When partnership and perseverance make the dream work
Story by Maria Sinurat
Welcome to the Underground School, where Mr. Watermelon oversees all school activities, and Ms. Avocado teaches the most challenging subject. The school just received a new exchange student from abroad, Tomato, who likes to sing. Everyone is excited to meet him, including Mustard Green the popular girl at school, and Green Beans, the nosy twins. Every day is full of witty tales from the Underground School.
“Who could guess that the Underground School is a nutrition education story about fruit and vegetables? That is the power of stories and audio-visuals that contributes to positive values and behaviour,” says Mr. Agus Triarso. Agus currently serves as the Sub-Coordinator of Learning Material Development, Production Unit, Center of Data, Technology, and Information (CoDTI) at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology (MoECRT), which has partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP).
The Tales of the Underground School are part of the nutrition education materials that WFP developed to support the Ministry’s efforts to promote healthy and balanced diets among schoolchildren. The initiative dates back to 2019, with the long-term goal to improve children’s dietary practices by involving teachers, parents, and schoolchildren. The effort came to fruition in 2020 when fruit and vegetable board games, posters, and comic strips were printed. These materials have also been tested in a primary school in West Java Province.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Indonesia already faced a triple burden of malnutrition with a high prevalence of undernutrition, overnutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies. The pandemic has aggravated these underlying problems and put children’s health at greater risk. “We thought we needed to find a new way to promote nutrition education since teaching and learning shifted online. Then the idea to digitalise the nutrition education materials came up. We knew we needed to make it happen,” says Nikendarti Gandini, the Head of School Nutrition at WFP Indonesia.
Partnership and perseverance
“I knew nothing about WFP when I met Ibu Niken. Many people were approaching us to develop digital learning materials. Then I had a meeting with Ibu Niken and her team, and I was interested in their proposition that all the nutrition learning materials would be free. I thought that would be great,” says Agus recalling his first online encounter with WFP.
The pandemic has also put pressure on Agus and his multimedia team, responsible for developing online learning materials. “We were expected to innovate and hatch new content ideas. When WFP came with nutrition education materials, I saw it as an opportunity. WFP has the expertise and the materials, and my team has the skills to bring them to life,” Agus adds.
So, the partnership began through back-and-forth exchanges between WFP and Agus for an innovative way to educate children about nutrition. With a dozen years of work experience in multimedia production, Agus understands the practical details of content development. “User experience is key. We need to understand the characteristics of our audience. When developing content for schoolchildren, we need to think like them and find things that interest them. The second is about interactivity; we can use motion graphics, picture stories, and other creative approaches to make audiences feel involved,” Agus explains.
However, it took plenty of effort to breathe a new life into these print materials. Agus and his team worked hard to do so. The team also worked with a limited budget and equipment. They did not have a digital drawing tablet that could speed up the production process at that time. So, they had to do it manually. “Fortunately, I received support from my team, who went all-out to develop these materials. I also cheered my team up to lift their spirit and told them that our struggle would pay off once we managed to produce the digital materials,” says Agus.
The fruits of labour
After four arduous months, Agus and his team produced digital flipbooks on parents’ and teachers’ guides to teaching healthy eating to primary school children, games, animation, and videos about nutrients in food and healthy eating practices for children. Yet, the challenge continued. All these digital learning materials needed to be published online at Rumah Belajar (Home Learning), a free access online learning platform that the Ministry developed. The platform has key features, such as Sumber Belajar (Learning Sources), that teachers, parents, and children can access. The platform attracted at least 17 million new active users since the beginning of the pandemic, indicating high demand for free online learning materials.
“Rumah Belajar is a government-owned learning platform, and we produce all the materials. So, at first, I was uncertain that we could publish all this digital nutrition content. These materials should be placed on a specific landing page, meaning that we had to build a standalone page housing all this nutrition content. It had never happened before that a page was dedicated to learning materials received from a non-government actor!”
Giving up is not an option for Agus. Thanks to his perseverance, broad network, and endless wits, he convinced other divisions to build this landing page and publish all the materials. WFP also linked the Center of Data, Technology, and Information with the Primary School Directorate at the Ministry, which endorsed the plan to upload the materials to Rumah Belajar. “I told my colleagues that nutrition content is important and has an opportunity to reach wider audiences. There are many learning materials about mathematics and other subjects, but nutrition content is rare and unique. I could even say that the first nutrition content available at Rumah Belajar is the one we developed together with WFP,” he says.
The Government and WFP launched the digital materials in December 2021, and all the materials are now available on the Rumah Belajar platform. The landing page also displays nutrition content that WFP developed together with UNICEF.
Agus and his team finally enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Primary School Directorate at the Ministry and the Head of Center of Data, Technology, and Information recognise their efforts and the importance of these materials. “Our efforts are recognised and appreciated. After we successfully digitalised the materials, our team received two units of digital drawing tablets from the Head of Center of Data, Technology, and Information to support content production,” Agus adds.
For WFP, the effort to improve nutrition awareness does not stop there. “We will continue our work to integrate nutrition education into the school curriculum. Nutrition education should be an integral part of our education system,” says Niken.
Rumah Belajar can be accessed: https://belajar.kemdikbud.go.id/
All nutrition content that Pusdatin and WFP developed are available here: https://sites.google.com/rumahbelajar.id/worldfoodprogramme/beranda
 Ibu (Indonesian) is a polite way to address adult women in Indonesian.