Sunday, December 23, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, December 23, 2007


The National Education Ministry's ICT Center of Education (Pustekkom) conducted the 6th International Symposium on Open, Distance and E-Learning (ISODEL 2007) from Nov. 13-15 in Kuta, Bali. The Jakarta Post's contributing writer Alpha Amirrachman spoke with the director of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Open Learning Center (SEAMOLEC) and Indonesia Open University professor, Paulina Pannen, about how information and communication technology (ICT) has increasingly become a facilitator for open and distance learning.

Question: What is the difference between open and distance learning and conventional learning?

Answer: Both have the same principles. The difference is that the educational process in open and distance learning is mediated...

However, one has to ensure that the students really learn what is provided in the module or website... One needs to be careful also not to create students' dependency on the tutors so as not to lose the essence of open and distance learning. We also need to be consistent in quality control.

How is open and distance learning developing in Southeast Asia and Indonesia?

The development of open and distance learning both regionally and nationally has progressed significantly. However, what is definite is the increased role of ICT, which has become an inevitable "enabler" and accelerator of open and distance learning.

How is the cooperation between SEAMOLEC and open universities in Southeast Asian countries?

It has increased tremendously, not only with open universities but now also with the education ministries of respective countries. Governments have started to realize that open and distance learning could contribute to resolving some problems in their education system, such as by widening access to education for everyone...

Why is SEAMOLEC headquartered in Jakarta?

Because it was originally initiated in 1997 by then Indonesian education minister Wardiman Djojonegoro. Wardiman said that the Indonesia Open University was already classified as a "mega university" (over 100,000 students). At that time, the number of students enrolled at the Indonesia Open University had reached 400,000.

Vast, archipelagic Indonesia also has a very unique geographical condition, which should invite specific studies into a variety of models of open and distance learning. For example, Java is the most populated island with ample resources but with a flat surface, while the Riau islands consist of small, separate islands. Nusa Tenggara and the Maluku islands also have distinct characteristics.

...The treatment should be different, as there should not be a one-size-fits-all model for these areas.

How many models has SEAMOLEC developed so far?

We now have three models of open and distance learning. The first is radio-based education, which has been developed by Pustekkom. The second is print-based learning material for open junior high schools and universities. The third is multimedia-based (website, video conferencing, audio-visual and print) that has been used for elementary school teacher training programs (PGSD) by the Directorate General of Higher Education.

Since there is still low Internet penetration, will only people in urban areas benefit from ICT-based education?

I don't think so, because I believe electronic gadgets are becoming less and less expensive. For example, mobile phones are now very cheap that you can get one only for Rp 200,000; 3G is still expensive, but I think the price will go down soon. Also Internet access via PDAs is still a luxury, but I believe it is going to be affordable, too.

...Even people at the top of a mountain now have mobile phones, which was unthinkable in the past. ICT cannot be regarded only as a set of computers, but communication technology that can be used to enable the learning process.

But isn't Internet connection still very expensive in Indonesia, higher than any other country?

...I do hope that there will be change. It needs tremendous commitment from the highest level if you really want e-learning to proceed. However, (commitment) is needed not only from the government, but also from the private sector. For example, CSR in every company can be very advantageous for the development of ICT-based education, particularly in (providing) Internet connection.

Education has expenses, but the users don't necessarily need to be burdened with them; other parties can help.

How can we encourage companies to support ICT-based education through their CSR?

We have actually started cooperating with the CSR of some companies. For example, we have forged cooperation with Deutsche Bank; we have started to cover Aceh by providing teachers there with training on interactive teaching. All of these are then uploaded in the website database. Teachers have access to this resource material, which has also attracted other people in Southeast Asia to take advantage of this.

We have also started cooperation with the Sampoerna Foundation in the form of ICT-based teacher support services in remote areas. We hope other companies will follow suit.

How does SEAMOLEC provide service to regional countries when it has no branches there?

We have no branches in other countries but we have connections and cooperation... All education ministers in Southeast Asia are members of SEAMOLEC.

Of course, there are still problems. For example, we have not been able to seal cooperation with Myanmar because of the political situation there. ...Also with Timor Leste, we have a good contact with its education minister, but we are still unable to initiate any program.

However, this year the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) is collaborating with SEAMOLEC on situation analysis for e-learning system for multicultural education in ASEAN, which is part of a three-year project supported by the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development of the Republic of Korea. The situation analysis will be used as the basis for developing multimedia and/or ICT-based education materials for teachers and schoolchildren in 2008.

Does SEAMOLEC also urge companies in those countries to optimize their CSR in supporting ICT-based open and distance learning?

Yes. For example, in Vietnam we persuaded Microsoft to contribute to the development of e-learning in the country. The cooperation has been running for three years; also with Intel in Cambodia.

What is the biggest challenge in running open and distance learning?

The biggest challenge is building people's confidence. Some still express doubt that open and distance learning is a form of education. We have to explain to the people that there is no difference in terms of quality between open and distance learning and conventional learning.

Nevertheless, thanks to ICT -- it is like a new dress -- people have started to again pay attention to open and distance learning.

For more information on SEAMOLEC, visit

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