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Lengthy COVID-19 School Closures Threaten Indonesia's Demographic Dividend

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Last year, before the coronavirus pandemic, Ni Kadek Suriani was looking forward to starting her second year of junior high school.
Then her parents lost their jobs, and she was forced to work to make ends meet on Bali, Indonesia's popular tourist destination.


"I used to sell tissues at traffic signals," the 13-year-old remembered at the headquarters of local organisation Bali Street Mums, which now finances her studies.


Experts say the economic shock caused by the pandemic, as well as the closure of schools for more than a year, has been a terrible blow for many of Indonesia's 68 million pupils.

It also threatens to derail Indonesian President Joko Widodo's goal of transforming the country into a top-five global economy by 2045, based on a competent workforce.


"Indonesia had a serious learning crisis prior to the epidemic, and our model implies that it has gotten considerably worse," said Noah Yarrow, a World Bank education specialist and co-author of a paper released on Friday.

"Children are learning far less than they should for a globalised economy that is competitive."

A World Bank assessment issued on Friday predicted that the pandemic will leave more than 80% of 15-year-olds below the minimal reading competence level specified by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, highlighting Indonesia's move from poor to terrible educational outcomes.


That's a significant increase from the 70% of pupils who failed to meet the basic literacy level in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018, putting Indonesia in the lowest 8% of 77 countries tested.

Despite attending school for more than 12 years, the average Indonesian student had only 7.8 years of effective learning before the epidemic, according to the World Bank.
According to the Bank's most optimistic modelling, that number had dropped to 6.9 years by July of this year.

According to the analysis, the loss of learning during the epidemic will cost pupils at least $253 billion in lifetime earnings.


School closures had a "significant influence on children's learning achievements," according to Indonesia's education ministry.

It added in a statement that "it is a global phenomena, not only in Indonesia."
"Right now, we're pushing schools to establish a limited face-to-face learning programme so that students may return to school, engage with their teachers and peers, and rekindle their enthusiasm for studying."


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