Australian aid's innovative approach to education in Indonesia

Students in a classroom in Indonesia. Photo by: Charles Wiriawan / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — Although the Indonesian government has increased spending on primary education and the country boasts a national primary enrollment rate nearing 100 percent, Indonesia’s children are still lagging behind regional and global counterparts in literacy and numeracy.

A new Australian Aid program is hoping to change that. The Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children, or INOVASI, program is a partnership between Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture that seeks to better understand barriers to quality education and support a locally driven approach to ideas, investment, and solutions.

Managed on the ground by Palladium and operating in 12 districts within West Nusa Tenggara, Sumba Island, East Nusa Tenggara, North Kalimantan, and East Java, the program is a 46 million Australian dollar ($35 million), four-year investment in experimental approaches to solve education challenges for developing countries. At its core is a problem-driven iterative adaptation, or PDIA, approach that brings a localization of ideas, solutions, and innovation to improve student outcomes and futures.

What is the PDIA approach and why use it?

A PDIA approach focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems and encourages experimentation and deviation from traditional project ideas and development approaches. Experimentation is also part of its feedback process — which occurs rapidly to allow changes based on positive or negative results. The approach seeks to engage a broad sets of stakeholders to ensure that ideas, solutions, and processes are sustainable.

“Put simply, it is a way that helps people to generate locally designed, best-fit solutions to locally identified and agreed very specific challenges,” Lorna Power, INOVASI education program development manager, explained to Devex. “Although as a concept and name, PDIA is relatively new, it actually shares many principles with other, more familiar approaches, including action research, design thinking, and human-centered design. The key idea is that it is a local, collaborative process, which takes into account local needs, capabilities, and opportunities, and adapts, making quick use of what is learned.”

Within Indonesia, Power explained the INOVASI program is trialing the use of this approach because many reform initiatives that have been implemented with the aim of improving student learning outcomes have been designed around externally identified problems with a predetermined “one size fits all” solution — and these have not resulted in a sustained improvement to learning.

“The context-driven approach is particularly important in a country such as Indonesia, which is so diverse,” she said. “Moreover, many pre-packaged programs have a shelf life. They are designed to address problems current at the time the development program is implemented. But nothing is static, let alone education. New problems and challenges emerge all the time. By supporting people to understand and use the PDIA principles and approach, INOVASI is equipping them with the skills to face any new problems as they emerge in the future, so the approach is much more sustainable.”

INOVASI is tasked with three key areas to investigate. First, it needs to look at improving teaching and learning in the classroom. Second, it needs to look at approaches to improve support for teachers. And third, it investigates barriers to education for children with disabilities and for children whose first language is not Indonesian, as well as gender-related education issues.

Using the PDIA approach, INOVASI developed pilot activities to seek feedback and ideas from teachers, school principals, parents, supervisors, the community, and other education stakeholders in the 12 districts where the program operates.

Local ideas for education

The pilot activities have already identified innovative ideas to education challenges.

In Central Lombok, INOVASI is using the PDIA approach to co-design a pilot focused on children with learning disabilities. From the workshops and activities conducted so far, it has become clear that teachers are having the most difficulty in identifying children with learning disabilities and developing ways to support them so they can fully participate in the classroom learning process.

In pilot planning, the INOVASI team engaged teachers, parents, community members, principals, and government officials in stakeholder engagement sessions. In the session, teachers explained that they needed a tool to help identify learning barriers for children with learning disabilities. Another idea suggested was developing student learning profiles for each child with a disability to assist replacement teachers in continuing strategies that are successful for each student. The INOVASI program is now exploring these issues further for development and implementation.

But ideas are going beyond the limitations of classroom walls. In Dompu, the PDIA approach is being used to co-design a pilot program enabling community engagement to improve learning outcomes. This pilot looks at cultural events that affect school attendance and learning outcomes —- in this case, horse racing and harvest season.

A key finding from the PDIA process so far is that more spaces can be found outside the school for learning — including learning spaces near the horse racing track and a local badminton court to create community hubs and support learning for students.

Changing perceptions of education challenges

INOVASI’S first pilot project, Guru BAIK (Belajar, Aspiratif, Inklusif, and Kontekstual), enabled teachers to nominate, develop, and test solutions to learning challenges they face in the classroom. Through a series of workshops and in-school mentoring activities, teachers identified the learning challenges their students face, and were then tasked with developing, testing, reviewing, and iterating a number of solutions to address the challenges. Through a showcase session, participating teachers documented and shared their findings and experiences with other teachers in their own school and across their district.

During 2016, more than 200 teachers participated in the Guru BAIK program in West Nusa Tenggara and were encouraged to use their innovative ideas in teaching and learning methods, classroom management techniques, and specifically designed learning materials.

“At the beginning of the Guru BAIK pilot, teachers still saw student behavior as the main issue affecting learning outcomes, rather than the learning process itself,” Cici Tri Wanita, an INOVASI teaching and learning officer based in Jakarta, explained to Devex. “By the end of the pilot, teachers were more focused on the learning process taking place in their classroom, and how to improve it.”

Through her experience implementing the GB pilot, Wanita discovered that teacher self-reflection is a key to improve the quality of classroom learning practices.

“Once teachers are willing to question the effectiveness of their own teaching practices — for example, what they have done, why they did it, what worked, what did not work — and analyzed whether there are more effective and efficient ways of supporting students to learn, the overall quality of classroom learning will improve,” she explained.

In workshops, Wanita said, teachers entered discussions focusing on the learning process rather than results. And the role of workshop facilitators was to ask the right questions to guide the process of self-reflection. “They were better able to think of how to improve, rather than being given an end solution by someone else,” she said.

Lessons (so far) from the approach

As the PDIA approach is new to Indonesia — and even to the education specialists supporting the program — lesson are being learned about stakeholder engagement and understanding barriers to basic education.

“Without doubt we have found the PDIA journey to have its challenges,” Power said. “It involves a change of mindset, hard thinking, designing, implementing, checking in, re-thinking, repeating, and a great deal of flexibility. However, it is showing signs that it can work — and work well.”

Ujang Sukandi, an INOVASI education specialist based in Jakarta, explained that there were both personal and professional lessons for him using PDIA.

“The approach really makes me think seriously about the actual local problem being encountered. It makes me put myself in the shoes of local stakeholders,” Sukandi said. “I’ve seen through the process that we must involve as many local people as possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to change old habits, particularly if you’ve worked on a past program where this bottom-up approach isn’t used.”

But he also explained that the approach has demonstrated that key stakeholders — including teachers and parents — can struggle with simply identifying the factors contributing to education problems. “But the PDIA approach can help them think deeper about problem and impact. This is a different approach to other development programs I’ve worked on,” he explained.

“By using this PDIA approach, I hope that more teachers and principals can independently identify classroom learning problems at their school, and then find and trial their own solutions — reviewing their strengths and weaknesses, and then refining and making continuous improvements so that the final solution is a sustainable and effective one,” Sukandi said.

And with more than two years of the program remaining, there are many more lessons to learn and education outcomes to achieve — with the hope that the approach will lead to wider innovation in solving education challenges throughout the Australian Aid program.

Read more Devex coverage on Australian aid.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.