KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — Putrajaya has launched a pilot programme for vocational training in a bid to narrow the education divide between both sexes as girls continue to outnumber and outshine boys in secondary school. Singapore’s Straits Times (ST) reported today the government’s “taster programme” was this year introduced in 15 schools to “expose academically weak male pupils starting from the age of 13 to vocational skills in areas such as carpentry and electrical wiring” and as a means to keep them in schools. “We are trying to catch potential dropouts before they fall out of the system,” Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong was quoted as saying by the Straits Times today. He added those in the scheme earn certificates for each year of study completed, with the Form Four certificate being the vocational equivalent of the usual Form Five school certificate. The ST report said its purpose was to teach these “lost boys” work and life skills, and keep them in school long enough that they do not end up on the streets. The “lost boys” phenomenon was raised in the preliminary National Education Blueprint launched this month which warned of the risk of creating a “community of educationally marginalised young Malaysian men”. Referring to the blueprint, the ST article noted reports on interviews with parents and teachers suggest that some boys struggle with mainstream academic curricula and would benefit from vocational training. This in turn reflected UNICEF’s report last year that from 2005 to 2009, 34 per cent of 500,000 primary pupils a year in Malaysia did not move on to secondary school. Most were boys, with 85 per cent from poor families. Girls now make up 70 per cent of intake at some major universities and performed better in school examinations from primary school onwards. Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) educationist Dr Abdul Jalil Ali said shifting towards vocational education could be one way to ensure that all young Malaysians learn some useful skills. “Not everyone thrives in the academic world. The country also needs highly skilled workers,” he told the ST. However, he explained the government now needs to review teaching methods to keep boys interested as research has shown that girls and boys learn differently — girls tend to learn well in classrooms while boys are less likely to enjoy passive learning.