Time to move forward

THE much anticipated 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) is aimed at empowering and improving the country’s education sector.

Some 30 pages – more than most other sectors detailed in the report – are dedicated to developing quality students and graduates from school to tertiary level.

The five-year report (2021-2025) is focused on elevating several key areas of the education system, including providing more job opportunities for all Malaysians.

According to the 12MP, the government will focus on realigning the labour market for inclusive and sustainable growth, developing future-ready talent, increasing job opportunities for Malaysians, achieving equitable compensation of employees, improving labour participation and strengthening the labour market support (see infographics).

During the tabling of the RM400bil report themed “A Prosperous, Inclusive, Sustainable Malaysia” on Sept 27, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the improvements on the education system would include strengthening science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; replacing dilapidated schools, strengthening Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes, and creating a more flexible higher education system.

But can the 12MP bring our education system forward? StarEdu caught up with academicians and educationists to hear what they have to say.


Multifaceted challenges

The challenges facing the education sector, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said, are multifaceted.

“To achieve the ambitious objectives of the 12MP, it is important to shed the silo mentality that has plagued previous blueprints.” Parmjit“To achieve the ambitious objectives of the 12MP, it is important to shed the silo mentality that has plagued previous blueprints.” ParmjitIn higher education, these include issues ranging from graduate underemployment and unemployment, access to higher educational opportunities particularly for the underprivileged, brain drain of bright talent and the over-regulation of the private higher education sector.

“The imminent shifts in job roles globally as a result of rapid advancements in digital technology also raise questions about our ability to produce future-proof talent.

“If these issues weren’t serious enough, the pandemic has turned our labour market on its head, resulting in critical challenges surrounding economic recovery, affordability, unemployment and the fear of similar debilitating events in the future.

“As such, at no point in the country’s recent history has a National Plan been as critical as the 12MP,” he said.

To achieve the ambitious objectives of the 12MP, Parmjit said it is important to shed silo mentality that has plagued the implementation of previous strategic blueprints.

The country’s education system, he said, must be seen as a whole and talent development should be viewed as a continuum from preschool right up to tertiary and TVET education.

“The outcomes at each level must flow continuously and seamlessly into the next level towards producing skilled, resilient and highly employable talent who will propel our economy.

“This requires close coordination and cooperation between all the agencies involved in talent development, working with public and private education providers and with industry to nurture and monitor outcomes.

“Stability and consistency are also key factors; the strategies outlined should be allowed to run their course without hindrance,” he explained.

The country’s private higher education sector, he said, needs to be strongly facilitated, supported and incentivised to enable it to play a strategic and complementary role in talent development.

This is because almost half of the country’s talent are produced in private higher education institutions and are a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product, he added.

Details needed

The 12MP initiatives, National Association of Private Educational Institutions (Napei) president Elajsolan Mohan believes, covers all aspects of the country’s education system to bring it to the right path.

He, however, said that the implementation and execution could prove to be a challenge.

Funding, he said, is a main concern. He cautions that the country’s current fiscal deficit may derail the implementation of the 12MP.The lack of coordination and concerted efforts from the relevant government agencies can also be a stumbling block to achieving the 12MP targets.

To ensure that the 12MP initiatives are implemented smoothly, it is vital for the government to improve the lack of coordination between ministries and agencies during the implementation of previous Malaysia Plans.

“To strengthen STEM, the government must first ensure there are industries ready to welcome graduates.” Prof Noraini“To strengthen STEM, the government must first ensure there are industries ready to welcome graduates.” Prof NorainiThis is especially crucial for a sector like TVET, he said, as it comes under the purview of several ministries and agencies.

“The 12MP is a comprehensive plan but it is lacking details.

Only the government’s focus areas are spelled out,” he said, adding that the 12MP talks about creating better infrastructure for TVET but the main issue with the sector is that not all school leavers want to take up skills-based training as it is seen as less prestigious compared to tertiary education.

The problem is compounded by the low salary for TVET graduates.

“We already have the necessary infrastructure for TVET in place. The issue is that TVET providers cannot fill the seats.

“We are finding it difficult to get school-leavers to take up skills programmes. More than 25% of SPM graduates do not enrol into any form of post-secondary programme.

“How do we address this?

Failing to solve this issue will lead to the loss of talent and this skills shortage will result in our continued dependence on foreign labour,” he said, while calling on the government to reveal the implementation details of the 12MP.

To ensure that skills-based training programmes are designed and implemented in tandem with the needs of the industry, Federation of JPK Accredited Centres (FeMac) president Azizul Mohd Othman said industry involvement is crucial.

“To enhance the quality of the TVET programmes and graduates, training should be conducted in collaboration with the industry to ensure that the courses are relevant. This will also provide trainees with the necessary industrial exposure.

“Without the industry’s serious, structured participation, we will be back to square one,” he said, adding that training institutions must be well prepared for the 12MP agenda in terms of course content, quality of trainers and training infrastructure.

The government, he said, must help training centres improve.

“Support in terms of subsidy and soft loans must be made available to assist these institutions, particularly those privately owned, as many of them are struggling to cope with the financial strain due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

“There is also a need for a comprehensive entrepreneurial development plan to upskill and reskill our graduates, especially those from the social sciences and humanities background as they are the majority of our unemployment statistics,” he said.

Be committed

The 12MP is a challenging plan to implement, especially in the current climate of the pandemic, National STEM Movement chairperson Datuk Prof Dr Noraini Idris said.

“There is a need to relook our teaching and learning, from primary school until university level.

“We also must be aware of industry demands and consistently ask ourselves, ‘What skills and knowledge do they need, as more sectors embrace technology?’“Successfully implementing the 12MP will require a strong commitment from the different ministries,” she noted.

Under the 12MP, STEM education will be strengthened to prepare students to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The measures outlined include introducing Inquiry-Based Science Education and Inquiry-Based Mathematics Education teacher training programmes to improve teaching and learning approaches, and a new and advanced STEM curriculum embedded with digital technologies.

The existing STEM For All programme will also be promoted by facilitating linkages between schools and industries and per capita grant for subjects under STEM programmes will be revised to provide adequate materials for students to conduct science experiments.

In addition, science labs will be upgraded to ensure teaching and learning processes include compulsory hands-on science activities.

Prof Noraini said 12MP must focus on job creation.

Using the example of how Malaysia created job opportunities when the national car maker Proton was launched in 1983, she said many STEM and TVET graduates were hired in the automobile industry in the years that followed and several universities were set up to focus on new areas that emerged from the growth of the automobile industry.

“It was well planned and we managed to produce local talent to run our automobile businesses.

“There were graduates who ventured into selling spare parts of vehicles, those who focused on technological areas and others who were involved in the business side of things. This is a healthy way to grow our economy and also ensure job opportunities for our talent.

“This can serve as a lesson as we move forward to implement the 12MP,” she offered.

To strengthen STEM, she said the government must first ensure that there are industries ready to welcome graduates.

She said during former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s tenure, he campaigned on the importance of biotechnology which saw many students enrol in the course at university.

These days, she said, biotechnology graduates find it difficult to seek employment within the field.

“To strengthen both TVET and STEM, we must strike a balance between what courses and programmes students take and job opportunities available for them,” she said.

But the pandemic, she added, will make it tricky to execute even the best laid plans.

“The primary concern would be how these plans will be implemented and executed, and whether there are sufficient funds to do so.”Elajsolan“The primary concern would be how these plans will be implemented and executed, and whether there are sufficient funds to do so.”Elajsolan“Students have been stuck at home for more than a year, meaning that they have been deprived of a conducive environment to conduct STEM experiments and experience hands-on skills training programmes.

She said these areas of study, in particular, require more than just theoretical knowledge as practical application is vital.

“The relevant ministries and industry players must take all these factors into account when discussing the implementation of the 12MP.

“One important question is whether there is a need to retrain our graduates to match what the industry requires in light of the changes brought about by the pandemic.”

The 12MP, she said, addresses the various issues the country’s education system is facing.

But there must be more roundtable discussions and feedback from citizens, including industry players.“It’s one thing to lay out these plans, but another to actually see through their implementation,” she said.