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'I cannot move the lessons online': Educators in remote Indonesia visit students one by one during school closure

'I cannot move the lessons online': Educators in remote Indonesia visit students one by one during school closure

Rahima Malik with her students at Folangkai public primary school on Alor island in East Nusa Tenggara. (Photo courtesy of Rahima Malik)

JAKARTA: Rahima Malik, 29, has dreamed of being a teacher since she was pursuing a teaching degree with a major in Indonesian literature. 

Her dream came true eventually, with her accepted as a temporary contract teacher at the Folangkai public primary school in her hometown in rural Central Wolwal village on Alor island, East Nusa Tenggara province. 

Her four years of teaching made her realise that teaching is full of challenges, especially during a lethal pandemic like COVID-19 where face-to-face interaction is cut down to slow the spread of the virus. 

Malik has not seen her 11 third-graders for almost two months after the government instructed schools to close and to conduct online learning. Even though no COVID-19 cases have been reported in their village, the school - built with bricks, woven bamboo and iron sheeting- has to comply with the nationwide closure. 

But online learning is not possible, Malik told CNA. 

“I cannot move the lessons online because the students don’t have a mobile phone or laptop,” she said, adding that not all of their parents own a mobile phone due to poverty and patchy Internet connection. 

​​​​​​​Rahima Malik's classroom at Folangkai public primary school on Alor island in East Nusa Tenggara. (Photo courtesy of Rahima Malik)

Thus, she has no means of communicating with her students during school closure, unless she visits them one by one. 

To ensure some form of learning is still taking place amid the pandemic, Malik decided to drop by the kids' houses every few days to assign them some schoolwork - exercises in their school books. She walks to their houses, which are all located in the same village. 

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Most of the students complete their homework, she said, adding that they do not seem to mind being assigned tasks when school is closed. 

“I miss teaching, because at school we used to laugh a lot, they liked to make jokes,” Malik said.

Across Indonesia, there are at least 3.1 million teachers affected by the pandemic, according to the education ministry. 

Since schools are closed, educational programmes prepared by the ministry have been aired on the country’s state-owned public broadcasting television TVRI for the students to watch. 

But Malik said the village has no access to TVRI, as they can only receive the signals of two private stations on their televisions.  


As a temporary contract teacher, Malik receives her salary from Indonesia’s school grant programme known by its acronym BOS.

The grant, transferred by the central government directly to schools, can be used to fund school maintenance and contract teachers' salaries, among others. 

The sum received by each school depends on the school status and the number of students it has. 

Teachers of Folangkai public primary school on Alor island in East Nusa Tenggara pose for a photograph in front of the school. (Photo courtesy of Rahima Malik)

Malik earns about 150,000 rupiah (US$10) every three or six months, she claimed, even though the minimum monthly wage for 2020 in East Nusa Tenggara province is 1.95 million rupiah.

“But what can I say? Rather than losing the knowledge (by not using it), it’s better for me to serve the people (despite the low wage),” she told CNA.

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Malik explained she can survive with the low wage because her parents are farmers and they live modestly in the village.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, she collected candlenuts in the mountains every Saturday and sold them for money. 

Now that schools are closed, Malik roasts locally-produced coffee beans and grinds them into powder in between grading her students' work. 

She can earn 5,000 to 10,000 rupiah per day from selling coffee powder from her home. 

Since January, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) focusing on providing social and humanitarian aid is helping Malik by providing her with 500,000 rupiah per month and occasionally staple food.


Ridwan Sitorus, 30, a private Quran teacher in Toba Samosir regency, North Sumatra province is also reeling from COVID-19.

Born with one leg, Sitorus relies on a crutch to walk and has been teaching Quran for 10 years. Prior to the outbreak, he has about 20 students, ranging from pre-schoolers to high school kids. 

He was offered a place just about 200m away from his home in 2017 to teach Quran. The premises is owned by a local NGO focusing on Islamic teaching and Quran reading. 

Students would drop by after school to study Quran in groups. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ridwan Sitorus relies on his friend to take him to his students' houses. (Photo courtesy of Ridwan Sitorus)

But once the pandemic broke out, the NGO decided it is best to close the premises, and conduct online learning by way of adhering to the social distancing guidelines. 

“But we cannot conduct online learning because some students live in areas which do not have Internet connectivity at all.

“Some of their parents are also poor and unable to teach their children, so I visit them at their homes even if it is just briefly,” Sitorus told CNA.

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North Sumatra province has not implemented the large-scale social restrictions, a partial lockdown which enables local governments to enforce regulations on physical distancing and impose sanctions on people who flout the rules.

Nevertheless, residents in Toba Samosir are trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by minimising human contact. Locals are only allowed to visit each other for five minutes, even though no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the remote agency as of Friday (May 29). 

But since Sitorus is a teacher, he is allowed by the locals to meet his students for up to 30 minutes. 

It is, however, still a challenge to Sitorus, who is dependent on a friend to take him on a motorbike from one village to another to his students' homes. No public buses serve the routes. 

Considering that his friend has other commitments, Sitorus cannot set a regular schedule to teach his students. 

He prioritises the preschoolers and primary school kids because the older students can mostly study on their own, he said, adding that he visits about 10 houses a week. 

Some of the secondary school students also own a mobile phone so they can reach him for a chat. 

"The students understand that COVID-19 is dangerous, so they don't mind the new learning arrangements," he said. 

Ridwan Sitorus (brown shirt) has been a Quran teacher for 10 years. (Photo courtesy of Ridwan Sitorus)

For the kindergarteners, he teaches them how to read the script used in Quran. Those who can already understand the script will be taught history as well as the meaning of the verses.

Sitorus said growing up, he was not taught how to read the Quran and had a hard time catching up later in life. Therefore, he is determined to continue providing Quran lessons to the kids. 

Not being able to pray together and read the Quran together during the just-concluded Ramadan made him sad, he added. 

However, he said he was touched by the willingness of the locals to still allow some sort of learning during the pandemic. 


While acknowledging the challenges faced by some Indonesian teachers in online learning during school closure, Education Minister Nadiem Makarim said the solutions cannot be immediately sorted out. 

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“All the solutions to tackle these are future-oriented and have to be dealt with by solving the root cause of equity issues in infrastructure,” Mr Makarim said during an online press conference in mid-May.

The minister said he would be working with other ministers to solve the problems.

For now, Malik, the contract teacher in Central Wolwal village, hopes to teach her students at school again soon.

“I want to teach them soon because they seemed to have forgotten a lot of things I previously taught them.

“I miss them badly.”

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Source: CNA/ks


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