The data that explains why only a few Indonesian university graduates are able to develop communication strategies

Do nonprofit sector professionals need to have special skills to be able to develop effective communications strategies? Communication for Change believes this is not absolute, but we will discuss why it is quite rare for Indonesian university graduates to be able to strategize well.

By Paramita Mohamad
March 17, 2018
Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash
About two weeks ago Communication for Change published an article about common mistakes that civil society organizations often make in public communication. Two of the mistakes relate to organizational habits (treating public communications as a mere complement and not a central part of the organization's program; reluctant to hire professional practitioners). Another one is communication strategy planning which is still below standard.

We then received a follow-up question in response to this article:
This question continues:
The ability to think analytically is the basis for formulating a strategy
The words " practical skills that formal graduates outside the field of communication don't have" caught my attention. On the one hand, I believe one of the main goals of higher education is to prepare graduates who are ready to contribute positively to economic and civic life. An important part of contributing to economic life is finding and maintaining a livelihood - not only by being an employee, but also opening a business or becoming an independent professional.

But on the other hand, for me, graduates who are able to earn and maintain a livelihood are not graduates who are ready to use, but rather those who are ready to be retrained. Producing ready-to-use graduates is an unrealistic goal for universities. Developments in the world outside campus are occurring much faster than universities' ability to modify syllabus and adapt resources to respond to these changes.

To be ready to retrain, higher education graduates should have mastered and frequently used scientific reasoning skills. If they are fluent and often reason scientifically, then they should have the ability to ask good questions, not always be able to answer. It is the ability to ask good questions that encourages someone to continue learning and practicing.

If all college graduates are capable and used to reasoning scientifically, then they should already have the basic capital to design communication strategies. This basic capital should be possessed by graduates from all majors, not just communications. The first element of the basic capital for developing any strategy, not just communication, is analytical thinking skills. Analytical thinking is inseparable from scientific reasoning abilities. That's why all college graduates should be able to think strategically, and not just in communication matters.

What are the characteristics of people who are able to think analytically? When looking at a fairly complex situation, people who are able to think analytically can break it down into smaller elements. They are able to formulate questions that need to be answered in order to better understand the relationship between these various elements. In collecting data, more than just summarizing it, they can see the patterns and trends behind the incoming data. Only then, they can identify and define the problem in the situation.

communication strategy, communication consultant, CSO communication, non-profit communication, communication training, NGO communication, communication for change
Kutipan Albert Einsrein dari sini.
Next, they can propose several possible causes of the problem and eliminate unsuitable hypotheses. They can think of solutions to solve the problem, and think of ways to test whether the solution to solve the problem is correct.

Indonesian university graduates who are able to think analytically are quite rare
If you notice, I have used the word "should" a lot earlier. This is intentional, because the reality is much different. An anecdote from my experience when recruiting prospective new employees shows that new college graduates who have sharp analytical thinking skills are quite rare.

This anecdote is apparently supported by convincing data. From 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015, a total of 7,229 residents aged 16–65 years in Jakarta were randomly selected to take part in The Survey of Adult Skills (SAS) conducted by the OECD. SAS is often also referred to as the PIAAC test, which stands for the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. You may be familiar with the PISA test (also administered by the OECD) which measures the basic academic abilities of 15 year old students from various countries. If the PISA test is for middle school children, the PIAAC test is for adults, which measures three key competencies in processing information, namely:
  1. Literacy: the ability to understand and respond appropriately to information presented as text or writing
  2. Numeracy: the ability to use numerical and mathematical concepts
  3. Solving problems in technology-rich environments: the capacity to access, interpret, and analyze information discovered or disseminated in the digital realm.
The only data available for Jakarta is for literacy and numeracy.

It turns out that the scores of Jakarta adults in these two areas are as bad as the scores of 15 year old children throughout Indonesia. Of the 34 countries taking the PIAAC test, Jakarta consistently ranks at the bottom in these two competency areas, for all age groups (read the English version of the story here and the Indonesian version here).

The PIAAC score range for each competency is 0 to 500, and is then divided into several levels. For literacy and numeracy, there are 6 levels (under 1, then 1 to 5); and for problem solving there are 4 (under 1, then 1 to 4).
Jakarta's results are as follows (full report here) :

  • Almost 70% of Jakarta adults only reach level 1 or below. They can only read short texts on familiar topics to find specific information.
  • Less than 1% of Jakarta adults reach the highest level (4 or 5) in literacy. At level 4, adults are able to integrate, interpret, and synthesize information from long, complex texts that contain conflicting or conditional information. Only 5.4% of Jakarta adults reached level 3 (able to understand and respond to long texts, interpret or evaluate additional pieces of information, and make conclusions)
  • The average literacy score of Jakarta adults educated at university level is lower than the average score of OECD country residents aged 16–24 who have only completed primary school. Once again: undergraduates in Jakarta have lower literacy skills than OECD residents who have only graduated from elementary school.

  • 60% of Jakarta adults achieved level 1 or below. At level 1, adults can only carry out basic mathematical processes, such as counting, sorting, and calculating simple arithmetic with whole numbers.
  • Only 1.4% of Jakarta adults reached level 4 or 5 (understanding mathematical information that is complex, abstract, or comes from a new environment), while 9.1% reached level 3 (able to work with mathematical relationships, able to interpret and carry out analysis basic statistics).

Looking at the data above, it seems we have to admit that we are indeed "a nation of dunces ".

Analytical thinking skills can be improved
The picture above is indeed dark. It seems that something happens (or doesn't happen) in college so that less than 2% of our university graduates can reach the level of competency needed to be able to think analytically. But I won't discuss that here.

Fortunately, thinking abilities (including analytical thinking) can continue to be improved , much like we become better at sports in various branches. Improving analytical thinking skills begins with getting to know the methods and steps in analytical thinking in detail, then practicing by imitating under guidance and receiving feedback, until finally transferring these skills to another context.

To get acquainted with methods for analytical thinking, I recommend the book Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People by Ken Watanabe (2013). This book is written in easy-to-follow English (I do not recommend the Indonesian translation). The author explains the analytical thinking method through a short story about a specific and concrete situation, but it will be easy for readers to imagine its application in situations that are more relevant to them.
communication strategy, communication consultant, CSO communication, non-profit communication, communication training, NGO communication, communication for change
Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe.
I agree that “ good communicators make themselves look smart. Great communicators make their audiences feel smart. ” (Adam Grant, here ). Based on this opinion, for me Watanabe is a great writer (at least in this book).

After reading this book (which will only take 2 to 3 hours), the next step is to practice under the guidance of a mentor and receive feedback. Don't have a mentor? Recruit a mentor. In your work environment, you can invite people you respect because their competence exceeds yours. You can invite him to read this book (if he doesn't want to, he's not worthy of being your mentor). Then you can persuade him to guide you in developing a communications strategy in your organization.

Another way that is more certain (but not free) is to use Communication for Change services to develop your program's communication strategy. While developing a communication strategy, we will also build your organizational capacity so that you can do it yourself. You can start by scheduling a free one-hour consultation below.

Godspeed, rebels.
PS: if you have questions regarding communications for the non-profit sector, whether for civil society organizations or think tanks, please send questions to our Twitter @C4C_ID by including #AskC4C.
Paramita Mohamad
Written by
CEO and Principal Consultant of Communication for Change. We work with those who want to make Indonesia suck less, by helping them get buy-in and make changes.

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