr holiday season last month has triggered the surge. Statistics show, that after holiday seasons, Covid-19 cases increase significantly. For Indonesia, a country with the largest Moslem population in the world, Eid al-Fitr homecoming has not only social and cultural but also religious meanings. For many, Eid al-Fitr homecoming is a moment for reconnecting with their cultural and religious roots. This was apparently the reason behind the “disobedience” to the government policy that had already banned Eid al-Fitr homecoming to avoid the rise of new cases. Due to this massive citizen mobility, unfortunately the increase of new infection cases was unavoidable.

Will this fact prevent the Minister of Education from carrying out the plan of reopening “offline classroom” for schools in July?  Actually, he has already allowed 30% of the schools in Indonesia to reopen their classroom learning. However, it has been assured that they are able to strictly enforce health protocols and that the number of new cases of Covid-19 in the area where the schools are located, is very low. Now, he is inviting the other schools to do the same. But he lets the parents decide whether to send their children back for in-person learning or not.

In the following weeks, all parents will face one of the difficult questions during this pandemic: should their children return to school? Although Unicef has given guidelines for the parents facing this questions,[3] the situation is unpredictable considering development of recent variants of the virus. There is no single answer for all parents because every family has its own dynamics and complexities.

To deal with the consequences of public health and education, the choice regarding sending children back to the classroom or not is one of crisis strategy. The success of such a strategy depends on the acceptance of and compliance from parents, school governing bodies and civil communities in coordination and cooperation with the crisis management policies.

[1] S. Fatima, N. Ahmad, and S. Fatima. “Impact of COVID-19 and Coping Policies Implemented by Higher Education Institutions in South-Asian Countries: Systematic Review.” Global Economics Review, VI (2021); Deepa V. Ramane, Ulka A. Devare, and Madhavi V. Kapatkar, “The Impact of Online Learning on Learners’ Education and Health.” The Online Journal of Distance Education and e-Learning 9, no. 2 (2021).

[2] Nina A. Loasana, “Calls mount for lockdown as Indonesia battles surge in COVID-19 cases”