Technology-Driven Education Reform in Indonesia (Merdeka Belajar Program)

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Merdeka Belajar Program

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The acceleration of a nation’s development and the revitalization of talent often begins with educational rejuvenation. 

Many countries understand this principle, and over the past few decades, numerous inspiring educational reforms have been initiated worldwide. 

In Indonesia, the quality of basic education has raised concerns in recent years. 

On one hand, educational reforms seem to have entered a bottleneck period, requiring a re-evaluation of the current situation and root causes for targeted interventions. 

On the other, injecting vitality into such a vast education system swiftly demands innovative new approaches.

This report focuses on the intermediate outcomes of Indonesia’s recent educational reform program, “Merdeka Belajar” and the Indonesian government’s efficient and creative incorporation of technology in the execution of education policies. 

It examines the root causes that have plagued Indonesia’s basic education system, showcases the intentions and scope of the educational rejuvenation program, and reveals how technological tools and interventions played a pivotal role in the implementation of policies.

Our research has identified that the root causes to such poor performance are the content prescription base curriculum, lack of career development for teachers, low efficiency in school management and decision making. 

The educational reform program hence encompasses crucial elements to tackle these challenges at their roots.

The new curriculum, Kurikulum Merdeka, aims at making learning simpler and more profound, and enhancing students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

Effective communication, training, and encouragement for teachers to engage in the re-creation of the curriculum are paramount. 

Throughout the process, technology tools played a crucial role, while leaving a profound and lasting impact, as a direct communication channel has been established between the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology (MoECRT) and individual teachers.

Additionally, to truly realize the educational vision depicted by the new curriculum, teachers play a crucial role. 

Over the years, Indonesia’s teacher community has faced challenges that urgently need addressing. The process of selecting and appointing principals is lacking.

The allocation of teacher training resources has been extremely imbalanced in the past. 

Besides, in the context of the past prescriptive curriculum, teachers lacked the opportunities and motivations to be innovative about teaching activities. 

These competency gaps need swift replenishment, and a comprehensive solution is required to fundamentally change teachers’ mindset, beliefs, and motivational behaviors.

Educational tools, facilitated by the widespread use of smartphones, can achieve revolutionary behavioral changes. 

The Indonesian government has recognized this and has developed corresponding technological solutions, continuously adding usage scenarios to make them a normalized tool in teachers’ professional lives.

Finally, the management and decision-making capabilities of schools need to be strengthened, especially the ability to reflect on problems and allocate resources, and the streamlining of school administrative processes, for example, the management of procurement and budgeting. 

Technology has provided solutions to all of these problems and has interacted with other technology platforms in the ecosystem, becoming a fundamental tool for modern school management.

Technology-Enabled Reform

Indonesia’s large and complex education system makes reforming it a challenging task. 

Taking into account its national context, Indonesia has chosen the natural option of using technological means to promote the implementation of policies. 

As a smartphone-centric society, a cell-phone-based approach was chosen to ensure broad accessibility.

This is further complemented by a laptop distribution initiative to strengthen weak links in schools’ information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure.

Several technology platforms were introduced to facilitate Merdeka Belajar. 

This report will primarily focus on four platforms produced by the MoECRT that include Platform Merdeka Mengajar (PMM), Rapor Pendidikan, ARKAS, and SIPLah.

Platform Merdeka Mengajar is a one-stop enablement and upskilling solution for teachers. Rapor Pendidikan showcases the schools’ assessment results in the form of key learning indicators along with root cause analysis, school planning and improvement recommendations. 

ARKAS offers streamlined budgeting, planning, and reporting processes of the government’s funds. 

It is best used together with SIPLah, a procurement platform that connects schools with nine different ecommerce partners to allow for a better reach and wider selection of products.

What also stands out in Indonesia’s practice is the establishment of an iterative workflow (discovery, delivery, and distribution) for the development and operation of education technology products. 

Adhering to a user-centric philosophy, technology solutions place the needs of end-users at the core of every workflow. 

These tools not only help facilitate the implementation of policies but also attentively fills the gaps between policy frameworks and the actual needs of the target audience. 

This has led to improvements in efficiency, flexibility, and a sense of user-friendliness. 

Relying on the merits of their own, rather than administrative orders, these products have gained reputation and recognition.

Just like the education reform, this too represents an exciting transformation. 

Technological tools only break temporary barriers. Advocating for collaboration, continuous evolvement, and placing the end-users at the core indicate the internal transformation from inside the ministry, shifting its way of working toward a more open and adaptive manner.

Key Technological Tools

It is still too soon to observe tangible academic improvements at this stage. 

Change management always starts with behavior, mindset, philosophy, and culture. 

The product usage data and user feedback clearly demonstrated promising intermediate results among teachers and principals. 

Their perceptions of curriculum, teaching objectives, and student cognition are evolving, and a stronger motivation for self-reflection and learning is emerging.

Out of six deployment tools used, “Platform Merdeka Mengajar” (PMM) managed to stand out as the primary implementation lever. 

Many principals and teachers reported that the platform has helped them realize that the improvement of learning quality should be focused on their students, and that each student has unique characteristics. 

These changes indicate a key mindset shift that shall pivot the next wave of pedagogical strategy upgrades.

PMM’s training and community features have also been well received by teachers and principals, with over 80% and 70% of them respectively engaging in activities.

Teachers have reported improvements in the classroom learning experience, heightened student engagement, and increased enthusiasm. 

Beyond, our survey also revealed that teachers and principals feel inspired and increased professional pride, showcasing PMM’s positive impact on morale and mindset changes in the Indonesian education sector.

Looking ahead, PMM aims to broaden its role, not only enhancing teacher capabilities but also addressing broader professional development needs. 

This includes acting as a channel to identify potential school principals, with future plans to become a comprehensive solution supporting teachers in areas such as career advancement and promoting data-driven teaching practices.

“Rapor Pendidikan” has supported schools in their transformation towards data-driven decision-making. 

As of October 2023, about 95% of all of Indonesia’s G-12 schools have adopted Rapor Pendidikan. 

More than 80% of survey respondents agreed that the platform plays a crucial role in identifying priority areas of improvement when planning for the next academic year.

“ARKAS” and “SIPLah” streamlines budgeting and accountability processes by providing an easy and transparent workflow, which improved the overall sense of security in compliant financial reporting, and saved time for teachers. 

Streamlining school management affairs also has additional benefits as a number of teachers in Indonesia take on school management duties as their second roles. 

Improving the efficiency of administrative affairs and reducing human errors and workload mean that these teachers’ time and energy can be freed up.

We have also tracked movements of the laptop distribution program, supplementary to the software and tool provision initiatives. 

To date, a substantial number of 1.2 million laptops have been distributed throughout the country. 

Based on the reported computer usage data collected by MoECRT, more than 80% of distributed computers are utilized for teaching and learning activities. 

These devices have revolutionized the classroom experience, empowering educators to deliver engaging lessons while providing students with access to a wide range of educational resources.

Future State

Globally, there is an irreversible trend towards making education smarter, more accessible, and focused on individual development, utilizing a myriad of ever-evolving technological means. 

For emerging nations, it is an opportune window to catch up.

Indonesia’s endeavors today align with this overarching trend by choosing a distinctive path. 

Instead of taking on a full education digitization which is costly and takes long time to roll out, Indonesia is focusing on developing tools to unlock human potential and deploying them swiftly to where urgent interventions are most needed.

The MoECRT envisions a future where the positive impact of these interventions becomes an organic and enduring part of the country’s educational landscape. 

Many of the abovementioned technological intervention tools have been planned for a broader spectrum of functionalities and visions — as an integral part of teachers’ career development and a lifelong learning companion, and as the communication channel among various educational stakeholders to facilitate collaborative discussions among teachers, administrators, and parents in near future.

Our analysis of the recent Merdeka Belajar movements in Indonesia’s educational landscape reveals a promising trajectory characterized by commendable progress and strategic initiatives, indicating that Indonesia is heading towards systemic transformation for the better.

The transformative journey is a nuanced process of shifting the culture and mindset, not only within the central government, but also among the vanguard of Indonesia’s education system, including teachers, school principals, and local government entities. 

As the country embarks on this inspirational journey, the importance of sustained efforts and consistency cannot be overstated in achieving educational transformation. 

It is crucial to acknowledge that moving in the right direction entails more than immediate change; it requires patience and perseverance.

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