Demystifying TVET of misconceptions and preconceived ideas

Many still have the impression that technical and vocational programmes are mainly for ‘non-performing’ school leavers

by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic credit: UNGKU OMAR POLYTECHNIC

SOME three to five decades ago, grading of students and their capabilities and potentials seemed to be simplistic and straightforward.

The assessment of each student and their potentials, apart from academic wise, would also be based on talents and interests in elective fields like visual and performing arts, oratory skills, sports and other curricular activities.

Ending up in the science stream after passing your Sijil Rendah Pelajaran or Lower Certificate of Education, you might be considered a cut above the rest.

For those who did not do well in science and mathematics, but excelled in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English, you’d be placed in the arts stream.

Students who were good with numbers, but seemed average in other subjects, would likely be doing commerce.

As for students who average overall in every subject, but with a keen interest in skill-based matters, they could opt for any of the vocational or technical schools.

The assessment and growth of each student would also continue into the tertiary level.

Science students who did well in their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia or Malaysian Certificate of Education would be a first choice for scholarships to study abroad or to immediately get placed in any of the local universities.

For the arts stream students, they would have to most likely complete the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia or Higher School Certificate before being accepted into any local universities.

As for technical and vocational school leavers, some would pursue their studies at any of the polytechnics and various institutions that offer skill-based courses.

The “slackers”? They would go straight into the workforce, most probably in workshops or any industrial-based sector.

In short, there seemed to be a hierarchy system and pattern that might have also created a rather rigid outcome.

The “lowest” in the rank could be any agricultural-based subject. Sad but true, and the most disconcerting part was how people in general would grade (or degrade) others based purely on their academic standings.

Even when the education system began to evolve with more emphasis on niche expertise and interests, people were still boxed or stereotyped easily according to their “caste”.

Some 10 years ago, many would have the impression that technical and vocational programmes were mainly for “non-performing” school leavers.

In fact, it is still a general assumption today that such programmes are designed for those who do not score with flying colours or perhaps fail in their school assessments.

Technical and vocational programmes are also viewed as a “lifeline” for those who have the interest to pursue their studies at tertiary institutions.

The perception is, however, changing. Slowly but surely. With the advent of technology and the emphasis on Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0), the need to increase the number of personnel within the domain is crucial.

Technical and vocational education training, or better known as TVET, is currently getting much attention.

While the government seems to be going all out in promoting TVET as the next big thing, the struggle to change the perception is still very real.

The Malaysian Reserve takes a look at the development of TVET institutions, which have more than 120 years of history.

From Pre-Independence to the Beginning of Polytechnic

There are arguments that TVET started beyond the pre-independence era, particularly in the 1920s and even way before that.

According to reports, TVET started at an institution known as “trade school”, which was established to prepare local youth to work as mechanics and fitters at the national railways.

At that time, the railway system was being developed in a few states. It started with a line that connected Taiping to Port Weld in Perak which began operations in 1885.

In 1919, the British government in Malaya decided to set up a committee to review the needs for technical and industrial education, with a purpose to put forward measures that include the establishment of an agricultural school, as well as training facilities for the Forest Department.

The first Federal Trade School — a formal and proper institute of vocational training that emerged only in 1926, provided full-time three-year courses to train mechanics, fitters, machine workers and other technical capabilities.

Fast forward to post-independence, the Malaysian government formed the Technical Vocational Division in 1964 that was aimed at promoting technical and vocational education for the citizens.

Two public TVET colleges were also established in 1964, namely the National and Youth Skills Institute in Dusun Tua, Selangor, and the Industrial Training and Institute in Kuala Lumpur (KL).

Five years later, in 1969, the inaugural Ungku Omar Polytechnic (UOP) began operation in Ipoh, Perak.

The name was chosen as a tribute to the late Datuk Professor Ungku Omar Ahmad, the first Malay director of the Medical Research Centre in Malaysia.

UOP was opened by the Ministry of Education using a RM24.5 million fund from the Unesco that was allocated by the United Nations Development Programme.

It was a significant milestone of vocational and technical institution for Malaysia.

According to the official website, UOP only started with 300 students and 28-strong local academic workforce.

The lecture was held at the Daily Training Centre in Ipoh, Perak.

As a start, they were joined by 14 volunteers from Canada, the US, Germany and Japan who were flown to Ipoh to assist in the development of the programme.

UOP then shifted its operation to its own building in the same vicinity in Ipoh. The campus still exists today.

UOP syllabus was designed to produce skilled technicians in the field of engineering, middle executive officers and semi-professionals both in the public and private sectors.

In the early years, only four academic departments were established comprising engineering in civil, electrical and mechanical field, as well as commerce programme which were mainly at the certificate levels.

Now, UOP has evolved into nine academic departments, including highly skilled courses such as marine engineering and various technical modules which focus on diploma and degree programmes.

Currently, there are 36 polytechnics in the country, which are divided into three categories — premier (3), conventional (28) and metro (5).

Premier polytechnics are UOP, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Polytechnic in Shah Alam, Selangor, and Ibrahim Sultan Polytechnic in Johor.

As part of its initiative to improve the quality and image of polytechnics, certificate-level courses were no longer offered from the July 2010 intake.

Polytechnics have since focused on the diploma and advanced diploma programmes, aiming to increase 30% number of places offered for diploma programmes from 60,840 in 2009 to 87,440 in 2012 and 119,000 enrolments by 2015.

Along the way, TVET institutions began mushrooming, initiated by the federal government, state administrations and private colleges.

These institutions include Industrial Training Institutes, Mara Vocational Institutes, National Youth Development Corps and the Centre for Instructor and Advanced Skill Training.

The institutes have either been expanded or established to provide technical and vocational education and skills training which are not limited to only vocational programmes, but also in line with the upskilling and reskilling agenda.

The expansion also includes the establishment of 102 community colleges throughout the country.

One Parliament, One Community College

In July 2000, the Cabinet approved the proposal to set up community colleges in every 193 parliamentary constituencies nationwide.

The idea was to provide a greater opportunity for school leavers in the respective community areas, before they enter the job market.

It started with only 10 community colleges in June 2001, which then grew to 35 colleges operating throughout the country in the same year.

The government then set up the Department of Polytechnic and Community College Education in March 2004, to oversee both polytechnics and community colleges which were restructured in 2009 — known as Department of Community College Education (JPKK).

The mission of JPKK is to widen the access to education for all levels of society through various training programmes through a life-long learning approach.

The number of community colleges further grew to 72 in 2015 and 102 at present, which also offer upskilling and reskilling training to the employees in the job market.

Teaching the Teachers

The growth of TVET institutions would not be able to achieve the current level without the development of the academic workforce.

In 1960, the Education Policy Review Committee suggested the formation of a school to supply technical teachers.

The recommendation was made in line with the Rahman Talib Report which recommended that one of the four key aspects was to emphasise TVET in school for labour supply.

In June 1960, the federal government agreed to import technical experts from Canada to assist in the school formation.

Under the Colombo Plan Training Project, the co-discussions included the estimation of building expenses, campus design, workshops, laboratories and curriculum.

As a result, the first Technical Education Campus (TEC) was established in Jalan Damansara, KL, in May 1962.

The formation of the school and the programme was also incorporated in the Education Act 1961.

However, to ensure that the programme kicked off with the right tune, Malaya at that time had to rely on Canadian expertise for the first five years.

Under the agreement, the Canadian government will have to provide teaching staff, while formulating syllabus and organise training for local labour.

Compared to Malaya, Canada had an ancient history in TVET, when trade schools were established by the Roman Catholic Church in 1668.

According to the Canadian encyclopaedia, among the syllabus provided were cabinet making, carpentry, masonry, roofing, shoemaking and tailoring, as well as sculpting and painting. These subjects were taught both as trades and as art.

After five years, TEC was handed over to the Malaysian government in 1967. The campus was then shifted to Jalan Yaacob Latiff, Cheras, KL.

TEC’s role became pivotal to support the Multipurpose Educational System in 1965, which resulted in the introduction of new subjects at secondary schools.

The subjects were corporate arts, agricultural science, trading and household and domestic science.

TEC later initiated the carpentry course in 1970.

Two years later, trade studies course was rolled out at TEC, after the Department of Trade Studies was transferred to the college in an effort to combine the technical and vocational majors.

Since 2006, TEC, which was also known as Maktab Perguruan Teknik, was renamed as Teacher Educational Institute of Technic Educational Campus (IPGKPT).

In January 2013, IPGKPT moved for the second time to a bigger facility in Bandar Enstek, Negri Sembilan.

It is now able to train 300 students and graduated teachers annually in the technical and vocational related programmes.

Maszlee says the govt’s target to raise the percentage of skilled workers to 35% is achievable (pic by Muhd Amin Naharul)

What Else Needs to be Done?

The need to strengthen TVET in the country has been widely acknowledged in numerous countries and unions as part of technical innovation and globalisation which could drive the production of a higher income country as well as a step to curb poverty simultaneously.

After more than 120 years, the country has witnessed major changes in the TVET evolution, which started out as an experiment based on the success of a model from another country.

Today, there is a dedicated IPG campus for teaching supplies and almost 1,000 TVET institutions around the country.

However, it is still rather tricky to push TVET in the national primary roadmap, even after it became one of the key components in the 10th Malaysia Plan.

It is the primary force of the government’s aspiration to raise the percentage of skilled workers in the country to 35% or 225,000 from the total employment in 2020 from the current 28%.

While 92% of TVET graduates are able to obtain employment after graduation, about 70% of them earn less than RM1,500 per month — making the job market less attractive for school leavers, despite having to deal with “dirty and dangerous” works.

Last August, the government formed a centralised committee, together with technical expertise to study the viability of TVET programmes.

Named as the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Empowerment Cabinet Committee, it comprises eight ministries which currently conduct TVET programmes — namely human resources, youth and sports, works, rural development, entrepreneur development, agriculture and agrobased industry, domestic trade and consumer affairs and education.

The committee, which is chaired by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik, is aimed at strengthening the coordination and cooperation between ministries and stakeholders within the TVET ecosystem.

According to Maszlee, the 35% target is achievable. His sentiment was also echoed by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Datuk Soh Thian Lai, who is optimistic that the vision could be met, especially as the new education method moves from “train and place” to “place and train”.

Using the formula, Soh said 70% of the students’ time will be spent with the corporation they work for, closing the ties and boosting the confidence between the two parties.

Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran had also said in news reports that TVET graduates and employees could earn a good living. In terms of monetary, the government has allocated RM5.9 billion in Budget 2020 to mainstream TVET institutions, an additional increase from RM5.7 billion allotted in 2019.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said the government would also expand the career pathway for TVET graduates to further their studies and to secure jobs.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Technical University Network is expected to conduct degree courses for trainees graduating from vocational colleges starting next year.

The government has also reiterated on many platforms that TVET would be the way forward to drive the country’s economy.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also urged industry players and TVET institutions to cooperate and work towards matching the TVET supply and demand.

He said Malaysia could not afford to be left behind in this fast-changing technological era especially via IR 4.0.

He added that training skilled workers would also reduce the country’s dependence on foreign workers.

Malaysia is only two months’ away from 2020 and the expectations to supply an additional 30,000 TVET graduates in the job market may look tough if the public still doesn’t have the right mindset on TVET and the related institutions.

Without the right mindset and the weak perception on TVET, the country might not only have more unemployed and unskilled workers, but would also have to deal with a growing number of foreign labours which currently register at 1.7 million.

It may take a strong political will by the government, supported by the employers and public at large to take a drastic approach in nourishing TVET as the next big thing.

It has to keep going, like how the Canadians strived to elevate their vocational and technical resources. After all, “Rome was workers to 35% is achievable not built in a day”.