By the end of March 2021, the majority of Indonesia’s 530,000 schools will have been shut for almost a year.

The pandemic shook up the education of 62 million pupils. Indonesia has the third-largest population of school-age children in the world, after India and China.

The shift to remote learning has been easier for some families than others. Indonesian educators fear that the knowledge and skills gap between children will have widened once in-person classes are allowed again. And that’s still a while away. Schools were ordered to stay shut until July 2021.

While the entire world is experiencing a similar education disruption, Indonesia’s comes with a quirk.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic coincided with the first term of education minister Nadiem Makarim, who took office in October 2019. Makarim is the founder and former CEO of Indonesian ride-hailing giant Gojek. He exited exited The Ken Up for Grab? Gojek after Nadiem Makarim Read more the company shortly before joining the cabinet.

Elevating a young tech entrepreneur into the role of education minister was a truly out-of-the-box decision by President Joko Widodo. Makarim has no background in pedagogy, nor experience in politics. He’s only 36 years old, the youngest-ever Indonesian minister. The decision raised eyebrows, but also hopes. Perhaps Makarim was just the right person to crack open some old structural challenges in Indonesia’s education system?

Despite a relatively large sum allocated to education (US$38.3 billion in 2020, that’s 20% of the budget, an even bigger chunk than what’s allocated to the health or infrastructure sectors) Indonesian students have fared poorly in global rankings. As the founder of Indonesia’s first US$10 billion-valued tech company, Makarim was expected to overhaul the ineffective education sector with smart use of technology.

Then, just months after Makarim took office, the Covid-19 pandemic derailed many of his plans. Though it accelerated some.

But it’s difficult to spot the silver lining in the chaos of Indonesia’s lost school year without revisiting it. Let’s turn the clock back. Right to the day Makarim took the wheel in October 2019…

23 October 2019. President Joko Widodo appoints Nadiem Makarim to his cabinet.

One of Makarim’s initial goals was to overhaul the national standard exams–a crusty system rife with mismanagement

Meanwhile, edtech startups such as Ruangguru and Zenius had just started showing traction. They now had an ally in the highest ranks of government.

Positive anticipation turned into gloom as news of a dangerous coronavirus outbreak spread around the world in the early months of 2020…

2 March 2020.