EDUCATION, the pivotal foundation of the knowledge construct, is sourced both formally and informally. The latter kind is popularly referred to as the "school of hard knocks", making a person streetwise, an accoutrement of life no less important than the formal kind.
Nevertheless, formal education with its established institutions, from primary through to the tertiary and post-tertiary levels, is the backbone upon which rests the quality of a country's human capital.
One shortcoming of the current educational situation is the fact that not all who enrol at the very beginning will arrive at a convocation ceremony of an institute of higher learning (IHL). Rather, all along the way are dropouts who join the labour force befitting of their educational achievement. But the employment landscape is changing fast, threatening redundancy on unskilled labour.
Towards keeping them relevant to the needs of an economic transformation that demands a greater pool of skilled labour, a third pillar of formal education is being erected: lifelong learning. Several years in the making, the National-Level Life-Long Learning agenda (My3L) is expanding beyond the Education Ministry to evolve a cross-ministerial and cross-sectoral culture of cooperation, enabling the mobilisation of shared resources.
A cost-saving exercise, it is, according to the deputy prime minister, capable of providing value-add to society when those in the workforce will avail themselves of the opportunity. To date, as many as 32 polytechnics and 86 community colleges are already offering My3L programmes. Naturally, the infrastructure must grow to accommodate targets.
Unfortunately, while the policy implementation cost is being reduced, private colleges are upping tuition fees at five per cent annually, outpacing the national inflation rate. However, now that lifelong learning is considered a third pillar of the national education system and not merely just keeping aging minds agile, it must be given the attention it needs and deserves, and accessibility is the fundamental factor of its workability.
There is then a need to cap costs at acceptable levels if this initiative to improve Malaysia's labour force is to succeed. Barring that, further education for employees, paid for by the company as part of the reward system that opens the prospects for promotion, should fall into the category of corporate social responsibility, thus making it attractive to employers.
Of course, if the effort is wholly left to public IHLs (PIHL), appropriate courses that would contribute to the country's human capital needs can be made affordable. Subsidies for private institutions, too, ought to be considered; but only as a last resort when demand outstrips supply in PIHLs.
New Straits Times Opinion Editorial 18/11/2013