Mark Heyward l Palladium - Sep 22 2023
Indonesian Education Program Presented in Oxford, UK

Mark Heyward is Director of INOVASI (The Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children program) in Indonesia and recently spoke at the UKFIET education and development conference in Oxford, UK.

Indonesia is one of the largest education systems in the world, comprising over 50 million students and three million teachers. Although the nation has taken bold steps to improve access to education and combat learning loss, far too many students are not meeting international learning standards or grade level expectations.

At the prestigious Education and Development Forum conference in Oxford in September, I shared lessons from The Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) program. Our eight-year program in Indonesia is managed by Palladium on behalf of the Australian government and has been laser-focused on improving student learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy.

How has INOVASI made a difference inside and outside the classroom?

The Three A’s

INOVASI began by building a body of evidence about what works (and what doesn’t) to improve literacy and numeracy. We have had great success using an approach called Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA for short), which was developed at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, and enabled us to identify and understand local problems and find and test local solutions.

At the heart of the PDIA approach are the three A’s – Authorization, Acceptance, and Ability. Where all three A’s intersect, change is possible. INOVASI assesses the space for change, and then co-designs and implements solutions in a way that’s iterative and politically smart.

Our work in North Kalimantan, a remote region of Indonesia, is a great example of the three A’s in action.

INOVASI collaborated with government to assess children’s reading abilities and found alarming results; only half of the children were independent readers by grade 4 (around nine years old). District leaders had the authority to prioritise books and change teaching practices, so INOVASI harnessed the shock value of the data to ‘make the problem matter’ and build acceptance for change.

We explored the problem and found that children lacked access to age appropriate and engaging books to read. With the buy-in from local government, we then co-designed and piloted a solution with stakeholders from local government, the family welfare program, libraries, and a local company. School libraries and community reading centers were established, books were introduced, and teachers were trained on differentiated reading instruction to increase their ability. These efforts dramatically improved literacy levels and the success of the program ultimately led to substantial changes in local and national policy on funding, approvals, and procurement mechanisms for children’s books.

Over the eight-year-program, INOVASI has become a close and trusted partner to Indonesia’s government. We supported the government to address COVID-19 related learning loss while developing and trialling a range of transformational reforms, known as Merdeka Belajar (Emancipated Learning). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we supported the government to implement an emergency curriculum and subsequently Indonesia’s new national curriculum, Kurikulum Merdeka.

Forum Highlights

INOVASI’s lessons in Indonesia have enormous benefits not only to the education sector in Indonesia, but globally. The UKFIET conference in Oxford united scholars and practitioners of international education development and provided a valuable platform to share good practices and make the program more sustainable.

There were many highlights from the forum including Colin Banglay from United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), Desmond Bermingham from Australian Council for Educational Research, and Jason Pennells from Cambridge Education who explored practical ways to address the challenge of climate change through education; Nidhi Singal from Cambridge University inspired with her thoughts on how to reimagine inclusive education; Daniel Waistell shared a great model for planning scale-out programs that Cambridge Education had developed for UNICEF’s literacy program in Indonesian Papua; and Manos Antoninis from Global Education Monitoring (GEM) discussed the GEM 2023 report into the relevance, equity, scalability and sustainability of education technology.

I came away from Oxford full of hope, armed with a head full of new ideas and a network of new colleagues, ready to tackle the big challenges of social and environmental justice, of diversity, sustainability, and responsibility we all face.

INOVASI has continued to create interest and stir in the development world, and there are seemingly endless opportunities to speak on our program. After Oxford, I visited Palladium’s London office to share insights with colleagues from Palladium programs across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific regions, and from the Hub – a new FCDO multinational initiative based in Oxford.

Leaving London, bound once more for Indonesia, I’m reflecting on the monumental efforts to improve education for all children across the globe.

There is reason for hope, there is cause for celebration, and there is much more work to be done to address social and environmental justice.

For more, read 'Clearing Kids' Path to the Finish Line' or contact