Shania: Education & Activism during the COVID-19 pandemic

18-year-old Shania lives in a small city in Indonesia. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting her life on pause, she is no longer able to go to school or attend her tutoring class. We spoke to Shania to find out how she is coping with the sudden changes, how the coronavirus has affected children’s education in her city and how digital activism can be used to prevent the spread of the disease.

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Hi Shania! I hope you and your family are healthy and safe. How is everything going?

I am doing okay, thankfully my family and I are healthy. However, there are a lot of changes happening since the COVID-19 outbreak. Schools are shut down, national examinations were cancelled (which I have mixed feelings about), and there are restrictions on going to public spaces. We are not locked down yet, but we can only go outside to buy basic necessities.

It’s been my third week studying at home. I am in my last year at high school but since I don’t have to go through national examinations anymore, I don’t have any set tasks from my teacher. It feels strange though, as from the middle of last year we have been preparing ourselves for the exams, now we are told that we have passed high school already. But, on the bright side, I can now focus on studyng for my university entrance exams instead.

For some of the younger students, it is quite a challenge because at the moment, my school conducts online learning through WhatsApp groups and Workplace. Teachers are struggling to deliver learning materials. As a consequence, most students are only asked to read books, write a summary and complete practice sheets.

You mention that most younger children study through online platforms, how does it work?

Yes, school classes are now conducted through WhatsApp groups. At the beginning of an online class, the teacher asks the students to learn something specific and sets them work based on that. At the end of the day, students have to submit their work to the teachers. It can be challenging because some students miss the learning process. They are not able to have a discussion and get help from the teachers as they would in a normal classroom.

For the ones who have an internet connection and smartphone, they can download an online course or watch a YouTube video. This is very helpful in my opinion. Most online learning companies now providing free access to their courses. This is what I do for most of my days, watch tutorial videos online.

Are there any challenges?

For me, I have to learn better time management. Sometimes it gets tiring too. During the day, I also help my parents run a grocery kiosk in my house, so I have to study at night, when my neighborhood is quieter, usually from 7 to 11 pm. 

However, it’s harder for students who don’t own a smartphone and live in villages with poor internet connection, my cousin’s friends for example, they live near the mountain with very limited access to the internet. Their parents are farmers with limited income and digitally illiterate. My cousin lends her phone to her friends so they can access online tutorials from the teacher and submit their schoolwork. If this continues, I cannot imagine how many students in rural areas will miss out on an education.

Now that you are in your final year, what are your future plans?

I have been preparing for my university entrance exams, but it has also been postponed until further notice. I just got awarded a scholarship to pursue bachelor’s degree, however, I still have to study hard to get accepted in a respective university that the scholarship committee suggest.

What activities do you do in your free time after studying?

At this time, I really want to give back to my community. However, I cannot do much in terms of donations, so during my leisure time, I enjoy developing awareness raising content for social media on diverse topics. With digital activism, I can help others too. My recently published content promoted physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, some people still made negative comments about it.

Last but not least, is there anything else you would like to say?

Yes. At this very time during physical distancing, people have more time to be online on social media. I really wish social media could be a platform to learn new skills and be a safe space for us to share the things we are concerned about. I wish we could utilise social media as a platform to broaden our knowledge, to connect with people, to spread positive messages, and to support each other. 

I also hope that we could all have equal access to digital facilities and internet connections, especially for those living in rural area. As we all know, the implications of this pandemic make it more difficult for students in rural areas to access school, they cannot go to their normal schools, yet they don’t have access to online learning.   

I am afraid this situation will lead to the failure of ensuring that all children have the right to access good quality education. I recently read a report that said women are 20% less likely than men to use mobile internet. In the context of the COVID-9 pandemic, I am really concerned about how children, especially girls will be able to study and access learning materials they want and need. I believe the future of children should not be a matter of chance nor luck. I think we really need to do something about this.

Oh, and lastly, I really wish each and every one of you stay safe and healthy!

Shania was interviewed by Raisha Fatya, Plan International Indonesia Foundation Digital Communications Specialist.