Diving into digitalisation


Move towards tech: TVET institutions need to embrace digital teaching if they want to remain relevant and sustainable in the IR4.0 era. — File photo

LIKE education providers across the board, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) centres know that digitalisation is the only way forward for the sector.

But unlike their counterparts in academia, TVET providers are still trying to adopt digital tools to teach skills that require hands-on experience.

And, the situation – though better that it was a year ago when the world went into lockdown and every sector was forced into a virtual existence – is still far from ideal.

While agreeing with “The Digitisation of TVET and Skills Systems” report that the relentless emergence of new disruptive technologies requires TVET staff to be supported by robust continuing education programmes to ensure constantly updated skills, local TVET providers point to the barriers that prevent them from doing so.

The International Labour Organisation report has outlined how digital tools can change the dynamics of teaching.

“The issue of misalignment between training systems and the labour-market needs also continues to persist, and is exacerbated by the constantly changing pace of IR 4.0 developments.

“TVET trainers should be required to have prior industry experience. Rather than purely technological expertise, the main proficiency to be secured by TVET educators is the ability to engage with learners on the various affordances of technology, ” the report read.

Unfortunately, local training providers are still not ready to handle the shift to digitalisation, said Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) Faculty of Technology Management and Business dean Prof Dr Wan Fauzi@Wan Fauziah Wan Yusoff. “We were comfortable with the conventional face-to-face method and were not prepared for the need to go digital when Covid-19 hit.

Sailanathan: Private TVET institutions are urged to digitalise but we lack the funds to do so.Sailanathan: Private TVET institutions are urged to digitalise but we lack the funds to do so.

“We had problems delivering technical-based lessons online, such as those which needed laboratories. It’s not much better now, ” she said.

UTHM, she acknowledged, was still facing problems with going digital.

The relevant authorities must develop a national standard for digital education – particularly TVET – before the sector can move forward, she added.

“We need to look at TVET, and how we conduct assessments, holistically. Assessments must take into account industry needs.”

Echoing her views, Bumiputra Private Skills Training Institution action committee chairman Nordin Abdul Malek called on the authorities to accredit TVET courses that include e-learning elements in their curriculum as there are fears among parents and students that unaccredited courses would prevent them from securing jobs in the future.

Pointing out that private institutions are dependent on enrolment to be financially sustainable, he lamented that enrolment rates had dropped drastically when the movement control order (MCO) was enforced.

“The uncertainty caused by the pandemic has kept parents from enrolling their children in TVET courses because parents are uncertain if their children will be able to learn a course which is traditionally very hands-on, ” he said when contacted.

He noted that on average, at least 70% to 80% of the TVET curriculum revolved around hands-on training.

Still, he added, private institutions were able to conduct “some form” of online teaching by June 2020, about three months into the first MCO.

Nordin also said private TVET providers are still not ready to invest in the infrastructure needed to digitalise their course content.

“Private TVET providers are not willing to invest too much into digitalising efforts because they are not sure if they can afford to, ” he explained.

Nordin did admit, however, that they must change with the times, accept the new norms and embrace digitalisation including using artificial intelligence (AI) and online learning.

He said it would be difficult for the educators to utilise IR4.0 technology in their teaching as they lacked the knowledge to use these tools.

The TVET action committee, he said, has proposed to the Human Resource Ministry that a clear policy on capacity development programmes for private institutions be implemented.

Nordin: Industry participation is needed to bring digitalising efforts further.Nordin: Industry participation is needed to bring digitalising efforts further.

“The policy must encompass the upgrading of infrastructure, and the upskilling and retraining of teaching personnel at private institutions, ” he added.

He also called on the ministry to champion capacity building for the private institutions.

This should include coordinating and improving access to the various agencies such as Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) and Malaysian Technology Development Corp (MTDC) so that they have better access to the training provided by these agencies, he added.

Nordin said industry participation is needed to bring digitalising efforts further.

“TVET is industry-led so the industry must work closely with public and private training providers by offering assistance and sharing their training experience, facilities and technology.

“Give TVET students access to automation systems and AI. The industry must play its part in training their future workforce, ” he said.

Kolej Megatech chief executive officer P. Sailanathan agreed.

Industry participation, he said, is “fundamentally necessary” to expedite the country’s digitalisation efforts in regard to TVET.

“The gap between what the industry needs and why the current syllabus covers must be bridged.

“Industry participation will help us transform TVET to produce a workforce that will be relevant in the years to come, ” he added.

TVET providers, he said, understand the need to digitalise but lack the funds to do so.

“The government wants to promote the uptake of TVET so we can’t increase our fees although what we charge is significantly lower compared to other tertiary education providers.”

This, he said, is because the majority of TVET students are from the low-income to mid-income bracket.

Sailanathan said the college managed to digitalise their teaching methods and assessment using online tools and platforms.

“However, when it came to the final exam assessment which is conducted externally, we had to maintain the current criteria set by the relevant bodies, ” he added.

Sailanathan said the private training providers will invest in IR4.0 teaching tools if they have the funds to do so.

“It is a tough business. Salaries and other operational costs are our priority, ” he said, adding that the MCO has seen a lot of private TVET colleges shuttering.

Calling on the government to have more initiatives to help sustain the sector, he said private TVET institutions make up a sizable number of students that go into the job market yearly.

“There must be inclusivity for TVET when policies and initiatives are being developed for the education sector as a whole.”

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