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Adult Education: Learn while you earn

BACK TO SCHOOL: While continuing education for adults enables them to perform better, it is also a boon to employers who want employees to keep abreast of trends and stay ahead of the competition

THE process of learning should not merely end with school, or tertiary education. Instead, it should be a continuous, lifelong process, for as long as one can think and utilise one’s mind, acquiring knowledge should come naturally and without hesitation.

For professionals or those who are already working, the ability to continuously acquire new knowledge and apply it to their jobs is a useful asset as it will enable them to work and perform better.

Employers want better and more efficient workers, and as more and more skilled graduates and workers enter the job market, there is a greater need for employees to stay ahead of the competition and ensure that they keep abreast of the current trends in their area of expertise.


Continuing education for adults opens up avenues to form networks.

This is where adult education, or continuing education for adults, plays an important role. This area of education caters to those who did not have the opportunities to further their tertiary studies due to various reasons such as cost or constraints such as family or time, as well as those who now want to acquire additional qualifications to climb up the corporate ladder.

ELM Graduate School dean Dr Wendy Liow said more adults are pursuing tertiary education or furthering their studies on a part-time or online basis.

“This trend is increasing in tandem with the demand from employers to have more competent, tertiary educated employees to meet increasing demand for higher productivity and skills requirement. In addition, the more affordable, flexible and accessible offerings from tertiary education providers are also driving the increase,” said Liow.



Studying online enables you to fit your studies around your work and family commitments.
She added that the key motivators for pursuing higher degrees for adults are career advancement and mid-life career switch or career transition.

Employers also expect applicants to be better qualified with either a master’s or a doctorate degree.

“Bachelor’s degrees have now become so common that employers are finding ways to weed out candidates by insisting on them having postgraduate studies and this is driving job seekers back to school to improve their qualifications, while continuing to work,” she said.

“Of course, there are many different reasons why people pursue higher education. In our interviews with students, we also found that other than career reasons, there appears to be a growing number of more purposeful and proactive adults wanting to create change in their personal life or seek new networks and opportunities, and for these people securing a new degree is a worthwhile pursuit. We also find people taking up courses in response to change or transitions in life, such as moving to a new country (we have a large and increasing number of international students), venturing into a new field, or simply responding to an intellectual challenge,” said Liow.

INTI International College Kuala Lumpur (IICKL) was established specifically to meet the market need for high quality programmes that cater to the needs of working professionals as well as undergraduate students.

IICKL chief executive Jeffrey Goh said the college has seen an increased interest among working professionals to further their studies. “Enrolment numbers have been encouraging since the launch of the campus in July last year,” he said.

Goh said working professionals take up further studies for various reasons.

“Some look forward to a higher salary upon obtaining a higher qualification and/or expect a better chance of obtaining and holding a high level management position. Others want to create greater networking opportunities as they get to know and interact with their fellow students and professionals, and there are many who want to acquire new skills and knowledge. Government incentives such as tax relief for education also encourage working professionals to take this opportunity to further their studies,” he said.

Working adults should take the initiative to constantly improve themselves through further education as the requirements in the job market are getting higher.

“We can see from recent advertisements by leading companies seeking candidates for management trainee positions that the requirement is a master’s degree. The bar is being raised, where a degree is often the entry level qualification for executive positions,” he said.

Liow added a bachelor’s degree has become as common as the SPM/STPM and pursuing a master’s programme gives students an edge over those with lower qualifications. It is expected that many better jobs in the future will require a master’s degree at the minimum.

“For those who are caught in dead-end jobs, further study provides them with the chance to learn new skills and upgrade their knowledge to make the change to new and better paying jobs. For professional development, you also see more and more lifelong learners who want to reinvent themselves.

“There is also increasing interest among professionals to pursue higher degrees to deepen their academic knowledge in specific subjects in preparation for a career as an academician,” she said.

Among the earliest providers of adult education is Open University Malaysia (OUM). Using the open and distance learning approach, OUM has helped many working individuals upgrade their qualifications and go on to improve their career prospects.

OUM president and vice chancellor Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Anuwar Ali said OUM is a private university but is owned by a consortium of 11 public universities, making it a unique institution of higher learning in the country.

It first began admitting learners in 2001 with about 750 learners enrolled in four programmes, and has gone on to a cumulative intake of around 120,000 learners.

“At present, we have about 40,000 active learners, not only in the country but abroad as well. Our aim is to provide higher education to individuals who had to put an end to their studies because of commitments and financial constraints. We especially cater to individuals who want to study part-time while still holding down their full-time jobs. Open universities throughout the world have a similar concept,” he said.

OUM has 36 learning centres all over the country, providing accessibility to learners to attend tutorials.

“This is very convenient for them as they do not need to visit the main campus regularly. Each state in the country has at least one learning centre, except for Perlis where learners can go to the Kedah Learning Centre in Alor Star. In fact, many states have more than one learning centre. The main campus in Kuala Lumpur is for master’s degree learners.

“Another one of our strong points is the affordability of our academic programmes. If you compare us with many other private universities, you will find that we charge significantly lower fees,” Anuwar added.

OUM also provides a flexible learning system, a blended learning approach which involves self-managed learning, tutorials and e-learning.

“For the first, learners study on their own with the help of modules. The second involves face-to-face tutorials, which are similar to those offered by most educational institutions. However, our learners need to attend only a few tutorials each semester. The third requires learners to actively engage in online discussion forums to gain better understanding of the courses they are taking.

“Our learners need to be proficient in using the Internet. In order to help them, we provide a first-year course which focuses on open and distance learning skills. We rely on online learning significantly so that learners can study any time they wish. Anyone with Internet access can use our learning system with ease,” he said.

As a working professional, the pursuit of an additional qualification is not easy and poses challenges in several areas, such as time management, as well as cost.

Liow said the Work-Study-Life Balance — the need to strike a balance between work, studies and personal/family commitment — is a major challenge for working adults.

“Time is never enough to juggle between attending classes, attending to children and serving their bosses. Weekend and evening classes, and the modular structure of most of the master’s programmes provide the much needed flexibility,” she said.

Online and part-time programmes provide students many different options to suit their lifestyle and needs while allowing them to continue pursuing a career and in terms of affordability, many universities provide numerous financial assistance plans to make it easier for more people to learn while they earn.

At IICKL, the college assists those who are working by providing the option of evening classes for Diploma in Business and degrees in Accounting & Finance and Business Administration. Scholarships and financial aid are also available for eligible students.

IICKL has also tailored programmes to suit the working professionals market by offering a blended mode of studies, which are face to face and e-learning, or online learning.

IICKL offers the University of Wollongong-Sydney Business School MBA, which requires two years of full-time professional, supervisory or managerial experience and a bachelor’s degree with average mark of 60 per cent or more than five years of full-time professional or managerial work experience and other tertiary qualifications. Applicants are considered on a case by case basis, and must have English proficiency.

The college also offers a suite of business programmes at foundation, certificate, diploma and bachelor’s degree levels.

The MBA programme comprises 11 core units and one elective unit as well as six master classes focusing on contemporary Australian, Asian and global issues via the topics Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Business Risk, Adapting to Change, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability. Assessment is examination- and project-based.

Goh said at IICKL, its current cohorts for the Sydney Business School MBA programme comprises senior executives/managers from leading organisations such as Petronas, Deloitte and BDO, who are seeking to broaden their knowledge and skills in view of the fast changing work requirements and career landscapes.

HELP University has a growing list of postgraduate degrees, both taught and by research under the ELM Graduate School.

The ELM Graduate School offers more than 12 master’s and doctoral-level programmes in the fields of Human Resource Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Finance and Accounting, Corporate Governance, Project Management, Executive Management, Applied Coaching, Economic Crime Management, Communication and Managerial Psychology. Two of the degrees, the MPhil and PhD, are completed by research.

HELP University in partnership with the University of Derby in the United Kingdom offers more than online programmes at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Derby’s wide range of online undergraduate and postgraduate programmes includes the Bachelor of Science (Psychology) accredited by the British Psychological Society, an MBA top-up programme for ACCA and CIMA, online counselling studies, MA in Education, BSc in Information Technology, Master’s in Hospitality Management, Master’s in Environmental Management and an LLM in Commercial Law.

For postgraduate studies, a basic degree with a CPA of 2.5 is required. Students who do not meet the minimum requirement can now be admitted via the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) module which is subject to requirements by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency.

OUM has a flexible entry path which is less stringent than those of conventional universities. It considers an applicant’s prior learning and work experiences for admission into an academic programme.

Under flexible entry, applicants for a master’s degree need a STPM/Diploma/A levels or equivalent as well as relevant work experience. They also have sit an Entrance Test and attend an interview to evaluate their basic competency and fundamental knowledge in general and specific areas related to the programme of choice.

Among the popular courses at OUM include its nursing programmes, which allow learners to work at many hospitals due to the university’s linkages. Other courses include degree programmes in early childhood education and Islamic studies, an MBA and courses in business management, human resource and professional health and safety programmes.

Anuwar hopes that the future will bring more awareness of lifelong learning among Malaysians.

“We are working hard to encourage our working population to constantly upgrade their skills and competencies. We regularly review our curricula and discuss new approaches with active stakeholders in relevant industries so that our curricula meet the current needs of the market,” he said.

SO MUCH TO EXPLORE

AGE is but a number, and should never be a hindrance to embracing lifelong learning.

Kwang Ah Wang, 74, has never believed that he should stop pursuing things that one has an interest in, however old one is.

At an age when many of his peers were enjoying retirement, the former teacher decided to continue studying and enrolled in the Bachelor of Teaching English as a Second Language at Open University Malaysia (OUM) in 2007.

He graduated with flying colours four years later.

Kwang did not stop there, as his thirst for knowledge led him to pursue his master’s degree.

He is expected to complete his studies by the end of the year.

“I have another six more subjects to go and hopefully, I will be able to complete my studies by year end,” he said.





Kwang Ah Wang after receiving the national-level Tokoh Hari Warga Emas
from the Sultan of Pahang.

Kwang, from Kuantan, said he never thought that there was so much to learn and explore until he signed up for his undergraduate programme at OUM’s Pahang Learning Centre in 2007.

With his background as an education officer with the Pahang Education Department from 1981 until 1995, he felt it was only right that he pursued his bachelor’s and master’s degree in a related field after retirement.

On his recipe to staying healthy, Kwang believes in having a positive attitude so that he can stay happy, exercising by playing games and maintaining a circle of like-minded friends who support and motivate each other in good and bad times.

After enrolling in OUM, he began to understand the importance of lifelong learning in today’s world. For him, the university is an excellent platform to upgrade knowledge and competency.

Studying is never easy, and Kwang has the unconditional support of his children to succeed in his pursuit. His eldest daughter is a former teacher living in Kuala Lumpur, his second son is working as an engineer in the United States and his youngest son is pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Maryland in the US.

Sharing his experiences as an adult learner, Kwang said he takes things one at a time so that he is be able to cope with the demands of classes and assignments. His failing eyesight also slows him down especially when using the computer or reading the modules.

Despite these shortcomings, Kwang is focused on what he does and has set his sights on graduating by year end.

Kwang was also awarded the national-level Tokoh Hari Warga Emas by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development from among 300 nominees last year. The award is in line with the national agenda to recognise senior citizens who exhibit outstanding commitment in the field of education and the performing arts.



P. SHARMINI | sharm@nst.com.my NST Channels Learning curve 23/02/2014
Tags: adult, education
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