Shelley Knowles l Palladium - Jun 28 2023
INOVASI Wins Prestigious Award for Supporting Indonesia’s Education Reform

Mark Heyward, Director of INOVASI accepts award. 

“It has more power than kryptonite,” chuckles Mark Heyward, Director of INOVASI, as he raises a weighty blue trophy high in the air in Prambanan, on the island of Java. Inscribed with the words ‘Merdeka Belajar’, ‘Freedom to Learn’, the award recognises the program’s multi-year efforts to improve children’s learning outcomes.

The Indonesian education system is the fourth largest in the world with more than 50 million students, three million teachers, and 300,000 schools. Even before the pandemic upended the lives of millions of school children in Indonesia, learning outcomes were shockingly low. For the past 20 years, Indonesia has languished at the bottom of PISA rankings despite achieving universal primary school enrolment in 1988 and allocating at least 20% of the annual state budget to education.

But there’s a groundswell of support for change.

Since 2016, the Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) program, which is funded by the Australian government and implemented by Palladium, has been working with the Indonesian government and non-government partners to improve children’s learning outcomes. Evidence generated by INOVASI’s research and pilots has proved critical to informing policy and education reform.

“Data collected from more than 18,000 students in eight provinces for the Learning Gap Study found that nearly half of grade 3 students had not mastered the minimum literacy skills and two out of three Grade 3 students had not been able to meet the minimum numeracy skills,” explains Heyward.

INOVASI has provided technical advice to the Ministry of Education on developing the new national curriculum (Kurikulum Merdeka) and collaborated with national and sub-national governments, as well as with teachers and partners in universities and non-government agencies to support reforms in curriculum and student assessment methods.

“Building on international and local experience, INOVASI has been able to support change at the local level and influence policy and practice at the national level,” Heyward adds. “Through a consultative and evidence-based process, we have influenced a range of policies including national assessment and curriculum reforms, teacher standards and training, book procurement, and systems for calculating school grants.”

On 29 May, 2023, Nadiem Makarim, Minister of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology awarded INOVASI the Merdeka Learning Award to a round of applause. Dancers, singers, and students took to the stage to celebrate National Education Day which had the theme ‘Moving Together Enlivening Freedom of Learning’ and recognised the transformation of the Indonesian education system.

INOVASI’s pilots have demonstrated that inclusive approaches, use of local languages in early grades, diagnostic assessments and teaching at the right level improve learning outcomes for Indonesian children in the early grades.

With 718 languages, Indonesia is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. According to INOVASI-supported pilots, use of mother tongue in the early grades and then transitioning to Bahasa Indonesia could result in better student outcomes. At the national level, INOVASI informed MoECRT’s 2021 policy brief on Using mother tongue to improve basic literacy in the early grades. At the sub-national level, INOVASI brokered agreements between local governments and non-governmental organisations to support literacy and language transition programs.

“This award demonstrates the power of gotong royong – mutual cooperation – to improve learning outcomes, promote quality, and equitable education for all Indonesian students,” concludes Heyward.

INOVASI’s program will end in December 2023. For more information, read 'Creating a More Inclusive Classroom for Students with Disabilities in Indonesia' or contact