In October 2020, the news saw a high school student in Gowa of South Sulawesi committed suicide due to mental distress. It was reported that, he had started having suicidal thoughts due to the high-level of stress that may had been caused by school’s transition to remote learning. This brought up a point that everyone may agree on: there is a fundamental flaw with our current online education system. Our educational system has been through many troubles, ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Indonesia in March 2020 and forced millions of students to study online from home.

The transition to this online learning was rather messy, to say to least. The shock of this massive change resulting in a great disruption to the nation, since online learning was something new and comes with unfamiliar framework for almost all schools in Indonesia.

What is online learning, actually? And how it is different from the education we’re used to? Online learning is an educational framework delivered and administered through the internet. What most people would think of are PDFs–instead of textbooks–and note-taking programmes–instead of pen and paper. However, those are merely substitutional models, a fraction of what’s truly achievable through internet-based education. While in some respects, it is similar to traditional education models, its foundation is different. Online learning is built on the framework of future online-based careers, rather than the traditional jobs conventional education was made for.

Online curriculum is made with the internet in mind. Any contradictions it encounters parallel to traditional education should either be modified or replaced. The internet is different from traditional models. Students can look up answers at any time, and group activities become more challenging without physical meeting. Blindly copying and paste the traditional education instruction into a PDF is not enough to run a smooth online learning. While the two education models have their compatibility, their difference is more crucial. Online learning introduces a vast diverse versatility in location, time, and management.

In an ideal learning environment, the internet shouldn’t be a distraction, but a tool for productivity. It prompts cheaper materials and flexibility on when and where you can work. The cost of learning is free, as all the information you can find on textbooks can be found elsewhere on the internet. The internet can become a powerful instrument for education. With just one click of a button, you can get almost every information the world can offer.

Since most information in the world is free, students can go beyond what’s necessary to pursue their passion and interest. With the right material and curriculum, education can be easily tailored to suit student’s specific needs and strengths. The new online model lets us peek into the bright future of education and careers. This could elevate Indonesia’s development tenfold by a few years’ time. It is surprising that this hasn’t been utilized more often in our education system until it was enforced by the pandemic this year.

Unfortunately, this level of efficiency is merely an idealized world. Having this strange new model suddenly introduce itself amidst a pandemic panic, brought nothing but stress to everyone. Indonesia is just not equipped to handle such change. Teachers who are unfamiliar with the programmes struggle to teach their students significantly, as students are often distracted or lost. It is a consequence that lacked foresight, and thus, dwelled on the regret of hindsight.

Students have reported in receiving more tasks at home than they did in school. It isn’t uncommon for them to work longer hours to meet their deadline or finish their work late. Teachers, on the other hands, have reported of having students who are being less active and attentive in class. They’re now more likely to skip class, putting more work and responsibility on the teacher’s plate. Both parties report feeling far more stress than they ever did in school, and the reason for this is obvious. It’s not that online education is stressful by nature. It’s the shock of change and the rather incompetent consolidation that put a strain on everyone’s shoulders. For as important as a quarantine is, in an ideal world, there should’ve been more time for every party to prepare for what was going to happen.

There are even multiple cases reported in the country of suicide or filicide, and suicide over stress, such as the news about the student who poisoned himself because he was overwhelmed by online learning. These stories should become evidence of the incompetence of the nation as a whole, upon shifting to a full-on internet-based system into their education. It is something that needs immediate change. We are only halfway done with quarantine, and as time goes by, the number of similar cases will only go up. The lack of general improvement will bring more harm to the country than not.

The problems lie within the online learning extends far beyond this. As we all know, there are millions of people that lack access to the internet. Advanced metropolitans like Jakarta, Bandung, and Surabaya are only a glimpse of Indonesia‘s general population. A lot of children who live in isolated villages and communities are still forced to participate in quarantine, but without the same privilege and luxury as those of us in the city, these students are the ones who struggle the most with the change.

A survey launched by the SMERU Research Institute revealed that teachers in villages outside of Java go to students’ houses to collect their work. “Those children are prone to experience losses in education,” Florischa Ayu Tresnatri, a researcher at SMERU. Although 97,6 per cent of schools had to go through quarantine procedures, only 69 per cent of Indonesians are connected to the world wide web. Though this is higher than the average Asian country, the average shouldn’t be our standard if we want to circumvent the situation.

As a student myself, the education model I work in was already built on the foundation of online learning. Despite its head start on converting to a complete online-based learning system, my school still had trouble trying to settle ourselves in it. After a month, my school finally settled in it, but the same can’t be said for most other institutes. I have to acknowledge how good I have it with mine, having a school director who planned ahead for the use of online learning.

“We (Indonesia) are lack of infrastructure. Internet connection isn’t evenly distributed across the country, and teachers aren’t well trained to utilise them for learning. Most of them are not accustomed to or familiar with it. The same goes for students, who are not trained in utilising the material… our online learning is actually just converting traditional learning online instead of using teaching materials made with online learning in mind.” -Nancy Dinar, Director of Noble Academy.

Online-based education hasn’t been officially recognized by the country yet. Not in a way that the government doesn’t know it exists, but currently, it’s seen more as a gimmick rather than a complete education. Things go on as if the only thing that’s separating a teacher from their student is a monitor. That way of thinking is damaging to the education system and its future. The system must acknowledge that online learning requires a framework of its own. Ignoring the foundation will lead to incompetence and stress.

Online educators shouldn’t teach in conventional means. Instead, it’s better to ask students to learn a topic themselves. Since students are able to look up answers at any time, they must certify their comprehension through projects. It isn’t wise to look at these differences and restrict anything that disrupts traditional learning styles. As I’ve mentioned in my previous statement, “Any contradictions it encounters parallel to traditional education should either be modified or replaced”. Internet usage is growing, and it will continue to grow as the children of today immerse themselves in screens.

A good framework for integrating online education is the SAMR model. A framework created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura that categorizes four different degrees of classroom technology integration. These are separated into four layers: substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition.

The first layer is substitution. In this layer, digital media is purely a substitution for traditional media. This layer is seen in most of the online learning currently. Though it has practical merits, substitution causes a lot of stress as demonstrated by numerous students who reported to struggle with their mental health. In this stage, an educator must ask themselves, what we can actually gain from doing this. Only doing things out of necessity won’t lead them nor their students anywhere, henceforth, change has to be made.

The second layer is Augmentation, where substitution comes with some technical or functional improvements. It acknowledges the internet’s merits and how different it can be compared to traditional learning. Despite getting more in tune to the advantages of online learning, it’s still not in the transformation phase yet. The foundation of education still leans heavily on traditional learning. In essence, educators are making modification to make the framework more compatible with what was already written in the system. Continuing onwards, we see the transformation phase, where the foundation changes.

The third layer is modification, where online learning takes its course and creates its own foundation, making itself as a separate entity from traditional learning. For example, utilise bloggings instead of writing essays. There is an actual change in the design of the lessons and their outcome. Educators here slowly began to understand how different online learning truly is from traditional learning, and how smooth the process could be when done right. This is the transformation stage of the SAMR model. The very foundation that used to hold the roof of traditional learning is slowly being replaced by the bricks of online learning.

The fourth and final layer is redefinition, in which technology allows for new tasks that are previously seem impossible on traditional media. The foundation of the model is completely switched to online, and its curriculum is built with the nature of the internet in mind. This is the final stage of the transformation framework, and the ideal stage for purely online-based learning. However, this may not necessarily be the best framework for online learning in general.

The SAMR model can be used as a good example, but its use as an instruction varies in success and practicality. Redefinition presents rather a temporal thought if it were to be suggested on the education board, and if it were actually added internationally, I doubt it would benefit Indonesia in any meaningful ways.

This framework can help change the face of Indonesia’s future. Online learning is where the future lies. While we see traditional media is slowly dying out, online learning will capture the hopes of the nation so it can barge through from a developing nation into a fully developed one. If we are able to account for everything, intergrade it all, then there will be a bright future. Indonesia is in a strange situation where, if it chose to, it can change its entire landscape of not just education, but the future of every aspect that built this nation up. It is important to think as an idealist and imagine a world where students in both cities and rural areas to be able to receive equality in education. Now that textbooks no longer become the norm, everyone has access to information. The economic and cultural development will be great. This is an opportunity that can only be taken now and today.