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Challenges of Home Learning During a Pandemic Through the Eyes of a Student

Country leaders across the globe have launched a crisis response to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on education.

Due to the education system has faced an unprecedented health crisis (i.e., COVID-19 pandemic) that has shaken up its foundation.

This response includes, but is not limited to, curriculum revisions, provision for technological resources and infrastructure, shifts in the academic calendar, and policies on instructional delivery and assessment. Inevitably, these developments compelled educational institutions to migrate to full online learning until face-to-face instruction is allowed. The current circumstance is unique as it could aggravate the challenges experienced during online learning due to restrictions in movement and health protocols.

Since its outbreak in late December 2019, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world and like any critical sector, education has been hit hard. Students, schools, colleges and universities have been deeply impacted. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), over 800 million learners from around the world have been affected, 1 in 5 learners cannot attend school, 1 in 4 cannot attend higher education classes, and over 102 countries have ordered nationwide school closures while 11 have implemented localised school closure.

Inevitably, schools and other learning spaces were forced to migrate to full online learning as the world continues the battle to control the vicious spread of the virus. Online learning refers to a learning environment that uses the Internet and other technological devices and tools for synchronous and asynchronous instructional delivery and management of academic programs. However, students continue their education through online learning and via video calls with their teachers, especially in big cities such as Jakarta. The model is currently the best alternative as keeping schools open poses a safety risk for students.

Globally, many countries have adopted this approach. Schools in New York, the United States, prepared for online learning by distributing gadgets to their students, ensuring they had access to learning materials.

As of early April, education authorities distributed around 500,000 laptops and tablets to their students, allowing them to participate in classes online. When the first two COVID-19 cases were announced in Indonesia in early March, the country was in a panic. On March 14, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced that all schools in Jakarta were to be closed. However, many schools were not ready to apply home learning programs yet. The online classes implemented in Indonesia work differently from those in the US. This is due to a lack of preparation in this country.

As a student participating in the home-learning program, online school was confusing to adjust to as we had not been prepared through simulations or practices beforehand. Students reported the home-learning program to be even more stressful than regular classrooms. Some of the common reasons for this went along the lines of: “Normal classes may have been difficult, but having friends makes it so much more manageable and less stressful. Online classes take out the benefits of having friends to socialize with and being stuck alone with nothing but assignments.” Many students participating in home-learning programs also say that the workload of online classes is larger than that of regular classes. The general consensus is that home-learning programs — although highly beneficial and a good alternative to school as schools are closed — still require some getting used to by students, as it is a novel concept and not many are experienced with them.

However, although the closing of schools does have a silver lining (home-learning programs where students are still able to learn), the true sufferers of the government order of school closings are the students in less fortunate situations and the students who are in schools that are not well-funded.

This is because those students lack the devices and internet access to be able to participate in online classes, and the schools do not have the capacity to teach online. Unlike in New York where devices are distributed to students by schools and private companies, in Indonesia, there is yet to be this kind of effort.

This leaves many students in a bad spot where they are unable to receive an education. Although internet service providers have been giving out free data packages, they are simply not capable of supporting video calls on programs such as Zoom. To further complicate things, it seems that COVID-19 will last a while in Indonesia. For context, in China, it took months for the transmissions to stabilize — and this was with a fast government response, instant lockdown and people obeying the rules and quarantine policies.

Despite the lack of a nation-wide lockdown, schools remain closed, meaning that students who have no access to a device or internet connection will have a difficult time maintaining their education. Due to these factors, they will be in a very difficult spot educationally until the COVID-19 pandemic dies down in Indonesia.

In this situation, the government should make extra efforts to support the education sector and build a sense of solidarity among schools, such as by facilitating networks between international and national/public schools to share experiences and study methodologies for online teaching.

Thankfully, there are now some alternatives to online learning in which students in less fortunate situations could participate. The Education and Culture Ministry recently introduced a Belajar di Rumah (Learning at Home) program through state-owned broadcaster TVRI (for the next three months) and a platform called Guru Berbagi (Teachers Sharing), providing creating learning and teaching materials.

To add on to this, however, the government should still have more offline options for students without internet access, such as the distribution of books and learning materials. Personally, I feel that online classes are a great alternative to normal in-school classes. As a 10th grader participating in online classes right now, I have been able to focus more and perform better.

Developing strong attitudes towards learning also can help students overcome some of the potential challenges posed by online learning such as, for instance, remaining focused during online classes or maintaining sufficient motivation.

They are also crucial in supporting students using information and communications technology (ICT) effectively and making the most of new technologies for learning. Positive attitudes towards learning, self-regulation and intrinsic motivation to learn play an important role in improving performance at school in general, but may be especially important should online learning continue.

The presence of COVID-19 will directly and permanently change education in the future, seeing that we must be able to adapt to working and studying online for any kind of reasons and situations. I believe, both TVRI’s Belajar di Rumah program and the Guru Berbagi platform will leave a legacy and should be continued to support class teachings for good. Only time will tell whether online classes will be a good substitute for normal classes, and if they are, there will be a rise in online educational programs and online universities.

In another perspective, education systems should aim to strengthen engagement between schools and parents in order to improve information and guidance to parents on effective practices for supporting their children’s learning.

At the same time, teachers need support to incorporate technology effectively into their teaching practices and methods and help students overcome some of the difficulties that are associated with this form of learning environment. Supporting teachers’ training about the use of digital resources for pedagogical practice and promoting teaching practices adapted to this context is key to ensure that ICT is leveraged effectively.