Written by Fitri Nurrahmawati, Grant Researcher Intern at Project Child Indonesia
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought tremendous impacts to various sectors, including education. The distance learning policy that was implemented at the beginning of March 2020 forced more than 60 million students all over Indonesia to study from home in order to avoid virus transmission. But, the accessibility to facilities and infrastructure that support the effectiveness of learning from home is not obtained inclusively by all students, thus amplifying the inequality issue that has been prevailing in Indonesia even before the pandemic.
According to SMERU (2020), students with limited support receive the worst impact from the distance learning policy. Assistance to understand the subject materials as a form of learning support is considered to be a luxury in these circumstances. That is because the online interaction between students and teachers creates a barrier that makes the teachers unable to monitor students’ progress in real-time, namely due to several problems such as poor network coverage or knowledge constraints to use the online platforms. Students that come from vulnerable backgrounds are less likely to get direct assistance in understanding the materials since they are more presumably to face budget constraints to support additional online learning needs, including private tutors to help with their homework. Besides, their parents are often too busy making ends meet to fill the teacher’s role for their children. Those conditions make the children from vulnerable families prone to more learning loss.
OLA, an intervention to a more inclusive education
Project Child Indonesia developed Online Learning Assistance (OLA) in order to compensate for the challenges faced by children and parents in optimizing mandatory distance learning from school. In this program, Project Child Indonesia helps children ages 10-12 from lower and middle-income families that are having difficulty facing the shifting of the learning process system by providing Online Tutoring Sessions where volunteers assist children to apply concepts from school subjects especially Math, English, and Science, along with developing mindful learning strategies such as mindful breathing and mindful movements.
Each child is assisted by 2 volunteers through weekly online tutorials that are conducted in the cycle of semesters. The assistance is conducted via WhatsApp. Why WhatsApp? According to the research by Barhoumi (2015), WhatsApp mobile learning activities can be powerful and effective tools for students. It helps students learn and share knowledge and acquire, disseminate, and analyze information and knowledge . Furthermore, WhatsApp has an easy to use interface and has been widely used in daily life where it has ranked as Indonesia’s most popular communication application, used by 143 million total users. Cost-wise, WhatsApp can be said as the best alternative since it is a free application that requires no fees or subscriptions. It also has less data usage compared to other alternatives such as teleconference apps. Prior to the commencement of Online Learning Assistance, volunteers are equipped with training and capacity building in September (Induction Training, Mindful Teaching, Data Protection and Digital Safety for Social Programs, and Children and Young People Safeguarding Policy).
Our program was piloted in 2020, where we assisted 80 children from middle to lower-income families to understand the subject material concepts taught in schools, especially Science, Math, and English as the core subjects, considering that learning activities have not been conducted effectively thus creating a learning loss for children, especially children from vulnerable backgrounds that receive limited support. Our evaluation shows that 77.4% of children felt assisted through our programs and 80% state that this program is needed during the pandemic. In the next semester, besides teaching the core subjects, volunteers will also introduce children to mindfulness techniques, such as mindful breathing and mindful movement in order to improve their concentration and reduce stress.
Through the Alumni Grant Scheme that is administered by Australia Awards in Indonesia, the Australian Government enables Project Child Indonesia to engage with more children who would benefit from this program. Project Child Indonesia will have the opportunity to scale up our program to children across Indonesia. We are excited to be developing the initial stages of the program and look forward to its fruition.
 Alifia, U., Barasa, A., Bima, L., Pramana, R., Revina, S., & Tresnatri, F. (2021). Learning from Home: A Portrait of Teaching and Learning Inequalities in Times of The Covid-19 Pandemic. Smeru Research Note No. 1/2021, from https://smeru.or.id/sites/default/files/publication/cp01_covidpjj_eng.pdf
Barhoumi, C. (2015). The Effectiveness of WhatsApp Mobile Learning Activities Guided by Activty Theory on Students’ Knowldege Management. Contemporary Educational Technology, 6(3). doi: 10.30935/cedtech/6151
 The Most Used Communication Android Apps in ID according to SimilarWeb. (2021). Retrieved August 2021, from https://www.similarweb.com/apps/trends/google/app-index/id/communication/top-free/
 Tobing, D., & Simanjuntak, V. (2021). Does WhatsApp controversy affect Indonesian SMEs?. Retrieved August 2021, from https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2021/01/25/does-whatsapp-controversy-affect-indonesian-smes.html