After “besting” Singapore both in research publications and English proficiency, Malaysia has added, it seems, another feather in its cap.
But what is the reality of Malaysia’s TVET?
Consider the following. There is no national statistics on numbers enrolled in TVET, the number of trainers or the number of people trained, let alone by subject matter or type of training.
Unesco’s Institute for Statistics puts the enrolment in secondary vocational education at 178,480 in 2010.
This compares with secondary school enrolment of over 2.3 million in the same year. Even allowing for underestimation of TVET enrolment, it is less than 10% of secondary school enrolment.
Indeed, the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 has signalled TVET as one of ten “shifts” that must be made to strengthen Malaysia’s education.
Why is this shift needed? In 2013, at the World Bank’s request, my colleagues and I completed a year-long study of the system.
The Malaysia study, together with studies for other countries, can be found at http://saber.worldbank.org/index.cfm.
What we found is far removed from what has been claimed.
Our study noted that like the rest of the education system, the country’s TVET has seen major advances over the last decade.
At the start of this century, the system was long on policy announcements that reflected the drive towards Wawasan 2020, but fell considerably short on implementation.
This was because a highly fragmented system rendered monitoring difficult and coordination even more so.
This was compounded by a lack of harmonised standards. Evaluation was based on how much was spent, not how much was achieved.
By 2010, things had changed for the better.
While policy advocacy continued to be strong, thanks to greater urgency from reduced economic growth after the Asian Financial Crisis, implementation and supervision have also improved, both made easier by a harmonised set of occupational standards, the National Occupational Skills Standards (NOSS).
Evaluation has also moved away from its focus on input (how much was spent) towards output (how many were trained).
Yet the system faces many major challenges it must overcome if it is to be a viable pathway for education.
The first is that implementation still lags behind policy rhetoric.
Despite the refocus on output, inattention to impact (how many are employed in the occupations they are trained for) means that spending efficiency still takes a back seat. Nor is there any evidence that performance comes with accountability.
Second, the pervasive public sector mentality of control and distrust of the private sector has meant little cooperation between the public and private sectors.
In a seminar we conducted for our research, private sector providers of training complained repeatedly of the absence of a level playing field.
As with academic education, “public-private partnership” has remained little more than a slogan.
Third, the “government knows best” attitude also extends to industry.
Collaboration between the public and private sectors received greater attention under the 10th Malaysia Plan and Economic Transformation Programme.
These collaborations between the public sector’s engagement with industry remains superficial.
The ad hoc nature of these collaborations poses challenges to any effort to integrate the private sector into an inclusive national training framework that reflects genuine public-private partnership.
Fourth, if private sector training providers have received scant respect and recognition from industry, another group of stakeholders has no voice at all.
These are the workers themselves, who are the beneficiaries of training, but who have found no voice in the training they receive.
With the government giving increasing attention to incorporating employers in the organisation and substance of training, Malaysia has been described as “business friendly” but not “market friendly”.
Fifth, whatever improvements made did not extend to institutional coordination.
At the time we completed our research, Malaysia had a multitude of ministries overseeing an equally disparate array of training institutions with little coordination among them. This included state-level training institutes.
Lack of coordination raises the prospect of overlapping mandates and responsibilities, geographical and subject matter coverage, qualitative differences in the delivery of programmes, and even inconsistency of messages.
These all add up to spending inefficiencies that undermine the harmonised standards under NOSS.
Sixth, coordination problems have been compounded by a lack of institutional memory of the development of the TVET system.
The many changes, together with the rotation of staff involved in TVET, make for difficulties with coordination of policies and strategies over time, in addition to across institutions.
Arguably the most daunting challenge for Malaysia’s TVET is the general perception that it is the refuge of the academically unsuccessful.
While this is not unique to Malaysia, it is not helped by the government’s penchant for limiting information access to the public.
This is part and parcel of the control mentality referred to earlier. With the advent of the Internet, this is beginning to change. But remoulding perceptions will take time to produce results.
Finally, lest we make another claim of being better than Singapore, here is what was found using the World Bank’s assessment methodology.
In terms of system oversight and service delivery, we are where Singapore was in 1990, while Singapore has reached our stage in strategic leadership in 1970. Korea has done nearly as well as Singapore. We are about the same level as China’s Xinjiang province.
Thumping one’s chest has its place in political posturing, but a little humility will go a long way towards promoting credibility in official statements.
It is also conducive to learning from others’ successes.
Cheong Kee Cheok, Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti Malaya The STAR Home News Opinion Letters Sunday August 30, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM