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Technology as a catalyst for Indonesia’s education metamorphosis

Published on May 22, 2023

Despite our globally interconnected world, Indonesia’s K-12 education still sits in the bottom 10% of OECD education rankings, presenting a significant challenge for ASEAN’s single largest market.

With the problem in mind, Indonesia Digital Deconstructed by AC Ventures recently hosted edtech industry leaders Abhay Saboo, Co-founder and CEO of CoLearn, and Rangga Husnaprawira, Chief Product Officer at GovTech Edu, for an insightful discussion.

CoLearn, one of the fastest-growing edtech platforms in the region, uses AI to help students master STEM subjects. GovTech Edu, in partnership with the Indonesian government, works to deliver scalable tech solutions for the country’s vast education sector. Both leaders expressed a shared vision of using novel tech to overcome societal challenges tied to education in the archipelago.

Abhay highlighted the need to nurture competitiveness in education, while Rangga shared about Merdeka Mengajar (translated as ‘Freedom to Teach’),  a platform now used by over 2.6 million teachers, promoting peer learning and community-based education.

The conversation, shedding light on the potential of public-private partnerships in education reform, offered a promising glimpse into Indonesia’s future education landscape. Here are some key takeaways from the episode. 

Edtech as a catalyst for Indonesia’s education metamorphosis

The transcript below has been condensed and edited for focus and clarity.

Leighton: So, Abhay and Rangga, can you guys each share a bit about your roles at CoLearn and GovTech Edu? 

Rangga: GovTech Edu serves as the technology backbone for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology, developing tech solutions for teachers, schools, and university students. Our main objective is to enhance student learning outcomes. In my current role, I direct the overall product strategy and vision, steering product design, data analysis, and execution, while focusing on user growth.

Abhay: I’m fortunate to have two co-founders who handle academics, operations, product, and tech, leaving me to focus on things like sales and marketing. Our target is students in grades five to 12. Our mission is to aid Indonesian students in mastering subjects to be competitive in a future that will be increasingly globalized and automated.

Leighton: It’s no secret that Indonesia’s K-12 academic levels are far below the global average. With only 19% of young adults holding tertiary qualifications in 2021, it’s clear there is a problem. What’s your perspective on why we are here and how technology can help?

Abhay: Indonesia’s abundance of natural resources is both a blessing and a challenge. Unlike in countries like India and China where a strong education is crucial due to a scarcity of resources, in Indonesia, even those in poverty have access to fertile soil and water, potentially reducing the drive for better education. Challenges in Indonesia’s education system include the vital role of teachers in achieving learning outcomes. Teachers must be empowered to deliver correct learning content, motivate students, and help them envision their futures. The government and private sector players like CoLearn can help by ensuring students are well-prepared and receive the necessary extra assistance in subjects like math, physics, and chemistry.

Leighton: Rangga, how do you prioritize different facets of the problem with your tech portfolio? What are the things that you’re trying to address with products?

Rangga: First off, we aim to focus on what we can control, given the complexities of government policy-making and the diverse governance systems in Indonesia. Second, when addressing the multifaceted education issues in Indonesia, we realize past solutions often only skim the surface. While student-centric innovations are crucial, our education system, being the fourth largest worldwide, includes not just learners but also teachers, school operators, university students, and administrators. As such, our focus often falls on areas where the private sector may not find strong financial incentives, like designing for teachers or school operators. These public goods need attention, too. Our vision is to make teaching as easy as ordering food delivery. Our goal is to deliver public-sector tech products that rival, if not surpass, their private-sector counterparts.

Leighton: Could you elaborate on Merdeka Mengajar and how it aims to enhance the skills of local teachers and improve K-12 education quality? 

Rangga: Merdeka Mengajar is designed to enhance the impact of our 4 million K-12 teachers, a crucial factor in improving learning outcomes. The platform fosters more effective teaching by providing new paradigm-supporting tools, continuous upskilling resources, and streamlined career growth management. It replaces the current fragmented system with a cohesive solution to track, manage, and record data for career advancement, promoting more effective teaching, continuous learning, and career growth for educators.

Our Android app, used by over 2.6 million Indonesian teachers, provides a central platform for accessing educational materials. By logging in with their Ministry of Education credentials, teachers can reach various learning sources, including micro-learning modules and classes, both synchronous and asynchronous. A unique feature is user-generated content, where teachers share their methods, fostering a learning community. Additional career features are in the pipeline, expected by year’s end.

Leighton: Rangga, how can public-sector players like GovTech Edu partner with those in the private sector like CoLearn? 

Rangga: The task of improving education in Indonesia is massive, impacting 52 million K-12 students, 400,000 schools, and millions of teachers nationwide. It’s a long-term endeavor that requires collaboration between the government and the private sector.

STEM education is underrated in Indonesia, but the world is moving in that direction. CoLearn’s focus on mastery, curiosity, and problem-solving aligns with this shift. Partnerships, including potential collaborations with CoLearn, can bring innovative solutions like AI teaching assistants to aid teachers. Solving the education challenge in Indonesia requires a collective effort, and I strongly believe partnerships can drive meaningful progress. 

Leighton: Abhay, how are you thinking about generative AI?

Abhay: We have already integrated AI, specifically machine learning, into our product, which provides AI-powered homework help. As there is increasing focus on Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, we are actively exploring the best ways to incorporate LLMs into our existing offering. Exciting updates are on the horizon, so stay tuned!

Get the full episode for free on Spotify, Apple, and Google

See also: Abhay Saboo’s quick math for CoLearn’s edtech gains
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