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Around the globe, including in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, educators are struggling with how to facilitate distance learning during the pandemic. But in poorer countries like Indonesia, the challenge is particularly difficult.

In North Sumatra, students climb to the tops of tall trees a mile from their mountain village. Perched on branches high above the ground, they hope for a cellphone signal strong enough to complete their assignments.

The travails of these students and others like them have come to symbolize the hardships faced by millions of schoolchildren across the Indonesian archipelago. Officials have closed schools and brought in remote learning, but internet and cellphone service is limited and many students do not have smartphones and computers.

More than a third of Indonesian students have limited or no internet access, according to the Education Ministry, and experts fear that many students will fall far behind, especially in remote areas where online study remains a novelty.

Indonesia’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have met with mixed results. As of Saturday, the country had 190,665 cases and 7,940 deaths. But testing has been limited and independent health experts say the actual number of cases is many times higher.

With the start of a new academic year in July, schools in virus-free zones were allowed to reopen, but these schools serve only a fraction of the nation’s students. As of August, communities in low-risk areas could decide whether to reopen schools, but few have done so.

“Students have no idea what to do, and parents think it is just a holiday,” said Itje Chodidjah, an educator and teacher trainer in Jakarta, the capital. “We still have lots of areas where there is no internet access. In some areas, there is even difficulty getting electricity.”

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