Monday, 1 February 2010

Specialisation of skills or limiting knowledge transfers..

People often say that education system every where in the world needs improvement.. lots of improvement.. Well, I can say that education system in Indonesia really needs lots of improvement.. It is currently going through a lot of changing as a process of trying to improve, and I hope each change will lead to a significant improvement.. :-)

One of the things I've noticed since I graduated from high school is the knowledge and skills gap between the students graduated from science stream and social-science stream in high school. This gap, in my personal opinion, is completely unnecessary and avoidable (at least to some degree).

This gap I'm talking about is probably felt by a lot of Indonesian high school graduates, but unknown to high school graduates in other countries.. This is because of the structure of senior high school curriculum in Indonesia.

In Indonesia, in 2nd year of senior high school -equivalent to year 11- (now from 3rd year of senior high school -equivalent to year 12-), students must choose whether they would like to take science stream or social-science stream. At a glance, this was a good thing, to help students focus on the areas they want to pursue in further education. However, their are downsides of this structure..

Both science stream and social-science stream are conducted as fixed-packages, where all subjects have been strictly prescribed by the Department of Education and there is no elective (either from the chosen stream or cross-stream).. Moreover, in national-standard schools, students stay in one particular classroom, where the teacher of the subjects will come to when the subjects take place. Therefore, it is impractical to have elective subjects.

This strict specialisation, at the end of the day, presents several problems.

The first problem, it forces students to have strict limitations in choosing the area they want to pursue in university.

In most cases, graduates of science stream are considered 'fit' to choose any area in university, including economics, accounting and finance, and social studies, having the strong mathematical-analytical skills.

At the same time, graduates of social-science stream are considered only 'fit' to choose areas related to humanities, social studies and languages.

Some universities do accept social-science stream graduates with good grades into their economics or accounting/finance faculties, but some others only accept science graduates, even though for a fact, economics and accounting are only taught in social-science stream (not in science stream).

The first problem leads to the second, where the structure misleads students in guiding them in choosing the right path in high school. A lot of students felt that it was safer for them to choose science stream if they are considering to do economics or accounting in university.

At the same time, students who decide to choose social-science stream (or are forced by the schools to take it) have to bear almost 'a life time' consequence, of being considered a '2nd class graduates' for not having the necessary scientific skills and knowledge. Of course in reality of life this mindset is questionable, but in academic world, this is causing a big problem!

The real situation is, which I see as the third problem, the gap between expectation and real competency level of university students and graduates.

Often, students are not satisfied with their own skills, ability and knowledge because of the lack of complete set of knowledge they need to have in pursuing their life.

On one hand, science stream graduates often feel that they are struggling in the 'management side' of working life. The struggle is hard in university for the ones end up choosing economics, accounting/finance or business/management at university level, and for the ones who choose the scientific areas in university, the struggle is felt once they enter working life.

On the other hand, social-science stream graduates often feel the frustration of not understanding the 'too-focused scientists/technical people' whom they have to work with in their every day life..

University is a learning place for people who have already gone past their crucial 'development' stage. Lecturers and tutors do not transfer mindset and psychological encouragement as much as school teachers because the learning stage of the students they teach are obviously different.

What we lack in learning at school level, CAN NEVER be replaced at university level or after!

It is a good thing that nowadays there are postgraduate business/management programs for employees from non-business background who are pursuing further career in management areas. However, the change of mindset is harder when we are already an adult and are used to a certain style of thinking structure for a long time, but at least there are ways to catch up with the lack of skills.

The final problem now is, for the social-science stream graduates, there are no postgraduate programs that offer science programs!

When I decided to choose social-science stream, not only I had to face opposition from the school and family -because I had the sufficient grades to enter science stream-, I also had to give up my favourite science subject, Chemistry.. and this meant for life..

Business degree graduates might excel in writing essays, conducting surveys, doing presentations and leading a discussion/meeting, but, whenever I read a research paper done by a science graduate, I can clearly see a difference!

Science stream graduates possess a highly structured thinking process that it is almost 'written on their faces'.. while social-science stream graduates are very open to 'open-ended' discussions..

There should be a balance in there somewhere to make sure that high school graduates are 'all round' people who are ready to take the challenge of the real world!

I believe that one subject.. just one subject.. from cross-stream can change this problem, -maybe not entirely, but at least to some extent-, to create a better life in Indonesia.

I try to imagine, if in science stream, students are given a chance to have a feel of the 'open-ended' mindset -conducting surveys, having open project discussion, calculating business budgets and marketing products- .. it might help them to understand the 'other side' of the their world.. Subjects like macro economics would definitely show science students how things in life often happen outside expectations and people need to be ready for those things..

Then, I try to imagine too, if social-science students are given a chance to take up one science subject by choice, -physiscs, biology or chemistry-.. it might help them (including me) in understanding the thinking process of scientists/technical people.. A careful, thorough and detailed observation is needed to complement the 'risk-taking' approach in business world..

I know that there are some students who are mature enough to understand their upcoming needs in future life and try to equip themselves with skills and knowledge they are not given by school, but in most cases, high school students -being children at final stage, if I may say-, still need assistance in preparing them to face their future and it is the adults' responsibility to provide them such skills and knowledge (by adults I mean, parents, teachers and Department of Education).

Providing a more balanced education is what education system in Indonesia needs to do -among other things-, and I would really love to see this come true in the future.. :-)

Have a nice day, everyone!


  1. There is a deep difference between studying science and social.
    In science,you must learn step by step. for example, in mathematic you can not do the third degree in your high school, without knowing your mathematic lesson in your second degree.And to understand your second degree, you must pass your first. In social study, you can dominate your third degree, learn and read the subject. And your passed lesson is not needed indeed. Thats why student from science allowed to choose the social subject when goes to University.And the seperation subject which is started in the second degree of high school,I think is due to make them be professional in further.

  2. Early specialisation seems to be an international phenomenon, and as you say both sides lose out.

  3. Dear Mother..

    You are exactly right.. :-)

    That is why with all the development in all sectors in Indonesia and the world, the way school curriculum structure needs improvements too (which they have been doing so much lately..)

    I will discuss this further in my next post..

  4. Dear Elinjo..

    I am always hoping that the loss on both sides can be reduced, considering that in all sectors around the world, people are more and more expected to be multi-skilled and multi-tasking in doing their jobs..

    While specialisation is needed to pursue our main area of expertise, any knowledge in other areas are always considered as advantages in pursuing our career..

    I will put forward some thoughts in my next post.. :-)


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