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Indonesia splashes out to help distance learning

Millions to be spent on phones for poor children, improving how teachers and students can communicate online

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Indonesia splashes out to help distance learning

Students at St. Bartholomeus Vocational School in Benteng Jawa attend a class in this file photo. (Photo supplied)

The Indonesian government has introduced a series of measures to help schools and students struggling to meet necessary requirements to conduct distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Assistance includes providing phone credit subsidies for students, teachers and lecturers as well as providing cellphones for students from poor families.

Communication and Information Minister Johnny Plate said the credit subsidies are scheduled to begin at the start of September for four months, with a total budget of 7.8 trillion rupiah (US$530 million)

He said on Aug. 13 that the assistance was targeting 44 million primary and secondary students, 8.2 million university students and their lecturers and teachers.

The minister, who is a Catholic, said his ministry is also working with cellphone operators to complete the construction of a more comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure across the country.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the government was looking to provide social assistance in the form of mobile phones for students from underprivileged families who have difficulty following distance learning. “We will strive to overcome this problem,” she said.

Franciscan Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, welcomed the assistance, saying it would help the beleaguered during the pandemic.

"It is an answer to our many requests for the government to address the difficulties faced by schools, especially in rural areas," he told UCA News.

He said a survey conducted by the bishops’ conference's Education Commission among schools not on Java island discovered that only 6 percent had implemented distancing learning without any difficulty, while 53 percent were facing serious obstacles and 41 percent could not operate at all.

"The biggest obstacle is limited internet access," he said. Other problems were the inability by teachers to use digital learning tools and limited related infrastructure in schools.

According to the priest, the government must also address poor digital infrastructure in schools.

"The pandemic, which highlights the need for communication networks, opens our eyes to the fact that there are still many regions with no basic infrastructure," he said.

Mobile phone assistance is also important "because, in the current situation, cellphones are as important as books.”

Meanwhile, Frumensius Manjulung, principal of St. Bartholomeus Vocational School in Benteng Jawa in East Nusa Tenggara province, said the government's help will ease the burden on schools.

"We have difficulty maximizing the implementation of distance learning because we have to meet the additional needs of teachers, such as phone credit,” he told UCA News.

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