For online teaching to succeed, train educators to embrace uncertainty in learning

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The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified digital learning as students study from home to curb the spread of the virus. Insufficient digital infrastructure and a vast digital divide have posed significant challenges for students in Indonesia.

On a more fundamental level, online learning exacerbates the inadequacy of one-way teaching that’s characterised by “explaining” and just “giving exercises” in class.

Indonesia has more than 45 million students, and 7 million of them are enrolled in higher education.

Teachers and lecturers have reportedly been uploading lessons and homework without any meaningful feedback, and failing to facilitate discussions. Students have been frustrated and confused.

To overcome this, teachers should change their teaching mindset and embrace uncertainty in learning. The government should support teachers to “unlearn” conventional styles of teaching to bring about meaningful change in this time of crisis.


Read more: Lack of internet access in Southeast Asia poses challenges for students to study online amid COVID-19 pandemic


Embrace uncertainty in learning

A 2017 Australian study involving 80 teachers and principals from Eastern Indonesia highlights that most educators are not familiar with collaborative teaching styles. They tend to focus solely on textbooks.

Various studies suggest this problem exists in other parts of Indonesia, even in more developed provinces such as West Java.

Most teachers seem to prefer a familiar and rigid lesson plan for students to follow, rather than posing open-ended questions or leaving room for uncertainties as an instructional method.

But this one-way teaching mindset breaks down in the face of online education. What minimum interaction teachers had during classroom settings is now even worse. Many teachers have abandoned virtual meetings altogether in favour of merely leaving students with assignments.

One way teachers can improve in this aspect is to start adopting methods that invite students to embrace uncertainty in learning. Teachers can introduce complex problem-solving tasks or project-based learning.

At primary school level, for example, teachers can ask students in a group to explore ideas for e-poster campaigns for a healthy environment to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

At university level, teachers can initiate interdisciplinary projects to stimulate similar creative group tasks.


Read more: Coronavirus: universities are shifting classes online – but it's not as easy as it sounds


This positions teachers in a more active role of promoting online discussions. At the same time, it invites students to take advantage of vast knowledge resources offered by platforms such as massive open online course (MOOC) portals, instead of just being passive learners.

Research has shown that introducing uncertainty in learning leads to higher academic performance.

A 2018 study from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found using open-ended techniques in digital instruction greatly increased educational attainment, namely in reading and writing.

Reform teacher training

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education can use several platforms to help teachers “unlearn” their conventional teaching style and reform the way they engage with students in the classroom – both offline and online.

1. Reform existing nationwide programs such as the Teachers’ Professional Training Program (PPG)

Set up in 2005 to enable teachers to upgrade their skills, the program has ended up as a shortcut certification scheme for teachers to increase their salary.

A study from the Indonesian University of Education (UPI) shows the program resulted in little to no improvement of teacher capacity.

Reforming the program is crucial. It is the most effective way to reach the majority of Indonesian teachers categorised as “senior” teachers, older than 40, who are more likely to employ outdated one-way teaching methods.

Data from the Ministry of Education, for example, show that teachers aged over 40 account for 49%, 49.7% and 46.2% of teaching staff in primary, junior and senior high schools respectively.

2. Train future teachers to employ modern teaching styles

The ministry also has an important role in reforming the way teacher candidates are taught at education universities (Lembaga Pendidikan Tenaga Kependidikan, or LPTK).

Currently, Indonesia’s education universities are too loaded with theories and research. They do not give teacher candidates enough opportunities to experiment with teaching methods in schools.

Scholars have suggested setting up “pedagogy labs” to research and explore modern teaching styles in our education universities.

The teacher education curriculum must also be revamped to incorporate more opportunities for field experience and digital pedagogy.

3. Showcase teaching innovations from Indonesia’s most progressive educators

For example, the government can invite notable organisations such as the SMERU Research Institute, the INOVASI School Project, or the Centre for Education and Policy Studies (PSPK) to share innovative teaching methods through a formal, government-backed program.

Events such as Microsoft’s Education Exchange (E2) in Singapore, where 400 teachers from 91 countries gather to exchange innovative teaching ideas and trends, do exist. However, similar local initiatives seem to be scarce in Indonesia.

Minister of Education Nadiem Makarim’s #MerdekaBelajar – a set of policies aiming to provide leeway for schools to have more control over how students are taught – should offer a supportive environment for these reforms to take place.

However, none of these policies incentivises effective change of educators’ teaching methods or provides examples of how to start.

That’s why exposing teachers to progressive teaching innovations is just as crucial.


Read more: More prosperous teachers have no impact on the quality of education


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