Between ideals and reality: A conflict in goals

According to media reportage, the number of intellectual unemployment in the country — a newly coined catchphrase to describe jobless fresh university graduates — is on the rise.

One of the proposed solutions voiced by business practitioners is to design a so-called entrepreneurship curriculum through entrepreneurial studies. The idea is intended to bridge the gap between what the students learn in a formal setting and what they will face when they enter a workplace.

While we need to laud this entrepreneurial idea, we are still in the dark about how such lofty ambitions can be realized through curricular designs that can accommodate the needs of students from a diverse social context in a fair way. Given this limitation, the idea of entrepreneurial studies is difficult, if not impossible, to apply and always remains as endlessly contentious rhetoric in the contemporary educational landscape.

In today’s tough competitive job markets where society is constantly impinged upon by national and global forces, earning high school or diploma certificates is considered an insufficient entry point for a job application. Pursuing higher education is then seen as the unavoidable alternative to opt for if one wishes to successfully take part in a harsh job market competition. The hurdles, however, don’t stop here. Success in earning a university degree doesn’t always mean success in finding a desired job. The popular adage says that starting a successful career needs more than just a fresh and fuzzy idea.

Admittedly, the phenomenon of the increased rates of unemployed fresh university graduates is indicative that there is a huge gap between the knowledge one obtains in a formal schooling (the ideals) and the real work world (reality). This is to say that the conceptual knowledge and practical skill one gets is not necessarily compatible with the expectations of the job market.

Certain required standards that a company sets up for applicants, for example, are acquired through the candidates’ firsthand experience rather than through the skills or knowledge they obtained from schools.

Clearly, in most job markets today, raw intellect as an end-product of years of schooling is not adequate to support the needs of what one is experiencing in the workplace, and thus must be complemented with other traits or qualities deemed necessary by the job market.

With the rapidly changing needs of society, societal need analysis is a relevant area to explore. One possible and effective way to carry out this analysis is to establish a partnership with companies in dire need of potential candidates. Not only can this partnership provide useful information about real work experiences, but it can also offer new insights that can bridge the gap between what the students need to learn during schooling and what the job market really requires of them.

In keeping with society’s shifting needs, sound higher education must equip students with skills, values and a broad knowledge base essential for their future career so that they are poised to deal with any obstacles they will face in the workplace.

Societal need analysis manifested via either curricular change or curricular adaptation makes it possible to prepare students with these traits. The pedagogical implication of the curricular change or adaptation is that teachers need to facilitate students to unearth and maximize their potentials.

Such an effort is only viable if we take heed of the following shifts of orientation, which seem to characterize our contemporary pedagogy: from knowledge as static to knowledge as dynamic; from students as passive beings to students as human beings with potential; from the goal of making students reconstruct knowledge to the goal of making students construct knowledge; from using a top-down approach to teaching to using a bottom-up approach; from exhorting the use of mere reasoning to appreciating intuition.

A seemingly growing phenomenon in today’s higher education that can also help narrow the gap between the ideals and reality is known as career fairs. This organized event (school-sponsored and business-sponsored), ubiquitous in many campuses today, serves as a symbiotic means that benefits both employers and would-be employees (in this case students).

By offering job opportunities to candidates, employers can get to know their prospect employees for positions they wish to fill. For students, career fairs serve as a conduit to seek jobs, to showcase their talents for future career preparation and, more importantly, to build a personal network of professional relationships.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and can be contacted at

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