Sistem Edukasi SMA di Indonesia: Manakah yang harus kamu ambil? – Part 1


Sistem edukasi apakah yang harus kamu ambil? Apakah IB lebih bagus daripada Cambridge A level? Haruskah kamu mengambil ijasah nasional Indonesia? Melalui dua artikel ke depan, Yudhi Bunjamin, siswa yang pernah belajar di bawah banyak sistem edukasi di Indonesia akan menjelaskan bagaimana sistem edukasi SMA yang kamu ambil dapat mempengaruhi kesempatan kamu untuk belajar di luar negeri nantinya.

People often ask me which high school system is best for them or their child and it’s me they ask because I’ve been a “school-hopper”. In other words, I’ve had the opportunity to experience so many different school systems.

In Indonesia, we are actually spoilt for choice and I think we often fail to appreciate how we can choose from a wide range of high school curricula without having to leave the country. Even in Primary and Secondary school, we have a lot of options. However, something I feel that people also don’t realise is that choosing the right high school curriculum is very important in planning both for university and life in general and what is “best” for each person varies depending on individual circumstances, even though it should be noted that choosing a less suitable system isn’t the end of the world.

Having graduated from IPEKA International Christian School, I studied the New South Wales Higher School Certificate which although is not the most well-known of high school diplomas, it is still one of the most respected in the world. It’s a weird choice, I must admit, but even now I feel that it was what suited my circumstances best. I cannot stress more how important it is to choose what is specifically best for you; there is not one “best” system which the whole country should be doing. Inevitably, every system has its own faults.

In this article, I’m going to be comparing four high school diploma programs available in Indonesia:

  • Cambridge A Level
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB)
  • New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC)
  • Indonesian National Curriculum for SMA / Ujian Nasional

Before I go any further, I strongly advise that you do not rely entirely on the information in this article. Most of the information I’m providing is available online and doing your own research is always best. It’s always best to go directly to the source:

Also, some of what I’m saying is subjective and should be taken considering your personal circumstances.

Before exploring each of the systems, reflect on your personal circumstances. Try to answer these following questions:

  • What subjects do I want to study in High School?
  • What curriculum am I studying now and what curriculum am I already used to?
  • What major do I want to study in university?
  • Which country do I want to go to for university?
  • What type of system might suit me or my learning style best?
  • How sure am I of the answers to the questions above?

I’m not saying that you absolutely need to know the answer to all of these questions before high school; I didn’t know for sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do until a month before I started college. However, having a rough idea of these aspects or even having a shortlist of possibilities really helps.

To paint the big picture, I’ve put together a table to compare the programs before exploring each system in more detail:

A Level




Assessment Board Cambridge International Examinations (UK) International Baccalaureate New South Wales Board of Studies (Australia) Ministry of Education (Indonesia)
Subject Requirement (in the last year) Usually at least 2 AS and 3 A Levels. 3 Standard Level Subjects and at least 3 Higher Level Subjects At least 10 units of subjects (most subjects are 2 units) 3 core subjects and 3 stream subjects***
Study Load in the last year* Minimum 8 points 9 – 10 points** Minimum 10 points. Recommended 11 – 12 points 9 points***
Examination Period May-June and October-November May-June and October-November October-November April-May
Can be taken as a private candidate Yes No No Yes (Paket C)
Marks recorded in assessments throughout the year contribute to final result No Yes Yes Yes
Examples of Schools in Jakarta that offer it Raffles Int’l Christian School, Bina Bangsa School Jakarta Int’l School, British Int’l School,  Sekolah Pelita Harapan IPEKA Int’l Christian School All National and National Plus Schools

*The load of each program was calculated by equating it to points with the following assumptions: 2 points = 2 AS = 1 A = 1 HL = 2 SL = 2 HSC Units = 1.5 UN Examined Subjects. Difficulty or depth of content was not considered.

**Does not include TOK, CAS and Extended Essay.

***Excludes all subjects not examined in the National Exam.

Cambridge A Level

The Cambridge A Level program is administered by CIE (Cambridge International Examinations). The “Cambridge” brand has become one of the most reputable brands worldwide. According to the latest Cambridge Advanced brochure, the Cambridge International AS and A Level is taken by students in over 130 countries. There are over 400 000 entries for AS and A Level exams every year across 55 subjects which are offered. Typically, students will study two subjects at the AS Level (sometimes known as A2) and three subjects at the A Level. The AS syllabus of each subject covers half of the A Level syllabus and students sit both the AS and A Level examinations in each A Level subject they study.

Amongst the four programs I think this is by far the most rigorous one due to the depth of the syllabus coverage. It’s so rigorous that Cambridge A Level courses can count towards university credit at some US colleges. One thing about Cambridge that sets it apart from the other programs is that you can sit the exams and obtain an A Level diploma as a private candidate. This means that, for most subjects, you can self-study and sit the exams without studying in a Cambridge school (well, for Ujian Nasional you can sit for Paket C without studying in a national school but sometimes institutions don’t value Paket C as much as they value the regular SMA diploma).

International  Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB)

The International Baccalaureate is also a very well-respected high school qualification. The IB offers a broad range of subjects classified into six groups: Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies (Humanities), Sciences, Mathematics and The Arts. The catch is that each student must do one subject from each of the first five groups and another subject from either Group 6 (The Arts) or any other group. The purpose of this is to ensure that students are all-rounded. Subjects are offered at the Standard Level (SL) and the Higher Level (HL) and students have to study at least 3 HL subjects and the rest as SL subjects.

In addition to the six subjects, students have to complete three other core requirements: the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, and CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) (see for more details of each). Although these components are debatably very beneficial to students, it is indeed a lot of work as many of my IB friends have told me. These components also affect a student’s final IB score.

One of the greatest downfalls of the IB is that it’s a very expensive program which is why IB schools tend to have higher school fees. In fact, I was once told that if you find a cheap IB school, it’s a good idea to question if they really offer the full IB program. However, the IB program equips students with skills that are vital to success in university such as academic writing.

New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC)

Of all of the programs I know this one best because I sat the HSC myself. It is the rarest one; IPEKA International Christian School (IICS) is the only school accredited to offer the HSC in Indonesia. Despite how rare it is in Indonesia, I still decided to discuss the HSC because it represents all the High School diplomas offered in Indonesia that are actually another country’s national high school program.

One thing that people often forget is that when you try to study someone else’s national curriculum, everything is set out in the context of where it came from. In fact, for every subject, even the sciences, there is some tie to Australia that is part of the syllabus. For example, the Chemistry syllabus requires students to know the work of at least one Australian scientist. Not having the Australian context means that HSC students in Indonesia have to work a lot harder than the HSC students in New South Wales, which I feel is the greatest disadvantage of choosing the HSC. However, hundreds of students in IICS have gone through the HSC and have proven that it isn’t a very difficult obstacle to overcome.

Students studying the HSC have to complete at least 12 units of Preliminary HSC Courses in Grade 11 and then at least 10 Units of HSC Courses in Grade 12. Most subjects are typically worth 2 Units except for Extension courses. Everyone has to take at least 2 Units of English (English Standard or English as a Second Language). In addition, IICS requires all students to take 2 Units of Indonesian and at least 2 Units of Mathematics (and trust me these additional requirements that IICS sets out works very much in your favour). Students can choose from a broad range of other courses and there’s no restriction to the combination of these subjects (you can take all sciences or no sciences if you like).

One thing I like about the HSC is that it offers additional courses for Mathematics, namely Mathematics Extension 1 and Extension 2. These are one unit courses which you can choose to study on top of your regular two-unit Mathematics. How this is really good is that the HSC caters to a wide range of Mathematical capabilities.

At the end of Grade 12, students sit the final HSC exams which are administered by the New South Wales Board of Studies. Half of a student’s final mark in a course is determined by the final HSC exam while the other half is determined by marks in assessment tasks carried out by the school throughout the year. In addition to the HSC marks, students also get an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) which essentially is a number that reflects the relative position of a student’s overall performance in the HSC compared to other students in New South Wales who sit the HSC in your year.

Indonesian National Curriculum for SMA

This program is not only the most accessible but also quite simple. Everyone studies a number of compulsory subjects (Mathematics, Bahasa Indonesia, English) and then chooses one of three streams or jurusan: IPA (Sciences), IPS (Humanities) or Sastra (Literature). There’s not much to this. You probably already know about Ujian Nasional (UN) and all.

The major disadvantage is the lack of flexibility, although I do understand that it’s difficult to be flexible when you have three million candidates sitting the exams. However, I think the major disadvantage of studying the national curriculum is the fact that on top of your six UN-examined subjects you still have to worry about a lot of other subjects like PKn, Physical Education (PE) and Religion even in the weeks leading up to the National Exams because they are still a pretty big deal. The demands of those subjects are almost the same as the demands of your UN subjects. Studying for your PKn in-class test can sometimes feel just as important as studying for your Biology in-class test. In IICS, we still have other complementary subjects such as Character Building and PE, which admittedly are very important too. We have tests and projects for those subjects and we have to score well in them as well for promotion. However, I feel that the school is always trying to ensure that these subjects don’t seem to be or become too much of a big deal that it starts to interfere with our HSC subjects.

On the flip side, the national curriculum is actually quite rigorous and demanding. For example, IPA level Mathematics can be said to be on par with HSC Mathematics Extension 1. The only reason why it’s not that well recognised is because of the lack of credibility in the exam results both in terms of the administering of the exams and the way marks are produced. Furthermore, it’s taught in Indonesian which means that you won’t have to worry about the language barrier too much if your first language is Indonesian and you can just focus on the knowledge.

Now that you’ve understood all of your choices, go back to those questions you asked yourself in the beginning and begin to consider which system would suit you best.

On our next post, we would see on how each question should influence your decision in choosing the right high school education system.


Photo taken by IPEKA International Christian School.

Previous articleKehidupan Keluarga Mahasiswa di Amerika Serikat
Next articleSistem Edukasi SMA di Indonesia: Manakah yang harus kamu ambil? – Part 2
Yudhi Bunjamin
After sending out numerous college applications, Yudhi now studies a Bachelor of Science in Advanced Mathematics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Having experienced the Singaporean, Australian, Cambridge and Indonesian curriculum across ten different schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12, Yudhi considers himself a “third-schooled kid”. This, along with other unique experiences such as helping a troubled school in Bangka to develop its curriculum and mentoring junior students in his high school, has brought him to aspire to one day help improve education in Indonesia. Yudhi enjoys writing, traveling and meeting new people. He can be reached through
  • Kenn Winarta

    Education is now becoming more crucial for the next generation. It is also the most successful investment in the history of mankind. I hope that anyone who reads this realize that no matter how the circumstances bring you to a certain curicullum, it won’t work effectively if you do not give your best in learning. Learning only happens when we encounter difficult challenges.

  • Pingback: International Schools and “Local Content” | on with the job()

  • Felix

    Hi! I was still in the dark to consider where i belong in my education, either UN or A level which is more risky to take. So, i just want to ask, is there any private class to take As and A level that will not take my school-time?