The Southeast Asian nation is poised for fast growth, but must clear tech infrastructure hurdles.
On a sunny day, 12-year-old Jofanka Hemdhicow was one of 50 students crowding around a minibus parked outside his school watching a computer simulation of a news program. Hemdhicow took a turn imitating the TV newscaster in a virtual audition, triggering laughs from his classmates. Computers aren’t new to him — he has an old laptop at home that he likes to use for Facebook — yet he doesn’t have access to blazing fast broadband much less the current technology he has seen in the minibus.
The bus, “Zona Seru Cerdaskan Bangsa,” or Broadband Learning Center, that visited Jetis 2-Sleman Jogja Middle Schoolin Yogyakarta, Indonesia is loaded with educational technology. In addition to laptops and computer hardware, it has broadband access provided by Speedy Telekom, learning content from Google and financing options for computer purchases. The program is backed by Intel and Telekom Indonesia. The bus and its crew of seven have been visiting schools and communities in rural areas of central Java to host workshops for teachers and students to help bridge Indonesia’s digital divide.
“In isolated areas of Indonesia, books are the only source of information that people know about,” said Rosyidul Umam Aly of Indonesia Telekom in a statement. “Zona Seru Cerdaskan Bangsa will hopefully demonstrate new ways of learning.”
Indonesia schools have been striving to advance teaching and learning through technology adoption. In 2011, the Indonesia Ministry of Education announced the “SabakMoE” project, a collaboration with Telkom Indonesia, to bring tablets to classrooms. According to IDC, this year Indonesia will move into a transformative phase where technology will play a major role in enabling traditional economies and boosting economic growth in the society. Indonesia’s economic growth is expected to lead all Southeast Asian nations in 2012 and IT spending is forecasted to reach $12.9 billion by the end of year, an 18 percent year-on-year growth.
Indonesia’s demography makes growth prospects look even more positive. The world’s fourth-most populous nation has 125 million people younger than age of 30 and a middle class that numbers 70 million. To harness this tremendous demographic opportunity, Indonesia is looking to a modern curriculum and educational technology.
Yogyakarta is home to many public and private institutions, including Gadjah Mada University. Educational opportunities have attracted many parents to the fast-growing city of 388,000 in hopes their children will enter one of the colleges. Alisan, a 33-year-old taxi driver in Yogyakarta who declined to give his full name, is one example. He aspires to buy a PC for his 6-year-old daughter and believes it will improve her chances of having better access to education.
Access to technology has spurred innovation beyond education in traditional sectors of the Indonesian economy. Batik designs date back hundreds of years. Today, with the fabric printing technique in the midst of a style revival, Nancy Magried is using software to create fractal designs of batik products for her company, Batik Fractal based in Bandung, West Java. In Jepara, long a center of Javanese teak woodcarving, Manampin Girsang, owner of Gabe Art Furniture, has used his first PC to build a website promoting his company, a move that has drawn business from as far away as Sweden and Norway.
Aulia Rachim Lubis owns Manuskript, a Yogyakarta-based business that helps companies build iPhone applications. The 28-year-old entrepreneur has global ambitions beyond his home base on Java, but believes that Yogyakarta could become Indonesia’s Silicon Valley. “On the Internet, the whole world is our market,” said Aulia said.
Though data on Indonesia’s economic potential is cause for optimism, some reports indicate the country may have problems sustaining growth. The democratic government is still struggling to provide strong infrastructure and operation support. According to Global Information Technology Report 2012, Indonesia ranked 80th out of 142 nations in networked readiness, 74th on an index of current technology availability and less than 10 percent of the population uses the Internet. However, the country ranks much higher on government procurement of technology (34th) and capacity for innovation (30th).
Technology is likely to play a key to role in fueling Indonesia’s continued growth as it is adopted more widely by the government, schools and its people.