START a conversation about the education system and someone is bound to be riled up. With global indicators showing that our children lag behind in literacy and numeracy skills, and our graduates lack soft skills and are unemployable, it’s hardly surprising.
The common view is that we need to do something about our education system. But are we certain of the real problems and how we should solve them? First, we know that our human capital falls short in quality and quantity. We need more graduates, particularly in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Statistics show that about two-thirds of our workforce have secondary qualifications and below.
We look up to South Korea and envy its achievement in economic and human capital development. It managed to escape the middle income trap when we haven’t. At an extraordinary rate of 98 per cent, it boasts the highest gross tertiary education enrolment rate in the world. Virtually all South Korean youth go to university after secondary school. Like South Korean parents, Malaysian parents, too, place a high value on university education. We take pride in our children who have obtained a place in universities, and even more so, if they are abroad.
More universities were built locally as demand for higher education spiked, especially with the opening up of the industry to private sector players. As a result, our gross enrolment rates have increased from about 22 per cent in 1998 to about 37 per cent in 2013.
But, along the way, we realise that this approach is slowly breaking down. The economy is suffering from a severe labour mismatch amidst the persistent shortfall in the number of students in STEM.
Perhaps the economy doesn’t need as many university graduates. Even South Korea is being saddled with the same realisation. Although employing about 90 per cent of the South Korean workforce, its small and medium enterprises are unable to attract local talents who instead prefer to work with the higher-paying chaebols, or the top-ranked companies. In 2011, Lee Myung-Bak, the former South Korean president, warned its youth against a reckless entrance into universities. The Economist magazine said that the country is “glutted with graduates”.
But culture and perceptions are not easily changed. Our people — students, parents and policymakers — remain obsessed with obtaining university degrees.
Nowadays, there is increasing attention towards technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and, as PEMANDU’s analysis has revealed, at least 40 per cent of the jobs to be created by 2020 require such qualifications.
A group of educationists and policymakers are now looking to countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, for inspiration. TVET in these countries not only have the society buy-in, it is also employer and market-driven. In Switzerland, about 70 per cent of its youth are enrolled in the vocational stream. About 30 per cent of Swiss companies host apprentices. Likewise, in Germany, about 60 per cent of high school graduates go on a vocational training programme that embeds workplace training. Learning by doing is the cornerstone of their education system. As a result, the labour market in both economies held up pretty well during the European and global economic slowdown.The unemployment rate of 15-to-24-year-olds is relatively close to the adults (25-year-olds and above) unemployment rate, at about 1.5 times, when the global average is about three times.
TVET in Malaysia has been evolving. From vocational schools where fourth formers interested in a vocational course had to apply to special schools, to vocational programmes where students can choose a course at their local school, to basic vocational education where students can enrol in the vocational stream as early as Form One.
Access to vocational education has expanded. But, the main problem remains. Notwithstanding our achievements, vocational education is still seen as a choice for the “less-academically inclined” — a sugar-coated, politically-correct term — instead of it being career-centred. The moment TVET is sold as a route for those unable to perform academically, the more able students and their parents will immediately shy away from this path. The most needed reform would thus be to appreciate that, as much as STEM is no superior to non-STEM, the academic field is also no superior to TVET.
The two famous Adi Putras in this country — one a Maths genius, the other an actor — are both stars, but they are completely different. The point is, TVET should be made available to all, including the talented. We have to decide whether we want to do a South Korea or a Switzerland. Stop tinkering, because we need a whole new system. The writer is an independent researcher
Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2015/09/technical-training-also-gifted