Reforming Technical and Vocational Education (TVET)

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In the past few weeks, Malaysians have been both excited and rocked by certain announcements on education and foreign labour. The interlinked issues of education and foreign workers are contentious in almost every part of the world and Malaysia is no exception. In a bold move, Malaysian Education Minister Dr. Maszlee Malik appointed parliamentarian Ms. Nurul Izzah Anwar to head a committee to strengthen technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in the country despite criticisms. The HR Minister Mr. Kula ran into a minefield when he forgot the gastronomic desires of Malaysians and suggested a ban on foreign cooks in Malaysia. With the new Malaysian government giving people the courage to comment, there was no shortage of advice from the public.

It is important to see these trends in training and immigration control in the context of nation-building. Building the skills and capabilities of our students and making them economically successful are not isolated efforts. In the long run, no nation can afford to allow unfettered entry of foreign workers even though it may need some level of foreign skilled worker employment. It is also not advisable for a country to allow its citizens to remain unskilled or leave their skills underutilised. As the Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad rightly pointed out, social transfers such as BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia) payments to the needy serve a purpose – to cushion people from the worst effects of rising unemployment and falling incomes but such social transfers cannot be a long-term solution or replace long term skill-building efforts in a country.

In my thesis submitted to the Federation University, Australia, I focussed on the challenges faced in the development of the Malaysian VET system and the lessons that can be learned from the Australian and Singapore VET experiences. There is a need to consider the economic, social and educational contexts when developing TVET systems, given the social fabric of society. VET systems should be viewed beyond the lenses of politics and economics. Comparisons with other successful models such as the German and European models will serve no purpose unless we can create an ecosystem for TVET to be accepted into mainstream society and allowed to flourish.

The TVET sector in Malaysia has experienced significant change over the last two decades with a legislative push. Yet, the results are disappointing. As Ms. Nurul Izzah commented, “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.” As a case in point, newspapers highlighted the plight of 5,504 school-leavers left stranded after the programme they were enrolled in was put on hold. The problem is that TVET has not been industry-led. Once again, Ms. Nurul Izzah hit the nail on the head by noting that reforming TVET requires more than courses and institutions.

We can learn from the successes and failures in reforming the VET sector in both Australia and Singapore. Australia, which revamped its vocational training by implementing a training reform agenda focused on productivity and competitiveness. The multifaceted VET reform agenda was aimed at getting better results for students, employers, training providers and taxpayers. The reform agenda successfully made changes in VET that has positively influenced labour market activity, workforce participation and social inclusion. The new national vocational competency policy rightly takes an instrumentalist, industry-driven approach towards skill formation. Taking another example, in Singapore, policymakers have set up a high-skills ecosystem where different social partners are involved in promoting continuing education and training (CET). The aim is to improve the position of low-wage workers though increased job quality and skills utilisation. Singapore’s SkillsFuture is a national movement to provide every citizen with developmental opportunities to grow regardless of where they started. Skills development must lead to an inclusive society.

The Malaysian approach to skills formation is characterised by a severe lack of coordination between different agencies. While there is a quest to seek more funds for skills development, stakeholders reported wastage of available funds due to the absence of a single authority to oversee skills policy development. In Malaysia, there is no single authority over the VET landscape unlike in Australia and Singapore. In contrast,the VET policy strategies both in Australia and Singapore are built around the concepts of higher value and more productive work.

The gaps between VET policy and practice, rhetoric and implementation must be addressed by harmonising skills accreditation and ensuring that a single authority has oversight of the entire TVET landscape. Fund shortage in the context of multiple funding agencies in the country defies logic. Clearly, the focus must be on developing a skilled workforce and not on building agencies that consume funding with nothing to show. There is a need to promote the image of VET and restore parity of esteem with higher education, modelled on tangible initiatives such as the Accelerated Apprenticeship Programs of Australia and the Workforce Skill Qualifications (WSQ) of Singapore. Industry must be engaged and there may be a need to move to demand-side funding and provide incentives for Level 3 qualifications and above to meet labour market needs. Pathways must be established to allow crossover to higher education and acceptance by public sector.

In closing, it is pertinent to quote the words of a CEO who participated in this study: “Malaysian TVET should move on from being a provider of unusable readymade human capital to a provider of labour market ready human capital. But I would like to add that there is a need to make TVET more holistic and relevant to the country’s needs.”

References
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/06/21/pvma-programme-put-on-ice-5504-students-affected-by-education-ministry’s move

http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/06/22/nurul-izzah-defends-position-tvet-committee-head

Chettiar, P. R., Dr. (2018). The development of Malaysian VET system (Doctoral thesis). Federation University, Australia

Image from ewarta.mara.gov.my

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