A teacher from an INOVASI grantee pilot in West Nusa Tenggara province helps a student with her learning.
Richard Paulsen is Palladium's Education Director for the Asia pacific region.
Earlier this year, I travelled to Indonesia’s West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) as part of a delegation from the Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) program — a partnership between Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture. Together, we sat down with local government to talk about how to improve student learning outcomes; what is working and what is not, in NTB and Indonesia more broadly.
Launched in 2016, the INOVASI program is the latest in a long line of education sector reform programs that span 40 years in Indonesia. Our parallel program, Technical Assistance for Education System Strengthening (TASS) was established soon after INOVASI, and supports system improvement and education reform by consulting directly with relevant national ministries. Having worked closely to create change in Indonesia’s complex education system, both programs will merge for a second phase of programming in July 2020.
The success of this new merged program will hinge on our ability to apply what we’ve learnt after four years of program implementation, experimentation, and piloting. Here are just a few of the ways we can get our role right as partners to create real and meaningful change in Indonesian primary school classrooms.
1. Create an Authorising Environment
As we’ve learnt through INOVASI’s range of education pilots, it’s crucial that stakeholders, including educators and policy makers, feel they have authorisation to create change and ‘do things differently’. This is not as easy as it sounds. Government structures are by their very nature hierarchical, and over time we’ve realised that targeting lower level government officials may not be the best approach. Isolating one part of the system does not work unless there is buy-in further up the value chain.
For example, getting a district to allocate budget resources towards quality teacher training has been a positive step in the right direction, and reflects the district’s commitment to improve learning. However, high rates of teacher turnover due to national rotation schedules can jeopardise the effectiveness of school-based teaching units. Many teachers may not benefit from the full training program. Clearly, if both parts of the system do not speak to each other, well intentioned efforts to create change may fall down. The value of the subnational and national focus of the INOVASI and TASS programs is the ability to bring issues faced at the local level to national decision makers to inform necessary adjustments to policies and programs.
2. Be a Critical Friend
When making the most of partnerships, INOVASI and TASS have learnt to take on the role of ‘critical friend’, rather than top down ‘expert’. A critical friend is encouraging and supportive, but has enough trust and credibility to provide honest and often candid feedback that may be difficult to hear.
This is certainly a role that INOVASI occupies when working with stakeholders at the subnational level. Through a range of constructive and informal meetings and conversations, the program has helped partners challenge the status quo and acknowledge when things are not working. TASS has found it particularly effective to recruit advisers with senior policy experience in education systems. These advisers understand the policy process intimately and bring credibility from the reforms they themselves supported or initiated in their own education systems, quickly building trust and rapport.
3. Nudge the System
For INOVASI, the notion of ‘nudging the system’ is complementary to that of being a critical friend. We are not government actors, and we must choose carefully how we engage with government systems to improve education quality. This often happens one day at a time.
INOVASI has continued to understand what drives the behavioural choices of our partners. Why is it, for example, that government might persist with recruiting more teachers to bring student-teacher ratios down when there is overwhelming evidence that other approaches, such as multi-grade and multi-subject teaching, would do more to improve student learning outcomes? It is crucial that we understand the incentives (and disincentives) of behaviours and decision making so we can better shape our role as partner.
Nudge Theory is also a key starting point for TASS – using analysis of data and observations of behavioural choices to find entry points for discussions about which policy options might best deliver a desired outcome.
4. Focus on Building Coalitions
Ten years ago, the government of Indonesia was unlikely to enter into relationships with civil society organisations, but that is now changing. Through INOVASI’s 2019 grants program, we engaged a large number of civil society actors working on the same educational issues. As grant activities got underway, it soon became clear that grant funding could actually be used in different and more meaningful ways, building issues-based coalitions and campaigns. INOVASI helped link government with civil society to bring together collective expertise and discuss opportunities for future collaboration. New regulations now allow the government to enter into partnerships and use their resources to engage with civil society actors in new ways. Under a new education minister, the national government is embarking on a national program of local partnerships, which is modelled in part on the INOVASI pilot approach.
These learnings will carry forward into our second phase of programming. As we’ve learnt from our role as a critical friend, systemic change can be created through slow nudges in the right direction, an appropriate authorising environment, and a focus on building coalitions. Enduring change is not inherently technical in nature; it’s behavioural. We need to focus not only on financial resources, laws and incentives, but also to investigate issues of mindset, decision making and social environment.
INOVASI is implemented by Palladium, with funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.