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Indonesia’s demographic dividend threatened by lengthy COVID-19 school closures By Reuters


© Reuters. Ni Luh Nael is 13 years old and helps her grandmother. She dropped out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred in Denpasar Bali, Indonesia (September 11, 2021). Picture taken September 11, 2021. REUTERS/Wayan Sukarda NO RESALES. NO ARCH


By Tom Allard and Wayan Sukarda

JAKARTA/DENPASAR (Reuters) – Ni Kadek Suriani was looking forward to starting her second year of junior high school last year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Her parents were laid off and her mother was left to earn a living in Bali, Indonesia.

The 13-year old, who was wearing a Metallica T-shirt and recalled her experiences at Bali Street Mums headquarters, where she now receives support for her education.

Many of Indonesia’s nearly 68 million students have suffered a devastating economic shock from a pandemic, which saw schools close for over a year.

The impact could be disastrous for President Joko Widoso’s efforts to establish a global top five economy in 2045, based on a highly skilled workforce.

Noah Yarrow (a World Bank education specialist and coauthor of a Friday report), said that Indonesia had suffered a serious learning crisis before the pandemic.

The World Bank’s education specialist Noah Yarrow said that children aren’t learning enough to compete in globalized economies.

A World Bank report on Friday showed that Indonesia has gone from poor education to terrible. It calculated that the outbreak will result in more than 80% of the country’s 15-year olds falling below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) minimum level of reading proficiency.

This is a significant increase from the 70% who failed to reach basic literacy in tests conducted by the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment in 2018 which placed Indonesia among the lowest 8% of 77 countries.

According to the World Bank, Indonesian students had only 7.8 years effective learning prior to the pandemic. This was despite them having attended school for more 12 years. The Bank’s most optimistic model showed that this had dropped to 6.9 years in July.

According to the Bank’s most optimistic modelling, students will lose learning due to the pandemic and earn at least $253 billion per year.

Indonesia’s education minister acknowledged that closing schools had an “important impact” on students’ learning.

The statement said that school closures are a “global phenomenon” and not just in Indonesia. We are encouraging schools to offer a limited amount of face-to-face education to help children get back into school and interact with teachers and their friends. This will allow them to rekindle their love for learning.


Indonesian schools were closed for 55 weeks to August 4, compared with 25 weeks in Vietnam, 37 weeks in Japan and 57 weeks in the Philippines, according to World Bank data. Many Indonesian schools are still closed, while others remain open during limited hours.

Indonesia created an emergency plan to reduce school closures and offer online learning. It also offers internet credit for families who need it. Distance learning was enhanced by radio and educational TV.

The World Bank study showed that students learn for an average of 2.2-2.7 hours each day. While less than half of the students took online classes, more than 90% were given assignments via text messaging.

Social workers and researchers told Reuters that assignments are often rudimentary.

While Indonesia boasts extensive internet coverage, Florischa Tresnatri from the Jakarta-based SMERU Institute said there was limited access to online classes because of poor connection. She said that many families had only one smartphone and often the parent needed it for work.

Experts stated that student absences from school and ongoing costs of school supplies and fees were two other factors that led to students not being able to learn or even dropping out altogether.

Tresnatri stated that the Indonesian future’s prosperity was at stake because of the school’s learning gap.

She said that while they could read sentences before the pandemic, they couldn’t do so after it. The same issue exists in writing.

Indonesia’s population is one of most young in the globe. Indonesia will have 64% of its population working by 2035. This gives it an economic advantage.

Tresnatri says that many people are not well-educated enough to join the high-skilled workforce Indonesian officials want for its modern and top-tier economy.

According to Tresnatri, “The demographic dividend which we proudly claimed is now a demographic curse” if the government doesn’t take steps to prevent this loss of knowledge.


Indonesia has more than doubled education spending in real terms in the past two decades. The World Bank has revealed that while there’s been an increase in secondary students attending school, there has not been any improvement in PISA scores in Indonesia over this time period. This was according to a 2020 study.

A skill certification program doubled teachers’ salaries over a decade, but it had “absolutely zero effect on student learning outcomes”, according to Yarrow. A 2019 survey found that nearly 25% of teachers failed to show up for class on any given day.

These problems must be addressed immediately by focusing on poor performing areas and improving teacher recruitment and training, Yarrow stated.

This is not about just restoring what was lost due to the pandemic. It also involves improving upon the learning outcomes that existed before the outbreak.