Published in The Sun 10 December 2012

MALAYSIA is facing the growing problem of having to deal with students who are unable to cope with academic demands, where more than 30% of primary school pupils do not move on to secondary school.

To keep the nation’s young within the school system, it is necessary to provide an alternative curriculum for those not academically inclined. It has become a matter of great urgency to develop vocational or technical education as part of the mainstream national education system and to put in place alternative paths that can meet the needs of schoolchildren.

Everywhere in the world, as the labour market becomes more specialised and economies demand higher levels of skill, the government and businesses are increasingly investing in vocational education through publicly funded training organisations and subsidised apprenticeship or traineeship initiatives for businesses.

Vocational programmes will help students to choose their field of interest, be honed in knowledge and trained with skills that can earn them a living. Educational values must be reoriented to respect not only the academic achievements of students but also their practical skills and know-how.

In the employment market, value must be placed not only on the traditional professions but also on work which requires technical skills and apprenticeship. Society must augment employment opportunities based on vocational training where the less academically inclined are given useful skills to gain employment.

To do this in a sustainable way, it is necessary for the Education Ministry to define a comprehensive Vocational Education Policy where, after primary school students can enter the vocational stream. Just as students are channelled into arts or science streams, those with poor results can be oriented towards technical subjects.

Schools will identify the less academic students in primary school and enable them to choose vocational education. This is a necessary provision to prevent the nation’s young becoming drop-outs. The school curriculum is obliged to equip youths with the necessary technical knowledge and skills to enter the job market.

To ensure the effective and efficient delivery of vocational education, schools must be equipped with the infrastructure, facilities and equipment as well as qualified technical teaching staff. The vocational/technical subjects will be designed and structured to enable students to acquire theoretical knowledge, follow instructions and do practical work.

To implement the Vocational Education Policy in a concerted manner, the following measures must be undertaken:

(i) Allocate a budget for schools to equip themselves with the necessary resources, infrastructure and equipment for the specific technical sector. For example, if information technology is chosen, there must be trained teachers/facilitators and adequate computer labs and IT equipment for the students. If mechanics is chosen, there must be work rooms, equipment and tools for their practical training.

(ii) Establish links with businesses and industries to lend their expertise in providing trainers and equipment for teachers and students in technical fields.

(iii) Set up apprenticeship programmes which will last from a few weeks to a few months. For example, students can spend three days a week in the workplace and two days studying at school – a combination that will hone the knowledge and skills, and provide the exposure to make them highly employable. They will enter the job market as real techno-professionals, with the school and work experience together forming a solid basis of theoretical and practical skills.

(iv) Encourage young people to start thinking about their future early. The most academic students are generally allocated to a secondary school in their early teens (based on exam results). A smaller percentage will go on to do matriculation or A levels for entry into college and university. The majority will stay in general education before choosing apprenticeships or specialist vocational schools at 14 or 15.

Giant corporations as well as smaller business houses must make it their business to offer training facilities to teachers and apprentice students. In this way, Malaysia will develop a pool of trained and skilled workers to meet its needs in the technical sectors. An effective vocational education with an apprenticeship system will propel the economic system to produce workers, goods and services that meet the highest international standards.


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