Looks like Nadiem Makarim, co-founder and former chief executive officer (CEO) of Indonesian ride-hailing behemoth Gojek, isn’t done with super apps yet. In 2019, the then 35-year-old left his post at Gojek to work at Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture (as of April 2021, MoECRT—the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology). And now, nearly three years later, the minister has unveiled his latest platform—an education super app called Merdeka Mengajar.
Makarim wants the app to be many things. The go-to platform for teachers to find educational toolkits; an online university for teachers to upskill themselves; a digital CV where teachers can showcase their work. To put it simply, the app’s three main functions are to help teachers teach, learn, and create. “This is a platform for teachers that we hope will develop into a platform […] that is truly owned by the teachers. From teachers, for teachers,” Makarim said during the app’s virtual launch on 11 February.
Makarim’s statement is a clear pointer to MoECRT’s continued role in content creation. Indonesia is known for repeatedly rejigging its curriculum—a new minister usually means a new curriculum, forcing teachers to adjust every few years. In the past two decades, the curriculum has been changed at least three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2013.
This time around, too, the Merdeka Mengajar platform was introduced along with an update to Indonesia’s education system, the Merdeka curriculum. The new curriculum, Makarim has argued, is simpler than the previous ones, while also being structured in a more in-depth manner.
However, Makarim, who has staunchly advocated for a self-deterministic approach in the past, wants to let schools choose if they want to adopt the new curriculum. He also wants the app to be built on top of user-generated content, rather than becoming a channel for the ministry to disseminate content. The word “merdeka” means to be independent or free.
The changes are inevitable. Indonesian students have suffered significant learning losses in the two years of the pandemic. According to an internal survey conducted by MoECRT, students lost an average of six and five months of learning on literacy and numeracy during the pandemic, respectively. Nearly 3,400 primary school students across four provinces participated in the survey. (We’ve written extensively written extensively The Ken The silver linings to Indonesia’s lost school year Read more about the impact of the pandemic on Indonesia’s education system.)
The app was officially introduced in February, but its beta version has been available for limited use since July 2021. Its origins, though, can be traced all the way back to Makarim’s appointment as the education minister. “There are pressures from the president to digitise Indonesia’s education system,” says Latasha Safira, head of education research at the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).