PETALING JAYA: There are new challenges in the labour market which would require talents who are not necessarily good academically, says an economist.
But Fatimah Kari of Universiti Malaya said Malaysian employers were still heavily dependent on paper qualifications in the recruitment process.
She said many failed to exploit talents and skills among students who don’t perform well academically.
This emphasis on grades has led to a cycle of economic and educational inequality.
“If the kids get higher grades, they’ll have more access to tertiary education opportunities,” she told FMT in a recent interview, adding however that those in rural and indigenous communities in Sabah and Sarawak were still left behind.
Fatimah said she supported recent calls for reforms of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), long considered an alternative stream for students who do not perform well academically.
Fatimah said a factor in ensuring economic equality in the country was access and affordability of education.
She said rich parents could provide better opportunities for their children.
Citing a government-funded study on rural education conducted in Kemaman, Terengganu, Fatimah said it was found that children in rural areas have their own unique talents that the present labour market fails to exploit.
“Yet, they are the same students who are not going to make it in SPM examinations. I don’t think they would be able to get the A’s and B’s that the existing system prizes so much,” she said.
“Eventually, these children will be another generation which will fall below the poverty line, within poor families, and the inequality in our country will just continue.”
Fatimah acknowledged that there is an emerging trend where companies are becoming more flexible when in evaluating one’s skills.
She said future jobs would be very different.
“We are hoping these changes will narrow the inequality gap,” she said.
She urged the government to set up mechanisms to encourage the trend, saying TVET could be excellent in narrowing the gap.
She said TVET should take into account the inequality and differences in education that were dependent on variables such as parent affordability and access to institutions.
“But having TVET by itself and expecting it to function on its own is not going to work either,” she added.
Fatimah said TVET should not be seen as a “last resort” option for those who are academically poor.
Instead, it should be placed on par with other lines of education.
She said one shortcoming of TVET is the limited accessibility to training centres.
“It is very difficult for poor families because the location of where they can go for TVET is very far away.”
Considering the current target being poor families with limited transportation, most people cannot afford the long travel or accommodation, she said.
“Then, we will be back to the cycle where education is only for those who can afford it,” she said.
Fatimah suggested that TVET be offered in conventional schools, as the facilities were already in place.
“What’s wrong with that?” she asked.
“You don’t need to build another huge infrastructure, because a school has all the infrastructure they would need. It has the staff, teachers, halls and labs. All that is left to do is to offer the appropriate syllabus,” she said.
Fatimah does not agree with having a standard syllabus across all facilities, but instead recommended localising the syllabus to reflect the economic activities.
“The profile of the local economy must be reflected in the TVET syllabus offered in the training centres,” she said.
Giving an example of Semporna in Sabah, which is famous for its tourism industry, she said the TVET offered in a centre there should consist of skills related to tourism and hospitality.
He said TVET students would then be guaranteed a job that suits the local economy.