A big chunk of the national budget for education hasn’t solved the education problem in Indonesia. The gap in standards between regions, lack of access to teaching materials, obsolete curriculums, low-paid and unqualified teachers and outmoded teaching methods continue to hold back Indonesian children, and with them the economy.
By Albert W Nonto
Internet penetration is making some progress in speeding up the introduction of smarter education systems. Educational marketplace Ruangguru.com is trying to make a contribution by offering something different.
It offers a learning process in a digital platform where students can meet their colleagues and teachers, digital education products and a learning management system. A student in Papua for example can find the best and up-to-date material on a subject through the marketplace.
Ruangguru.com cofounder and CEO Belva Devara sees that the niche the platform aims to fill will not substitute for the formal education system which takes place in the classroom, but with the assistance of more than 80,000 teachers across the country who are offering online assistance, there is a chance for some of the problems in the education sector to be resolved. “Since the first day we came up with the idea to connect teachers and students across the country, our team also found a problem that needed to be fixed: the lack of access to quality materials to support the learning process both for teachers and most importantly for pupils,” Belva told GlobeAsia.
Belva adds that the situation on the ground in the education sector is even worse than many imagine. Learning techniques in the classroom are obsolete and irrelevant and there is minimum support from parents, teachers and other related parties. In theory, says Belva, students across the country should have equal opportunity to access education. But in some areas in Papua, and even in some regions in West Java not far from the nation’s capital, there are minimal education facilities. Classrooms are badly built and often collapsing and there are few teaching materials or other facilities. Teachers often don’t bother to turn up for their classes.
“For students who live in remote areas, it is very difficult to get books or audio-visual material, even though the students have the capacity to buy the materials,” Belva adds. Technology provides a means of bridging the gap as the internet is now providing faster access than physical book stores or libraries.
Instead of the widespread blame game over what’s wrong with education, says Belva, the digital marketplace can meet the specific learning needs of students, while at the same time teachers prepared to spend some time online have a chance to make extra money.
Many services are offered though the Ruangguru.com platform. Students with strong visual capacities can learn faster by watching animations, videos and pictures that can help them to understand a subject. Students who find it hard to do their homework can get help online.
Study groups provide a platform similar to a digital boot camp where they can chat with their fellows from across the country to discuss a certain subject, with a teacher on standby to help the students if they get stuck. If they want to move on to university, students can conduct try-out tests to make them familiar with questions that will be frequently asked during the test to enter their chosen school. “We want to become an alternative for students and add to what they can get from the physical classroom,” says Belva.
For teachers who want to enlarge their income, the platform offers the opportunity to be listed as an online teacher member or facilitator. Belva claims that more and more teachers get a big financial boost by involvement with his marketplace. Some are earning up to Rp25 million a month. The teacher can work online or organize private sessions with pupils in their home area.
A teacher in Jakarta who asked to remain anonymous said he can earn more online than he does from his public-school job by teaching after-hours. And for teachers with minimum experience, Ruanguru.com provides manuals and guidance on the road to qualifying as an online teacher.
With one million of its apps downloaded, seven million users and 80,000 teachers across the country, the website is emerging as a major digital school offering one-stop solutions. Hundreds of digital education product are offered through the marketplace, creating opportunity for local developers to explore ideas and opportunity.
Pantaleon Pangka, an elementary school student at Ketapang Christian School at the Legenda Wisata housing development in Bogor, enjoys learning English and math through videos he watches on his smartphone because they are designed like a video game.
Joko Pinurbo a veteran teacher from Bogor, appreciates what Ruangguru.com has done and believes that online learning and digital schools will become a new method of teaching. And education is more than just sending your child off to school: parents also have a role to play in guiding their children so that they are not dependent on the internet. “Parents still dominant in the education system, to accompany children to learn from smart devices,” says a mother of two in Cibubur, East Jakarta.
Recognizing the arrival of digital learning systems, Ruangguru.com has forged a partnership with the central government and administrations at the provincial and regency level to enrich its content. Some areas, for example, are working to promote local languages through the medium.