EDUCATION reform in Malaysia has been long overdue and it is undeniable that to be a developed nation, major changes have to be made. Ensuring access to education for all gives us a powerful weapon to reduce and even eliminate poverty.
We must provide marginalised individuals especially those who do not pursue a university degree, access to an alternative means of education that would allow them to work in a theoretically considered and practically competent way.
To achieve this, the government aims to overhaul Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET).
TVET is a dual vocational training system that promotes competency-based education and training linked to industry needs. TVET students undergo classroom learning and informal learning at workplaces. Graduates are accepted into companies as they are better equipped to cope with the challenges.
As we prepare to face the challenges of Industrial Revolution 4.0, it is especially important for those in the B40 group to uplift themselves through vocational learning. Many are struggling to find jobs within key industries because they lack the required skills and technical expertise.
The government spends RM4.5 billion on TVET courses annually, and programmes are run across seven different ministries.
However, there are some massive challenges that must first be addressed. There is little coordination between these ministries on how the programmes are run and in some cases their functions overlap. For example, the Education Ministry is responsible for community colleges and polytechnics, while the Youth and Sports and the Rural and Rural Development ministries also oversee public training institutions.
TVET has been seen as an unpopular alternative for many students and it has failed to attract the numbers. A report published by the Khazanah Research Institute last month on the “School-to-Work Transition of Young Malaysians” states that only 13% of all upper secondary students are pursuing TVET courses while at the higher education level, less than 9% are in polytechnics. This is in contrast to Germany, Switzerland and even Singapore where more than half of their students end up in TVET instead of universities.
The report also highlighted the negative perception towards TVET with both students and parents regarding it as an “inferior educational pathway, deadend and for the academically challenged”.
The often-cited model for reform is the German dual vocational training system where companies and government vocational schools work in cooperation to produce skilled workers. Vocational training is coordinated and regulated by policies and the qualifications produced are recognised by the state, the economy and society. The German model has resulted in low unemployment rate and it upgrades its continuous training of skilled workers to meet the demands of their economy as it changes over time.
The close social partnership between TVET institutes, the government, private individual industries, employer associations and the relevant chambers of commerce and unions plays a vital role to develop the standards for vocational training in Germany.
Adapting the German model to Malaysia however is easier said than done. One of the biggest differences is the longstanding tradition of vocational training in Germany that has received wide public support. Companies are willing to take part in training students and TVET is generally seen as a recognised qualification.
If we aim to emulate the success of the German model, we must work towards changing the perception of the public towards TVET, and make the system more appealing
TVET graduates in Malaysia are not being recognised as professionals and there is a significant wage problem that needs to be solved to ensure that graduates are not marginalised and continuously left behind. The average maximum salary reported by public sector employers for workers with TVET qualifications is around RM3,000 lower compared to university graduates and only about RM500 more than for school leavers.
There is genuine concern about the ability of the system to address the employability of young Malaysians and their marketability and adaptability to meet the demands of a rapidly changing labour market, especially with the onset of Industrial Revolution 4.0. The point about outdated TVET syllabus was recently highlighted by the National Union of the Teaching Profession and the National Parent-Teacher Associations’ Vocational and Technical Consultative Council.
To tackle this issue, reforms must concentrate on institutionalising vocational training to include setting strategic plans and mechanisms that would allow for continuous research and changes to make the system constantly relevant to meet the demands of industry. The government must work with key industry players to institutionalise their role within the framework of an evolving TVET system.
Among the suggested reforms by former TVET special taskforce head Nurul Izzah Anwar includes establishing an Industry Skills Education and Training Commission to facilitate data sharing between all TVET institutes, coordinate TVET programmes with industry needs, and oversee job security and more meaningful wages for TVET graduates.
She had suggested a ratings system for different TVET institutes, which would allow parents and students to assess which schools are best for them.
Hopefully these measures will push us closer towards achieving a sustainable vocational training system that will rival university-level education.