By Nurul Izzah Anwar
Five ministries, two Malaysian national plans and more than RM10 billion spent over a span of three years, from 2015 to 2017 – and where is technical and vocational education and training (TVET) today?
Still plagued by stories of thousands of stranded, unqualified youths, awaiting placement and promises of a better future.
Regardless of the current state of affairs, everyone who cares about Malaysia’s future should support TVET as a means to empower Malaysia’s young – in line with our upcoming embrace of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
On Thursday, Education Minister Maszlee Malik announced my pro bono-related appointment as the head of the national task force to reform our country’s TVET programme.
Yesterday, the head of the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) decided it was a non-starter, considering the alleged mammoth powers required to structurally reform our TVET sector.
NUTP is certainly not wrong in raising concern on the viability of actions needed to revamp the Pandora-box filled TVET.
I recall a conversation with the secretary-general of the Youth and Sports Ministry, Lokman Hakim Ali, who was filled with excitement and planned for our Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) to adopt IR 4.0 as part of its curriculum.
Clearly, to bear fruit, the new government would have to continue with much more worthy initiatives than its predecessor – with full transparency, accountability and efficiency.
To succeed, we need all quarters on board. This is our Malaysia. It requires all of us to make anything work.
Reforming TVET requires us to think bigger than just focusing on courses and institutions.
At its very heart, while we accept the fact that people come with different talents in this world, we have a system that only measures and rewards one – academic talent.
Students who don’t make the cut are thrown into a group we now call the TVET system. This is a systemic problem and we should treat it as such.
Few would dispute the necessity of TVET in a modern economy; through formal and informal learning, TVET seeks to train and equip individuals with technical skills for the purpose of employment within certain industries.
While conventional education, obtained through the completion of university remains relevant, the incorporation of TVET as a mainstream option is of equal importance for young Malaysians seeking technical expertise to enter the working world.
Need for educational reform
TVET is also effective to develop a sustainable, inclusive and socially equitable society and thus should be central to plans for educational reform in Malaysia.
Although TVET has existed in various forms since the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plans, the reality is these efforts have been seriously disjointed in their implementation and are in dire need of thorough structural reforms.
TVET has almost been an afterthought, with incoherent policies often in conflict with each other.
Current TVET efforts, for example, are supply driven, which ensures individuals are trained in certain skills prior to any work placement, often leading to a severe mismatch of skills and industry.
Elsewhere, funding is usually wholly dependent on the government, a dependency which suggests a lack of focus on TVET should funds begin to dry up, as vocational training has not been a priority of the government in the past.
Certification to this point has been optional for both individuals seeking work and businesses, which has led to a lack of standards in employment.
Trainers involved in TVET have also lacked the quality required for those in their office, lacking clear industry expertise, while usually poorly trained themselves.
Additionally, synchronisation with tertiary education has been found wanting, making it difficult for those with TVET skills and certification to pursue university degrees and higher learning.
Revamping TVET has always been a key goal for Pakatan Harapan, included in the manifesto where we have promised to develop technical and vocational schools to be on a par with other streams, making it a viable option or alternative to all.
This includes setting up a full-board TVET school for outstanding students from all walks of life, enabling greater access to opportunities for all Malaysians.
Financial incentives to companies
Alongside these manifesto promises, a significant overhaul is needed for TVET implementation both in the long and short terms, especially if we hope to make significant progress before the year-end.
We should look to adopt international best practices as has begun in Penang with the implementation of the German Dual Vocational Training (GDVT).
This scheme offers financial incentives to companies that offer industrial training and/or internships to TVET students.
This is reflective of a demand-based approach, where industries are committed to offering apprenticeships based on their own requirements and TVET institutions meeting that demand.
This helps to ensure individuals are equipped with the relevant skills and assured of a strong degree of employment, representing an efficient outcome for everyone involved.
Industries and chambers should lead the way as they are best positioned to know the needs of the economy, supported by federal and state governments.
Reducing dependence on the government for both financial and institutional support compliments an industry-driven approach with the state providing assistance as needed.
Policy reform is thus the best approach for the government, creating favourable conditions for TVET institutions and providing incentives to both trainers and trainees, while ensuring co-ordination between industries and training centres.
Professional oversight, co-ordinated by the Department of Skills Development, under the human resources ministry, will ensure proper certification at all levels of both training and business.
Where certification was previously optional, it should now be made mandatory in order for those with TVET training to find employment as well as for businesses to be eligible to hire TVET graduates.
Such standardisation of qualification is long overdue if we want to treat TVET with the same seriousness and respect accorded to tertiary education.
Alongside this is better integration and crossovers with academic pathways to provide more opportunities for those who wish to further their formal education to enhance themselves as individuals, or change their career entirely.
At present, a lack of integration and accreditation prevents TVET graduates from qualifying from degree programmes at universities.
The Penang state government has sought to address this by introducing short-term measures aimed at providing accreditation and measures that can be further improved with concerted federal support.
These policy suggestions barely scratch the surface of the potential of TVET, one that can be harnessed to the total benefit of Malaysia and Malaysians through an inclusive approach and better engagement with all stakeholders.
These steps will go a long way to dismiss the stigma against TVET and its graduates through better integration in the economy, helping to increase their economic value and ultimately providing better wages.
A holistic improvement of education in Malaysia includes the recognition and enhancement of TVET, elevating it to a status equivalent or superior to traditional tertiary education.
We must demonstrate that a university education does not have to be the “be-all-end-all” goal for many Malaysians, and that many alternatives exist alongside these options.
A system that has for so long practised various forms of exclusion shall now be expanded to ensure no Malaysians are left behind.
The mandate given to me is to come up with a report on structurally reforming TVET before one year is up.
I’ll make sure, by post-engaging with stakeholders, we will have a clear operational step-by-step action plan.
I urge NUTP to be as loud and demanding as they are today. Time and tide waits for no minister in implementing much-needed reforms.
Malaysians, say hello to Industrial Revolution 4.0!
Nurul Izzah is Permatang Pauh MP.
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.