Lockdown Economy Indonesia in an English Teaching Practice for Kids with Leviana Vinanda
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Anna Lucia
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Maisaa Sarkis, we meet Leviana Vinanda, Founder of Hats&Hoodie, education institution, in Indonesia. Hats&Hoodie English Course and Life Club is an English language education service for young learners aged 4 to 12 years. Leviana shared the impact of the pandemic on the format of learning and how it was felt by the education world. She faced the challenges from drop among students enrolled in the face to face class and having to develop a program that would fit an online format instead of the open space learning that was one of the main attractions in the club in her hometown. Lockdown and the policies taken by many countries including Indonesia by dismissing all educational activities and reduce interaction led Leviana and her team to explore and learn online material for the designed program and have alternative educational processes and models for the students and hence learners acquire the language in a less stressful way.
Are you joining us from Indonesia?
Leviana: Yes. It’s very different here.
Tell me about your business Hats&Hoodie and how long you’ve been doing it.
Leviana: Hats&Hoodie English course and life club is basically an English course. We provide English language education for young learners aged 6 to 12. We provide engaging and meaningful activities for the learners because we believe that communication skills can be achieved that way. So, we try to provide the learners with activities that give them a context where they are able to not only understand the language but eventually produce language.
And the [adult learners] club was founded 2 years ago, in 2018. Before that, I was self-employed as an English language educator, so I worked with private students and with some companies to do general English classes for adults. Hats&Hoodie was co-founded by me and my 2 other good friends. They are specialists with young learners. So between them and me with my background in English language education, we joined forces and here we are.
I always admire entrepreneurs and the spirit behind every business. Where are you based in Indonesia? And the business that you co-founded, is it based in Indonesia?
Leviana: We are based in a city called Bali Papan. If you look at a map of this country, there is a large island in the middle of the Archipelago. That’s Borneo island. We are in the eastern part of that, in the coastal area of the island. We are based there and this is my hometown.
So you set up a business in your hometown? How many employees do you have?
Leviana: There are 8 people who have joined the team. Most of us are teachers. We also have somebody who also helps with the administration. Another person has the role of looking after the financial aspects and management. And we have a psychologist who helps us manage the programme.
Before we spoke, I was looking over the curriculum and how you work together, and you mentioned in one of the posts that you work with a psychologist. That’s so interesting to have a psychologist on board to be part of the team to deliver an educational programme.
How many clients do normally have? Are they all from your hometown?
Leviana: We usually have around 30 students here and most of them have come from this town, Bali Papan. Because the form of the learning was face-to-face here. It was actually one of the major attractions of the club. But the number, unfortunately, decreased during the pandemic. However, the good thing is that we started to gain students from other cities because of the online format that we now have. So, I think the pandemic has given us some dark and bright sides at the same time, given the number of clients we have now.
On that note, let’s discuss how things were on the business front during the pandemic. I know that when learning a language, it’s good to learn through engaging and fun activities, so learners and students can acquire the language in a less stressful way. And similar to everyone around the world, the pandemic was forced upon us in March. Since then, things have changed a lot, so I would like to know how this has impacted your business.
You said earlier that you have students who started joining online, outside your hometown. So can you give me and those watching an idea of how this affected your business during the lockdown?
Leviana: One of the main attractions in the club is that the learning space itself. We always try to provide the learners with meaningful and engaging activities and our learning space supports that idea. Our learning environment was open-air space with many trees and some woods. And many outdoor activities. We were quite popular because of that. But then, when the pandemic struck, we had to change and so we lost one of the main attractions that were the main reason for people to join us, besides the curriculum and the programme.
Also, some of the learners are not able to join the online learning because as you might be aware, not all children are able to keep their concentration for more than 30 minutes and not all children are able to know look at a screen for a long time, more than 30 minutes. Because of those reasons, the number of students decreased and some of our learners had to let go.
So some students weren’t able to continue because of the current circumstances because it wasn’t a face-to-face education experience. Have you tried to assimilate the business in a different way and what did you do to attract new students to come and join your classes and programme?
Leviana: We are trying to familiarise ourselves with digital platforms and explore what kinds of activities could replace face-to-face interaction. One new thing we are doing is sending materials to student homes and let them do it by themselves at home, with our guidance on screen. We’re also trying to learn as teachers about how we can explore online materials, like the games to enable them to move and still be happy but without sitting and looking at the screen all the time. That’s how we’re trying to adapt.
I wanted to ask as well about how you’ve adapted. When you were trying to introduce new activities, did you notice that some things worked while others didn’t? What things worked better, which ones didn’t work? What actions did you need to do to keep the business running in the new online format?
Leviana: One thing that didn’t work was the lesson length. In the beginning, the classes were 80 minutes long. When we tried to keep that online, it didn’t work. We had to cut the lesson time to 60 minutes, maximum.
We also realised that the situation was impacting everybody too, including the learner’s parents. So we also reduced the tuition fee by about 30%. Given that it’s now online and we reduced the lesson length, we also reduced the tuition fees.
We are also trying to have some online events. We have a collaboration with another community club here in Bali Papan. We tried to do some events to introduce the brand to larger markets, in the hope that it can be for the students that we have now, but also open up to larger markets. That’s why we do some online events and collaborations with the other club.
So eventually you want to maintain the learning experience for the children and the students' development stages, and this was a mission for you, despite the lockdown. It was about the learning experience. Can you tell me how is Hats&Hoodie doing now at the moment, with the students, and with the children who are attending the programme?
How is the business going?
Leviana: The business is starting to move again. In the beginning, as I mentioned, the number of learners decreased. But then after we tried to adapt, tried to explore more and tried to learn how to get most out of social media and other digital platforms and also started to collaborate with other clubs, then we started to gain more learners. So, at this moment the business is running again and I hope we can keep on the same track.
That’s excellent news and I’m glad that you are moving forward and you have developed new ways to reach the children and the students. What about the students who were no longer in your program, do you know how they are doing? And what about your competition, how are they currently operating with the new normality?
Leviana: Regarding the students who are no longer with us, one of the things about Hats&Hoodie is that we always try to make the parents as partners. We make ourselves not as a business but more like a community, where both the teachers and the parents have the same goals for their children.
So because of that, it is not unusual for us to reach out to the parents even when they are no longer with us. We still contact them by WhatsApp to ask them how they’re doing and ask after the children. So we more or less know how they are because we have the mindset that they are part of our community of learners. So even though they are no longer with us, they are still part of the community.
And regarding the competition, I think all the courses and educational institutions in Indonesia at the moment are running online. This makes the competition a lot more because the Hats&Hoodie is no longer the only one. In the beginning, we were the only club here in this town who had this open-air space delivering English language education. But now we have to do the business online just like the others, which makes us similar. So, this is a time where we have to find some different niche. That’s what we still figuring out, how we can actually be different from others. It’s a lot of homework.
That is a lot of homework, for sure. But I’m sure that you’ll be able to adapt quickly. In terms of output in the coming few months, for the Hats&Hoodie, what kind of projects or initiatives do you have that are preparing you for the upcoming months in 2021?
Leviana: In Indonesia, the current policy is that education will start to be face-to-face in January 2021. But of course, it could change. We will prepare ourselves for any policy or situation. Our outlook for the upcoming months is optimistic. If we are required to continue online, we will be able to do that and if we have to do face-to-face then will be more than happy to do that too. But of course, we will really take care of the learners. We put the health and safety of the children at the top priority. The new procedures have to be maintained if one day we come back to face-to-face interactions.
It will be amazing to see how it’ll work. I think it is always most exciting to have face-to-face with everyone in a learning situation. And also if it’s possible to do outdoors, I think it will be a fun activity for everyone. So for Hats&Hoodie can you name three things that you need help with at the moment?
Leviana: What we need at the moment are training and consultations. Firstly, training and consultation on how to develop the business model like this, in educational service.
Secondly, training on how to get the most advantage of digital platforms. Because before the pandemic, we weren’t really exploring this. But now, as the pandemic struck, we had to be really focused on that because it was a very big potential way to promote ourselves.
And, thirdly, probably online learning, online teacher training. But one that fits with an Indonesian context. There are lots of online teaching workshops out there, but those who really fit with Indonesian contexts are still very limited. So I think this is the help that we require at this moment.
Well, I think as long as it serves the business and the educational sector and your mission of enriching the lives of the students and children, you are moving forward. I hope that you will be able to develop new programs that fulfil the educational need in Indonesia.
Do you have anything else to add? Do you have anything else to tell our viewers and the students who are watching from Hats&Hoodie today?
Leviana: As entrepreneurs in educational service, we cannot see this business as a ‘pure’ business. It’s not only about the monetary matters. An educational business there is always a spectrum of dedications and that’s what keeps us adapting, keeps us moving forward as educators because we care about the learners. We care about them catching up with their education. I think for the teachers and students watching, keep moving forward. Don’t look back. We have to keep optimistic, even though the situation is uncertain, but we have to keep moving forward.
About the Guest
Leviana Vinanda is an English language educator and co-founder of English Course and Life Club an initiative mainly focusing on education and skill enrichment for children to adults. She is recently studying in a post-graduate program on English Language Teaching at the University of Southampton.