International Conference

on Indonesia Culture

Connectivity and Sustainability : 
Forstering Cultural Commons in Indonesia

Parents’ Challenges in Distance Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Senganten Village

Luly Prastuty – Universitas Indonesia

As an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Indonesian government has implemented distance learning which requires SDN Senganten 2 students to study at home. This condition forces parents to deal with the complexity of the problem. This study aims to analyse parents’ factors that can be their challenges during distance learning and how they respond. The research method is ethnography by semi-structured interviews with 11 parents. The theories of hegemony and urban-rural dynamics are implemented to analyse the data. The findings explain that parents face many difficulties during distance learning. The difficulty factors are low education, family economic demands, and low digital literacy skills. To overcome the problems, parents have to spend their time with children, entrust other family members/neighbours to guide the child, and enrol their child in tutoring. Amidst the limitations, parents still intend to maintain their power regarding their children even though they   do not have absolute power in the crossed-power contestations of government and children. This research is important to do, especially to investigate the implementation of distance learning in the context of an elementary school in rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic through the Cultural Studies perspective.

Keywords: Distance learning, globalization, hegemony, parents, rural.




COVID-19 was firstly reported from Wuhan, China in December 2019. This virus was investigated found from the Huanan seafood market providing a lot of animals that were not common to be consumed by humans (Churiyah et al., 2020). Its rapid spread and its ability to survive in the environment made COVID-19 threatening to global citizens. Since then, gradually there were many reports from other nations. The cases have been growing until this research, November 7, 2020. According to the World Health Organization (2020), there are 219 countries affected by the disease with a total of 48,786,440 cases all around the world. Americas lead the statistics with 21,326,640 cases, followed by Europe (12,490,012 cases), South-East Asia (9,586,409 cases), Eastern Mediterranean (3,274,928 cases), Africa (1,347,237 cases), and Western Pacific (760,473 cases). Moreover, one of the most affected countries in South-East Asia is Indonesia with 433,836 cases, 364,417 recoveries, and 14,540 deaths (COVID-19 Response Acceleration Task Force, 2020).

The increase of cases, recoveries, and deaths likely affect the world by implementing several regulations to save their citizens. Many countries have enhanced their security by concerning people’s mobility limitations. This decision also has been executed in Indonesia since the virus outbreak from Depok on March 2, 2020, from a mother and daughter after having contact with a Japanese who tested positive in Malaysia and visited Indonesia in February (Gorbiano, 2020). Since the first case was announced, the government legalized policies signed by the President on March 31, 2020, to reduce the spread of the virus by implementing large-scale social restrictions for certain areas, working from home, praying at home, requiring people not to go outside if it is not urgent, restricting social gatherings, and school closures (Regulation of Indonesian Government No. 21 2020, 2020). School closures affect predominantly learners. Long-time school closures can lead to a number of threatening issues such as the reduction of instructional time for students and teachers. It is what Bonal and González (2020) stated, “Student absenteeism results in poorer academic achievement, gaps in skills development, abilities and behaviours necessary for educational success, and an increased likelihood of school dropout.” It is possible to bring the young generation to low-quality human resources in the future. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2020),

school closures are affected globally with 224,101,500 affected learners, 12.8% of the total enrolled learners, and 24 country-wide closures. Moreover, in Indonesia, school closures have been applied since the middle of March 2020 for all grades from pre-elementary until higher education (Regulation of Indonesian Government No. 21 2020, 2020).

School closure is one of the impacts in education that requires technology as an essential tool to utilize during online learning (Lestari & Gunawan, 2020). It is why technology is not seen as optional but crucial. Recent technological trends influence most people, not limited to urban society but also the rural one with distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This phenomenon happens in SDN Senganten 2, Senganten Village, Bojonegoro Regency, East Java. Distance learning encourages teachers and students to interact through virtual meetings even though they are in different places. To support their activities, teachers and students in the rural areas need to be provided with sufficient electronic devices, digital literacy, and a good internet connection. However, reality proves that  they lack all of those requirements. Moreover, their digital literacy is also an issue as they rarely  use telecommunication technology to interact, work, and study in everyday life. The transition of learning that is previously done from face-to-face to distance interaction greatly impacts villagers. All stakeholders are difficult to proceed with distance learning as it takes time to adapt and requires all parties to cooperate.

Distance learning pushes teachers and parents to have better coordination than before. The role of parents is truly significant to accompany, assist, and to teach children. Their presence is expected can change the teacher’s role during studying at home and it is significantly problematic as they   are not habitual with formal education materials and teaching methods. Previously, parents fully bestow their children to teachers for teaching them formally but now it is parents’ responsibility to help out children in learning. At this moment, they need to adjust to the current situation, knowing what is happening and are expected to teach their children. Supervising, controlling, and guiding their children take a greater focus on parents. This study explores parents’ challenges during distance learning in COVID-19.

This study aims to answer some research questions: 1) How do some factors cause parents’ challenges facing distance learning in Senganten Village? 2) How are parents’ responses to overcome challenges during distance learning? This research took place in East Java because this province is one of the regions in Indonesia that has been placed on the second province with the highest COVID-19 cases with 53,274 cases on November 7, 2020 (COVID-19 Response Acceleration Task Force, 2020) after DKI Jakarta. In this urgent condition, it is important to investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic influences people’s lives in terms of socio-cultural aspects. Moreover, the village is the researcher’s hometown which made the research to be accessible.

This is a case study research that specifically identifies distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary data sources are from ethnographic reports (ethnographic writings, photos, videos, and voice recordings), village community observations, and interviews with parents. Moreover, secondary data sources are literature sources. The research method implemented is using ethnography. Ethnography is chosen because it makes the researcher possible to not only learning society but learning from society (Spradley, 2007). Here, experiences, interactions, and cultures become a concern. This method is executed by doing semi-structured interviews on August 19-28, 2020 with 11 parents who have children in SDN Senganten 2, Senganten Village, Bojonegoro Regency, East Java. After data collection, they are analysed. Data analysis is important to get the main idea from the extractions of several data. Then, the information will be further interpreted (Ibrahim, 2015). The analysis will be investigated through the Cultural Studies approach using hegemony and urban-rural dynamics concepts. Cultural Studies is implemented to analyse a cultural issue comprehensively based on multi-perspective to build up meaning and understanding. Hegemony theory by Antonio Gramsci is pivotal to analyse the power between the superior that suppresses the inferior. The urban- rural analysis makes the discussion deeper.

Agricultural Society in Senganten Village

Bojonegoro consists of 28 sub-regencies and 430 villages. Based on the geographic condition, Bojonegoro is surrounded by several regions such as South–Madiun, Nganjuk and Ngawi, West–Blora, Central Java, and East–Lamongan, North Tuban. The existence of the Bengawan Solo River in Central Java and Kendeng Mountains influences Bojonegoro’s agricultural land condition (BPS-Statistics of Bojonegoro Regency, 2020). One of the sub-districts in Bojonegoro is Gondang. Gondang sub-district

25.336 populations within 107,01 square kilometres (Central Bureau of Statistics of Bojonegoro Regency, 2020). Gondang sub-district consists of seven villages that are Gondang, Senganten, Jari, Pragelan, Sambongrejo, Krondongan, and Pajeng. Specifically, the analysis will focus on Senganten Village. The population in this village is mostly dominated by farmers seeing its natural potential and people’s traditions. From generation to generation, Senganten Village land gradually becomes narrow as the increase of population for housing.


Fig. 1 Villagers and an Agriculture Technology (Source: Personal Documentation, 2020)


Technology is an important tool for all people in the village, but they do not use it too often. They still mostly depend on nature and traditions. In Senganten, the existence of technology is rather to help them to work in agriculture. For their mobility, they usually walk to the field or ride by simple motorcycle. Trucks become very important to transport their crops to sell in the traditional market or


to traders. They use cars and motorcycles to go to the schools, markets, and other relatives’ houses as the quality of its public highway are well-constructed.

Radio and television were the pioneers of electronic entertainment in Senganten Village. However, the source of using those devices was limited. Electricity was unavailable in Senganten until March 31, 1998, light bulbs began to light up gradually inside the villagers’ houses. The development of communication devices appeared slowly in 2008 with monochrome mobile phones. Nokia and Siemens were the most popular cell-phone brands. However, the connection was extremely poor and the cost to have a call was expensive. They lacked access to buy some credits as there were not many people who used mobile phones. It could be said, the mobile phone was not a good choice to communicate back then. If people intended to communicate with their relatives or friends who were in far-away places, they needed to go to the public telephone facility called telecommunication stalls (warung telekomunikasi or wartel). If they wanted to have a call in wartel, people needed to reach 45 kilometres to the county town.

Moreover, Senganten villagers experienced another prominent development in terms of telecommunication technology in 2015. Smartphones were possessed by a small group of people in Senganten as the internet connection was too weak. They were just able to use phone calls, messages, games, and other features except occasionally accessing the internet. They purchased smartphones to describe their lifestyle, even though they would use the internet in town. “The popularity of cell- phones compared to telephones can be shown from the latest National Socio-Economic Survey data. Households that had a telephone at home in 2019 were recorded at 1.15%. This condition is very different from households whose members have cell-phones that reach more than 86%” (Central Bureau of Statistics of Bojonegoro Regency, 2020). The rapid use of smartphones in Senganten increases during the COVID-19 pandemic as distance communication becomes essential whether to communicate, work, and school.

Hegemony and Urban-Rural Dynamics

The government, companies, and any other stakeholders urge to maximize the use of technologies and an internet connection to do primary activities. The use of technologies is the beginning of the industrial revolution 4.0 that emerges digital transformation. “Digital transformation will create new values and is becoming a pillar of industrial policy in many countries. Digital transformation has a drastic impact on conventional industries. It has also increased social complexity” (Gandasari et al., 2020). Digital transformation massively can be seen as more obvious in urban from their citizen’s interaction with information technology of communication to work, study, entertain, and others. As time goes by, technology companies broadened their consumer targets by offering affordable and cheaper gadgets with high-low features. This impressive innovation appeals to the wider social class to purchase gadgets. This development affects not only urban but rural as well.

Nevertheless, rural areas do not undergo similar variations and development like in urban areas in terms of telecommunication advancement. In media, cities have been narrated as a promising construction about the wealthy and bourgeois lifestyle. Hence, the narration is built through representations of luxurious life in movies, soap operas, and commercial breaks in televisions, radios, and any other media that can be consumed by rural people. In the urban context, electronic devices have gone more essential in people’s daily activities and correlated to brands that remark the prestige of a certain community. Since people concern about material pride, at the same time, it also contributes to a distinct social class stratification between the upper and lower class. This kind of tension also influences the way how rural people identify themselves to be villagers who adopt urban life-styles through technology by following urban people’s thinking. It is the indication of hegemony as Antonio Gramsci stated, “The hegemonic process occurs when the way of life, way of thinking and views of the lower class society, especially the proletariat, have imitated and accepted the way of thinking and lifestyle of the elite groups that dominate and exploit them” (Simon, 2004).

Urban-rural dynamics is not a new discussion. It has been rooted since globalization infiltrated the

nation. The idea of globalization is glorifying modernity with development and innovation in a


particular territory. One of the characteristics that identify is human dependency on nature (Barker, 2014). People planted and harvested their field using traditional tools but later shifting to technology. Along with globalization, modernity glorifies developments in many areas for efficiency and effectivity with advanced technologies. According to Anthony Giddens, “Globalization is a consequence of the dynamism of modernity, while what other thinkers call postmodernism, he calls advanced modernity, namely the radicalization of the forces of modernity that leave tradition” (Barker, 2014).

Globalization and modernity are unable to be separated from the rule of government that urges modernity in a nation. The global framework that constructs the idea of modernity is connected even though it is fragmented and shattered. Somehow, it is unequal. That is why the way how globalization perceived is varied in which depending on its region and agency. The government as the dominant agency of a country strictly forces modernity to its nation, including rural areas. As a part of global society, the government formally regulates rural people to adopt modernity in their life. Uniformity is a part of the government’s hegemony to control society in this post-modernity era when telecommunication technology has its place. Distance learning is one of the strategies to build up post-modernity in the rural area.


Distance Learning in SDN Senganten 2

Smartphone use has become significant in Senganten Village since distance learning has been implemented in the middle of March 2020. Teachers and students in SDN Senganten 2 are forced to adjust to this condition although the implementation of distance learning in rural is more complicated than in urban as rural people critically need adequate infrastructures (Bekithemba, 2020). The transition from a face-to-face class to an online class influences the change of how learning and teaching are interpreted. Minimal direct human interactions during study give their learning experience to be more stressful, complicated, and confusing than the conventional one. It is the indication of shifted norms and techniques in studying. Teachers and students need to redefine the meaning of independent learning. In this case, parents, who previously did not take responsibility for teaching and guiding their children also need to adapt. During the ideological process, a new transition creates a new habit and culture, new interest, and a new perspective–generally, it is the constitution of the self (Barker, 2014). Distance learning might be the beginning of post-modernity for rural culture. To invade rural people’s ideology, the government uses hegemony through education.

Education is widely considered important to make humans be civilized. The more educated, the more people can dominate. It is what Michel Foucault stated that knowledge can be a strategy for humans to dominate. It is built from the discourse of someone/party whose powers (Haryatmoko, 2016). There is a conception in society if someone intends to be successful and attaining high social status, he must go to school. In addition, the numbers of notable figures are highly educated. From the position itself, education is seemingly a neutral and impartial space. Scientific discretion in knowledge is a space that can be accepted by all parties. Because of this reason, post-modernity which is attributed to education is very influential. This power of knowledge becomes a tool for the government’s hegemony in the lower class society. According to Antonio Gramsci, “Hegemony implies a situation in which the historical block of the ruling class exercises social authority and leadership over the classes under it (subordinate) through a combination of power and agreement” (Simon, 2004). The implementation of distance learning is a powerful hegemonic tool to make village communities obey. Smartphone purchases increased dramatically during the pandemic. During the interview, three parents told that they had just bought new smartphones for the distance learning purpose even though by having debt. It is evidence of post-modernity ideological influence. Without a direct command, the wide gap between the rich and the poor based on learning access becomes sharp (Purwanto et al., 2020).


Factors of Parents’ Challenges Facing Distance Learning in Senganten Village

The post-modernity hegemony that works within distance learning does not run smoothly in a rural context. In Senganten Village, there are several obstacles faced by parents during distance learning and their role becomes really essential (Garbe et al., 2020). Parents in rural areas have been accustomed to


conventional ways and routines. Low education, family economic demands, and low digital literacy are challenging during assisting their children. Indirectly, these factors also can be examined as the resistance of villagers facing digital life in a rural context.


Low Education

Low education affects the way how parents transfer their understanding of particular materials to their children. Parents’ educational backgrounds are varied from elementary to high schools. They are considered low educated as most of them did not finish their grade. From the results of this interview, parents admit that the current curriculum is very difficult to follow. Parents are unable to adapt to school lessons again even though numerous materials can be learned from the internet. In fact, those who were graduated from junior high school admit that elementary school lessons are more difficult than what they learned in school back then. For parents of high school graduates, they can follow the materials and teach their children. However, there is another element that contributes to the difficulty of parents’ understanding level and that is age. Older informants cannot follow at all even though high school graduates. They cannot guide their children and expect their children to be independent and able to find other alternatives. Besides, the teaching ability of parents is also influenced by the class level of their children. Parents can still assist children in class 1 than the upper one (up to class 3). Therefore, low education refers to parents’ low ability to learn and teach that is caused by the latest education background, age, and children’s class level.


Family Economic Demands

Parents who live in Senganten Village work in several occupations and most of them are farmers. Moreover, some parents work multiple occupations. Fathers mostly have multiple occupations as they are the breadwinner of their family and the earning from one occupation is not enough to make their family survive. Whereas, mothers work as a farmer, catering, besides housewives. Here, gender role differences define fathers’ and mothers’ occupations.

Mostly, parents work as farmers and it does not interrupt their productivity. Hot climates in Senganten Village are the reason why parents are not afraid of COVID-19. They confidently said the virus cannot be long-lasting in warm areas. Moreover, they are physically active by working in the fields under the sunlight routinely. They know this framework from television and social media informing COVID-19 does not stay longer in hot areas. This conception is widely accepted by the village community. Therefore, the presence or absence of viruses does not make their life different. During the early days of social distancing and lockdown implementation in March 2020, all people stayed at home and limit their activities outside the home. However, that condition did not last. They had to work outside to find food and to survive. Parents work every day at 07.00 and come home at 16.00. Hence, they cannot guide their children during distance learning because it starts at 08.00 to 10.00. This routine is always carried out even though as a consequence, children do not receive parental guidance during distance learning (Putri et al., 2020). Parents cannot give tolerance to their scheduled working time as it has been set. It is a demand to feed their family and to keep alive during this uncertain condition.


Low Digital Literacy

The digital literacy ability of parents is much influenced by age and occupations. The older parents admit they cannot learn something new as a smartphone is complicated. Their closed-mindedness is urged by their unwillingness to adapt to new technology. They had been used to be living with limited infrastructures–depending on nature and traditional life. They admit their age is the main issue and cannot be overcome as if it is an absolute problem. Moreover, another reason affecting parents’ digital literacy is their occupation. If their occupation (e.g. traditional farmers) does not require technology, they cannot operate smartphones for distance learning. Despite age, all parents do not know the varieties of education websites and applications. They are more familiar with social media than other specific learning apps for children. Despite the limitations, they are only able to use WhatsApp for distance learning. Another issue regarding digital literacy is all parents are not really aware of the


side-effects of over-using smartphones for children. Their low critical thinking will make the situation worsen as the digital divides between old and young generations are prominent. However, both have no sufficient digital literacy to criticize, innovate, and evaluate from their technology use (Iivari et al., 2020). At this moment, children are given full authority to play smartphones either to learning or playing which can cause them to be addicted and neglectful. This condition will be dangerous if parents lose control of what content their children are consuming, considering they can get unlimited information that is good or bad for them.


Several Ways to Overcome Parents’ Challenges

As a part of rural society, parents also reaffirm their own power to their children. Despite the obstacles, parents still do several ways to overcome the problems. They are spending time to accompany children, entrusting other family members/neighbours to guide the children, and enrolling their children in tutoring.


Spending Time to Accompany Children

Parents who have children at an early level have to spend their time with children during distance learning. Their presence is important to be a guide, a smartphone operator, and a teacher. However, this is not the case for parents in the third grade and above. Children are expected to be more independent because the materials are difficult and parents have no sufficient time to learn with them as they   put working to be their priority (Fauzi & Khusuma, 2020). Therefore, the delegation of smartphone authority is given to children. Even though during distance learning, outside working hours, parents still try to accompany their children. If their children have homework, they will try to help them. To get instant answers, parents searched in Google or textbooks. If there is a stable internet connection, they will look for some learning materials on YouTube so parents and children can learn together. Parents spend their time with their children on Sunday and after working. If parents are unable to help, they still give their attention by asking either children have finished their homework or not.


Entrusting Other Family Members/Neighbours to Guide The Children

If parents cannot help with homework assignments, children will ask people around who can help. There is a strong engagement between people in rural areas. Children can learn from older people who are more educated than their parents. With them, children could finish their assignments effectively and efficiently even though they cannot fully understand the materials as to how teachers teach them. However, children face some challenges. They usually find their relatives or neighbours having no time to teach or they do not know the answers. If it happens, their friends become an option. At       a certain moment, children also take the initiative to do assignments in groups with their friends. Studying with friends causes another problem as they would prefer playing than studying.


Enrolling Their Children in Tutoring

Most parents who have children in the upper-level class are not able to teach their children during distance learning. However, there is a great responsibility to them guiding their children. Mothers are more responsible for children’s learning than fathers (Guy & Arthur, 2020). In this case, tutoring will be very helpful. This tutoring is an activity carried out by a teacher from SDN Senganten 2 as it was requested by many parents. Tariffs are less binding for teacher’s relatives and less burdensome for other parents because each meeting costs only two thousand rupiahs. The tutoring schedule starts at

13.00 to 15.00 then followed by the Quran recitation learning group. These activities are scheduled every Monday to Saturday. Most of the participants are in early childhood, kindergarten, elementary (grade 5 and 6), junior high school with a total of 40 students. Participants are open to elementary school students in the Senganten Village area. Children who live near the tutoring location usually go on foot. However, for those who live far away, parents usually pick them up. The presence of tutoring is very helpful for parents and so are students. They are helped, especially if there are homework assignments.

Fig. 2 Children were joining tutoring (Source: Personal Documentation, 2020)


Distance learning is a form of government hegemony in the education sector during the pandemic. It has the main purpose to create a modern society, not only in urban but also in rural communities. In this case, the Senganten Village community experienced the impact. Parents who previously see the smartphone as optional, now, it becomes essential. Here, digital transformation has occurred as the characteristic of post-modernity indicated by the increased consumption of smartphones. Besides, the government’s hegemony in education requires parents to be adaptable in the midst of impossible challenges. For parents, the implementation of distance learning cannot be maximally applied in educating children because of several factors such as low education, family economic demands, and low digital literacy. Even so, parents still try to overcome these obstacles by spending time to accompany children, entrusting other family members/neighbours to guide the children, and enrolling children in tutoring. These parental efforts can be seen as parents’ control of children. It indicates parental power in the midst of government power with a privilege legalizing formal regulations and the children as the party who needs guidance and can adapt to technology quickly. These crossed-powers contestations occur in many clashed parties. In the reality, it is the reason why digital transformation does not run smoothly.  Distance learning, in this case, becomes  a hegemony of rural to follow the modern lifestyle. This purpose is infiltrated within education and enhancing the technology divide. In numerous limitations, parents in rural areas still intend to enforce their own power in the context of rural cultural communities.



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Author’s Bio

Luly Prastuty is a graduate student in Cultural Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Indonesia. Previously, she earned her bachelor’s degree with honour in the literature (Sarjana Sastra) from English Literature, Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Brawijaya in 2018. Her research interests include critical development, gender, and post-colonial analysis. She is actively writing poems and fictions. Moreover, she is also a part of Himpunan Penerjemah Indonesia (Association of Indonesian Translators).