Jakarta. For archipelagic countries such as Indonesia, where infrastructure and connectivity are among some of many challenges, rapid technological developments have paved the way to improve access to education.
The internet has made online education possible, providing a viable alternative to delivering quality academic content to prepare the youth and shape the next generation of leaders.
In an exclusive interview with the Jakarta Globe, Rainer Heufers, executive director of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), said online education is key to developing young leaders.
"I really believe we need to do a lot to develop the next generation of leaders here [in Indonesia]. It's crucial. Not just central leaders in Jakarta, but lots and lots of local leaders who need access to really solid information and analysis; that's why I really believe online education is the way forward," Heufers said.
Aware of the circumstance, CIPS decided to participate in an online education program in Indonesia, which is in line with the organization's focus.
CIPS is a Jakarta-based public policy think-tank founded in 2015. It promotes social and economic reforms based on civil, political and economic freedom, with research focused on securing livelihoods, education and international labor migration.
Therefore, as individual learning also becomes increasingly popular, Heufers said online learning will also play a role alongside it.
In June last year, CIPS launched a four-week online course on the Indonesian food trade, making it one of the few online course programs in the country. The course has been presented twice since then.
Although the food trade is not the most popular topic, the course attracted around 1,800 students from various backgrounds in 90 cities, indicating huge demand for online courses, according to Heufers.
"I'm surprised that there's not more supply in the market; I think there's a lot of demand. … Imagine running this on a more popular topic, you would have a lot [more] participants," the CIPS co-founder said.
While Indonesians can attend global online courses provided through platforms, such as edX and Coursera, they do not yet have many options when it comes to courses in Bahasa Indonesia.
Another option for online courses in Bahasa Indonesia is IndonesiaX, a massive online platform launched in August 2015. The platform has garnered tens of thousands of participants, and features lecturers from the University of Indonesia, Bandung Institute of Technology and Cornell University in New York.
The people behind CIPS's online course platform, Akademi CIPS, is currently developing a curriculum for an upcoming course on faith and modern life.
Lulu Fakriyah, the head of Akademi CIPS, said the process involves running focus group discussions and writing scripts for the video lectures, which are kept succinct – less than five minutes long – to ensure students remain engaged with the content.
CIPS is even aiming to shorten the duration of the course to less than four weeks.
Their first course on the Indonesian food trade featured Arianto Patunru and Yose Rizal Damuri. Arianto is a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, while Yose is head of the economics department at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Heufers said having more than one lecturer on a course is key, as each may offer a different flair and help keep the content attractive and lively. The organization has been working with 22 universities across the archipelago, including Sriwijaya University in Palembang, South Sumatra, Sebelas Maret University in Solo, Central Java, and Cenderawasih University in Jayapura, Papua.
While college students make up most of the participants, CIPS said there are also high school students, public policy practitioners and researchers enrolled.
Around 68 percent of enrolled students access the course material through their smartphones, followed by desktop computers (30 percent) and tablet computers (less than 2 percent).
"Cooperation with the universities is one of the crucial things; they have certain expectations and we also need to meet their demands. Each university has different kinds of things on which it wants to cooperate with us," Lulu said.
When it comes to these university partnerships, the agreement allows CIPS to work alongside the lecturers to make sure the students finish the course. Heufers said in some cases, lecturers make the course part of their teaching and CIPS will share the students' performance with them.
"It's important for them that we can help evaluate the students, or at least their performance in the course, and share that with the lecturers, otherwise we won't get the universities on board," Heufers noted.
Course completion means enrolled students must watch the lectures, complete quizzes, participate in discussion forums and complete peer assignments, all of which are accessible in the course itself. Students who achieve a passing grade are eligible for certificates. Although the course is free, students have to pay for the certificates.
Marketing and Content Design
During the interview with the Jakarta Globe, Heufers and Lulu said marketing, technical difficulties and content design are among the challenges in running online courses.
Designing interesting content for online courses is crucial, because organizations such as CIPS must compete with other content producers, from television to social media. The organization produces high-quality videos by working with experienced videographers, while also featuring experts to work on these courses.
"You need to find a balance between academic depth so that this whole thing has value, and easiness for the consumer. So we need to keep the consumer perspective in mind," Heufers said, adding that it also needs to be academically substantial at the same time.
In their experience, many Indonesian universities do not yet have the capability to produce their own online courses. While lots of money and effort go into such projects, Heufers said marketing is still one of the most important aspects.
"Some universities in Indonesia, [even] if they'd start producing [online courses], I'm not sure how much effort they will put into marketing it, because we see how crucial this is once we have it produced [ourselves]," Heufers said.
To raise awareness of its programs, CIPS engages in direct outreach to universities, people and associations.
Instead of just working with university administrations, CIPS also reaches out to student organizations at universities, particularly those from faculties relevant to the courses on offer.
CIPS also has an active presence on social media, from Twitter to Instagram, which it uses to interact with enrolled students who may have questions about the platform, doubling the function of these tools to also serve as a form of customer support.
"[While] everybody can access it, our objective is that it's being spread to outer islands that have less access to high-level lecturers … our marketing efforts are much more [focused] outside Java," Heufers said. He expressed hope that the courses would be integrated into the university curriculum in the future.