By Haresh Deol
“OUR education system is broken. The way we educate future generations no longer prepares them adequately for the skills and jobs of today.”
Those were the words of Stephane Kasriel, chief executive officer of the world’s top freelancing website Upwork in his article ‘4 predictions for the future of work’ published on the World Economic Forum website on Dec 5, 2017.
Education worldwide is facing a revolution. Institutions established hundreds of years ago are redesigning their teaching approach as the world braces for the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will see the creation of many new jobs.
The traditional classroom experience is no longer relevant as schools and higher learning institutions are beginning to realise many graduates don’t have employability skills. In short, most students and graduates are ill-prepared for the workforce.
In a May 2017 interview with eGov Innovation, Pasi Silander, Digitalisation Lead of City of Helsinki, Finland, was quoted as saying: “The school of the future is not a building; it is a culture of competence development, a pedagogical culture that has an active role in the development of the society.
“Schools and educational institutions need a systemic change of operational culture and a new pedagogical leadership. A change can only be made by ensuring that pedagogical leadership is actively oriented towards the future.
“This is a great challenge to education leaders – they have to rebel and go against old schooling traditions that persist very strongly among teachers.”
Generally, students who are technically sound and hail from a vocational background better understand what is required of a certain job or project.
I can attest to that. Upon completing my SPM, I applied to several public universities. However, my cousin Charanjit Kaur, who was then studying business administration at Politeknik Ungku Omar in Ipoh, advised me to apply for a spot in a polytechnic as well.
I heeded her advice and was offered a diploma in Civil Engineering course at Politeknik Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah in Shah Alam, Selangor. Being a Grade One science stream student who spent two months in Form Six, the experience at the polytechnic was an eye-opener.
Upon completing my diploma, I read law. Many of my polytechnic mates continued their degree in civil engineering. Many are flying high and involved in mega projects.
My coursemate M. Davendra, 35, was a senior engineer with Sunway Construction Sdn Bhd and was involved in the construction of MRT (Line 1 and 2). He is now attached to MRCB George Kent Sdn Bhd and is working on the LRT3 from Bandar Utama to Johan Setia.
Ann Kee Tong, 36, went on to pursue his degree at Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten) before obtaining his Master of Science in Civil Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is now the assistant general manager in Singapore-based Terratech Engineering Pte Ltd.
His wife, Ho Pui Moon, who was also our polytechnic mate, completed her masters in the National University of Singapore and is now the executive engineer at Surbana Jurong Consultants Pte Ltd.
There’s also Nor Hafizah Mohd Suhadis. The former SM Teknik Klang student is now a senior assistant director at the Department of Irrigation and Drainage.
As for my cousin Charanjit, she is Head, Outbound Operations at Daythree Business Services Sdn Bhd – a fast growing regional business service provider based in Petaling Jaya.
Nor Hafizah said her vocational training over the years enabled her to be fully prepared for the real world.
“I remember when I was doing my degree, my non-vocational varsity mates would often pair up with the vocational students during field assignments. They acknowledged we were better at practical work.”
“And when you enter the workforce, it’s all about having the right skills and the right attitude,” she said.
Ann echoed her sentiments. He said: “Vocational training should not be seen as a second or third option. It’s time we changed the mindset of the majority and view it as a first option.”
This is true as many parents, teachers and students are still under the impression that technical or vocational studies are only for those who are weak in studies.
The ‘stereotyping’ in schools is evident as straight-A students are forced into the science stream while weaker students are told to take up arts, commerce or enter technical schools.
The government, specifically the Education Ministry, has never set rules that segregate students in such a manner but administrators with tunnel vision mindset have created the wrong perception about our education system in general.
Till today, these administrators fail to realise times have changed and that the out-of-the-box hands-on approach is the future.
One varsity that has been advocating vocational and technical training for decades is Limkokwing University.
The university has created industry-ready graduates by equipping youths and adults with technical skills to enter the workforce and prides itself in developing entrepreneurial and innovative mindsets.
It is reported the university will be the first higher learning institution in Southeast Asia to offer drone training beginning February 2018.
With Amazon and Google testing ways to deliver packages by drone, job openings in this field are inevitable. Avi Flombaum, dean of the coding bootcamp Flatiron School, predicts there will be a need for drones to be regulated by an air traffic system similar to what airplane pilots use.
A whopping RM4.9 billion will be allocated to implement the Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Malaysia Master Plan, as revealed in Budget 2018. In short, we can expect 2018 to be TVET’s year.
Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot said providing industry 4.0 relevant skills through TVET programmes would prepare the human capital for nation building with the right knowledge and skills.
In his speech at the launch of the National Conference on the 4th Industrial Revolution Skills Development: Road Map to the Future in Putrajaya on Dec 20, 2017, he added: “Governments around the world have increasingly recognised the significance of TVET courses towards supporting their national economy.
“For example, Germany has 81 per cent skilled workforce, of which 63 per cent are skilled craftsmen graduated from dual training system and vocational courses, and only 18 per cent from universities.
“Looking into the future, Malaysia is also embarking on this trend and targets to increase such collaborations with the industry,” he said.
The Education and Higher Learning Ministries will play a huge role in creating the right perception regarding TVET courses. But it is the Human Resources Ministry that should take the lead by creating opportunities for skilled graduates.
The biggest battle remains in changing society’s perception towards technical and vocational training.
Malaysia is not alone.
India’s Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, last month said: “We are targeting to improve societal perception of Technical and Vocational Education and Training. By collectively marketing the importance of TVET, we provide an international relevance to our localised efforts.”
German Ambassador to Ghana, Christoph Retzlaff, said current perception that TVET was a second-best option to a university education did more harm than good to socio-economic development in Ghana.
“In my country, Germany, and your country and many other places in the world, you can build a successful and sound career if you do not opt for university but rather opt for sound professional training,” he added.
The spillover of TVET could result innovative teaching methods in primary and secondary schools. This will help create global innovators.
To make this happen, we need to embrace radical changes, shed the stigma against vocational training and ensure TVET is injected in education at all levels.
* Haresh Deol is a multi-award winning journalist.