The Indonesian government must alter its education system at formal schools to bolster its young workforce for the full implementation of the Asean Economic Community at the end of this year, when workers from across the region are expected to compete for jobs in a borderless market.
The integrated community, in which the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will function as a “common market” and production base, is expected to allow a freer flow of skilled labor, trade and investment across the region.
The advent of the AEC is hoped to create 14 million jobs by 2025 and improve the livelihoods of the region’s 600 million people, according to a recent study by the International Labor Organization and the Asian Development Bank.
But observers warn that Indonesia’s school curriculum leaves its young people at a competitive disadvantage to their peers from other countries in the region.
“The easiest thing that the government should do is to link and match what the industry needs with what the schools produce,” says Hari Widyo, the human resources director at Hero Supermarkets.
“In the long-term, I think there needs to be a curriculum that is more industry-focused.”
He also contends that internship programs at vocational schools and universities must be increased beyond the current two months.
“The internship should be six months at least. That way, both the interns and the companies can benefit from the program,” he says.
Hari argues that a similar scheme should be introduced at regular senior high schools.
“Not everyone can afford to study for a bachelor degree, and some positions at companies can actually be filled by those with a senior high school diploma,” he says.
David Knowles, a managing partner at Opus Management Indonesia, agrees that preparing young Indonesians for industry must include opportunities to interact with companies and must start before university to better prepare them.
“I think school syllabi and curriculums around the world are developing,” he says.
“They are paying more structured attention to the social space, and by the social space I mean the soft skills, the collaboration skills, and there are in a number of curriculums — going from primary school upward — more opportunities for kids to engage in that and learn in a structured way.”
This chimes with a recent pledge by Education Minister Anies Baswedan to forge a new curriculum that includes soft skills such as critical thinking, leadership, analytical skills and entrepreneurship.
The calls for a change to the curriculum have been prompted in part by the increase in unemployment among high school and vocational school graduates, which stood at 3.3 million last year, up from 3.2 million in 2013.
Overall unemployment in 2014 was 7.2 million, or 5.9 percent of the workforce, according to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS).
“Our education system has not prepared our education curriculum to be competitive in the 21st century,” Sonia Lontoh, the head of corporate marketing at Trilliant, a venture-backed smart grid company in California’s Silicon Valley, said at the recent World Economic Forum on East Asia, held in Jakarta.
“This century is about knowledge and skills; almost everything is about technology.”