- Poor air quality over several Indonesian cities and outlying rural areas has forced local authorities to cut class times or close schools altogether.
- Air pollution on Oct. 5 in one area of Palangkaraya far exceeded the level at which air quality is classified dangerous to human health.
- The government of Jambi province has closed schools until Oct. 7, after which it will review whether to reopen for in-person teaching.
Regional governments in wildfire-hit Indonesia shuttered schools in the first week October, as sickly air pollution continued to cloak several population centers in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
Local authorities in Central Kalimantan, Jambi and South Sumatra provinces have all announced either restricted teaching times or closure of schools altogether, with the changes affecting children throughout primary and secondary schooling.
The provincial government of Jambi, a Sumatran province with a population of more than 3.5 million, announced on Oct. 1 that schools would be closed during the following week. On Oct. 5 Jambi Governor Al Haris said that stay-at-home order would continue as poor air quality shrouded the province.
“Schoolchildren will still have the day off and study in the home,” Al Haris said. “I also ask that teachers continue to be active in teaching children, even though students are at home.”
Across the Karimata Strait, air pollution over Central Kalimantan province reached dangerous levels, forcing officials in the capital, Palangkaraya, to instruct children to stay at home.
An air pollution monitor in Palangkaraya operated by Indonesia’s environment ministry showed a PM2.5 reading above 350 µg/m³ on the afternoon of Oct. 5, which was more than 100 µg/m³ above the level at which breathable air is determined “hazardous” to health.
Jayani, the head of the education department in Palangakaraya, said schools would remain closed until Oct. 7, when the city government would decide whether to extend the closure further.
Disaster management officials in the province also warned drivers to exercise additional care owing to restricted visibility on key roads.
Schoolchildren in Indonesia have faced unprecedented disruption to their right to education in recent years.
A World Bank study concluded that school closures owing to the COVID-19 pandemic may have cut Indonesia’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) score, a global standard to measure literacy and numeracy among 15-year-old pupils, by 25-35 points.
Prolonged school closures in the 2020-22 period likely resulted in around a one-year loss of learning-adjusted years of schooling, a metric that blends quality and duration of education, according to the Washington D.C.-based organization.
Shifting schooling online also risks entrenching inequality in learning, with students unable to access a reliable internet connection, and children with special needs, among the worst affected.
Air pollution caused by wildfires afflicting numerous population areas in Kalimantan and Sumatra, including Palangkaraya and Palembang, may be compounding the education deficit established by the pandemic, arresting teachers’ ability to help students make up for the lost time.
“The danger faced in 2023 is higher than in 2019 — in 2019 there was a weak El-Nino,” Alpius Patanan from Central Kalimantan’s disaster agency, told Mongabay Indonesia.
In South Sumatra capital Palembang, health workers continue to record high incidences of respiratory disease and schools have remained open. Health workers in the city of 1.9 million people diagnosed 15,000 cases of acute respiratory infections in September.
Schools in the provincial capital remain open for now, but with reduced timetables.
“My child wants to go to school,” Rahma said. “So I gave them a mask.”
Banner image: Farmers try to extinguish a fire that hit chili fields in Hiyung village, South Kalimantan province, in early September. Image by Riyad Dafhi Rizki/Mongabay Indonesia.