Starved of wifi, Indonesians trade plastic trash to study online

3 mins read
A student wearing a protective mask carries a bag of plastic bottles to be exchanged for internet wifi access for online studying, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at a local district office in Jakarta, Indonesia September 9, 2020. Picture taken September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

By Yuddy Budiman Cahya and Tommy Andriansyah

JAKARTA/BOGOR, Indonesia (Reuters) – When the coronavirus pandemic forced Indonesian schools to shut, it exposed how millions of households in the Southeast Asian country still had no access to the internet or even a device like a mobile phone to do remote learning.

So students and volunteers have come up with creative ways to get round the problem.

For the last two months, Dimas Anwar Putra, 15, and a friend have been collecting plastic trash in their Jakarta neighbourhood in exchange for wifi access.

With no internet access at home, the two students need to collect one kg (2.2 lb) of mostly plastic waste to trade for access to the internet so they can do online learning for around three hours up to three times a week.

“If we collect trash, it’s like a charity for me and apart from that we also get free internet data,” Dimas said.

Local students pray before they start studying using free internet wifi access that they got by exchanging plastic waste, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at a local district office in Jakarta, Indonesia September 9, 2020. Picture taken September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

The “wifi station” is the brainchild of Iing Solihin, who sells trash collected by students to purchase data costing 340,000 rupiah ($22) a month to allow small groups of students to study.

“The problem is when the internet data runs out before the end of the month … and they can’t study anymore,” Iing said.

Millions of Indonesian students have been forced to learn remotely since many schools shut in March due to the pandemic, a particular challenge for poorer families and those in remote areas.

In a hilly district near Bogor, about 80 km (50 miles) south of Jakarta, volunteers bring a car equipped with a mobile network transmitter weekly to remote villages so students can use the internet. The “School Volunteers” provide laptops and mobile phones.

“The problem of learning online is I rarely use a phone, I share my phone with my parents,” said Dafa Mahesa Sudirman, 14, who along with about 30 other students grabbed his chance to study online in a wooden shed in their village.

Only about one in six of Indonesia’s roughly 60 million households had an internet connection in mid-2019, according to the Association of Internet Service Providers Indonesia (APJII).

(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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