May 7, 2020 / 1:04 AM / a month ago

Indonesia's Ramadan school moves online amid coronavirus epidemic

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Each year during the fasting month of Ramadan, Indonesian tutor Ahmad Winardi has taught a special course for students in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country to deepen their knowledge of Islam.

A tutor Ahmad Winardi gestures as he teaches the Koran online through a smartphone during an intensive Islamic boarding school known as ÒPesantran KilatÓ on the holy fasting month of Ramadan amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 25, 2020. Picture taken April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yuddy Cahya Budiman

But this year, the novel coronavirus has brought a Ramadan like never before, with shuttered mosques and strict physical distancing regulations, and so Winardi has moved his Islamic studies online.

One consequence is that the courses, previously held only in cities on the islands of Java and Sumatra, have this year attracted a wider range of students in the archipelago, including from Indonesian Borneo.

“Due to COVID-19, we’re restricted from activities outside our houses so we started the online Islamic course,” said Gemia Indria, one of the organisers.

“And it turns out online teaching removes geographical barriers, so we can reach out to more participants.”

Known as “Pesantran Kilat”, which loosely translates as “intensive Islamic boarding school”, the course teaches students about Islam, as well as creative ways to recite the Koran, such as through hand gestures.

The gestures, Winardi explained, can act as fun prompts to help primary school students, most aged from 6 to 12 years old, recall religious verses.

“The chemistry is absolutely different as we don’t meet in person,” Winardi said of the online lessons. “But we try some ice-breaking activities, such as shouting ‘God is greatest’. Hopefully it encourages them to memorise the Koran.”

Joining the class from the capital, Jakarta, alongside classmates from South Sumatra and West Java, Muhammad Umar Abdurrahman, 11, said he enjoyed the lesson, although his father saw room for improvement, such as more comprehensive course material.

Most residents of Jakarta have been staying home since March 20 as part of social distancing measures, which have seen schools and businesses close, and gatherings of more than five people banned until May 22.

Indonesia, which has the highest coronavirus death toll in East Asia outside China, has reported more than 12,000 coronavirus cases and 872 deaths, as of on Tuesday.

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