Compared to other education levels, Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan (SMK) graduates were the highest contributors (11.45%) to the unemployment rate in Indonesia in February 2021. Though worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is largely due to the misalignment of skills being taught in school and industry needs. Employers struggle to find graduates that meet their required qualifications, especially for English competencies.
Though SMK teachers and students generally perceive English competencies as an important skill, SMK graduates still do not meet the levels demanded by their industries. While a number of factors contribute to this problem, the overarching cause is the existing curriculum.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology (MOECRT) should revise the basic competencies of English studies at the
SMK level to facilitate an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) approach and better prepare students for the job market. The new Merdeka
Curriculum (Kurikulum Merdeka) for the SMK level should reflect basic competencies that are differentiated from the senior high school level (Sekolah Menengah Atas, or SMA) and should also be different across the SMK majors.
MOECRT should also engage in more public- private partnerships with industry actors to gather data and develop ESP for each major in line with the industry demands.
MOECRT should prioritize improvements in the quality of English teachers. Particularly at the SMK level. It is important to introduce English teachers to the importance of ESP so that theycan teach industry-relevant English materials to their students. MOECRT can facilitate capacity building programs for SMK teachers hosted by or in partnership with industry players to ensure that teachers are keeping up with continuously evolving skill demands.
Since language skills must be practiced often, public-private partnerships can be extended to improve infrastructure such as internet connection. Providing the necessary technology devices to support and encourage students to learn English from a variety of sources beyond the classroom helps them develop their English skills.