Papua’s Golden Opportunity to Catch Up with Educational Technology – Education in Papua lags behind other provinces in Indonesia – both in terms of student learning results and digital infrastructure. In recent years, the region’s Human Development Index and Technological Development Index have consistently been among the lowest in the country.

Papuan students’ achievements in the National Examination (UN) also remained low along 2017 to 2019. In 2020, amid the importance of online learning, the percentage of households in Papua with internet access is one of the lowest – only 29.5% compared to Jakarta which have 89%.

This indicates that Papua is having difficulty in dealing with the demands of online learning during the Covid-19 crisis. Interestingly, this could be the right moment to invest and develop educational technology in Papua.

A study in 2015 from the Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP) – a collaboration between the Indonesian government, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Australian Aid, and the European Union (EU) – identified several important prerequisites for developing educational technology in Papua.

 These include: 1) Raising awareness among educators about the importance of using technology 2) Ensuring the availability of digital infrastructure 3) Preparing educators to have the ability to actually implement various digital tools and services related to education. The first point is the most difficult to implement – ​​for teachers and educators in Papua, and even around the world. Even though the government can undertake infrastructure development and increase digital capacity, it takes a lot of energy and a long time to change the mindset.

The findings from the study above, for example, show that at that time, around 70% of teachers in Papua used technology only for administrative purposes or preparing materials, not as a part of the learning process. In fact, the study actually also found that many pupils already have laptops and smartphones.

Even in the Western world, prior to around 2019, platforms providing online classes (Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs) had low course completion rates – even though these platforms were supported by top class providers including top universities. This also shows that shifting the mindset of students to complete online classes, when they are used to doing it offline, is a difficult thing.

The use of whiteboards and markers also took a long time before being adopted by schools. Although it has been for about since the 1960s, schools only started replacing chalkboards with whiteboards in the 1990s when classrooms began to use a lot of computers so the room had to be dust-free. Here, the Covid-19 pandemic plays a very significant role in changing attitudes and behavior, especially in education. The closing of schools prompted teachers in Papua to review their teaching habits and begin to consider the importance of educational technology. While the digital infrastructure in Papua is inadequate, there are indications that the use of educational technology is increasing sharply in the region.

A study in 2020  from the World Bank, for example, shows that the use of educational technology (including platforms such as Ruangguru, Zenius, and Google Classroom) in Papua is close to 10%. This is on par with other far more developed provinces such as Riau and South Sulawesi. Papua’s achievements even exceed some other areas in Sumatra (such as Aceh and Bengkulu), Sulawesi, and Kalimantan. In the midst of a pandemic, teachers and lecturers in Papua seem being ready to do online learning if given a supportive environment.

Schools and local governments can also train teachers to use educational technology by collaborating with various institutions that specialize in teacher capacity building. There are even programs such as Sekolah Penggerak [The Mover School] – which encourage collaboration between schools and teachers to share innovative learning practices – in order to close the gap in teacher quality in the region. All of that requires hard work, but the results will not be in vain.

Improving the digital infrastructure, as well as the capacity of teachers to use it well, will encourage teachers and students to experiment with learning materials and techniques outside of school traditions. A good monitoring and evaluation system will support school leadership, and in the end, lead to a better teaching and learning process.

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