Heavy price to pay for SPM leavers

PETALING JAYA: Skipping higher education after Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and opting to enter the labour force straight away will eventually work against such school leavers and even suppress their wages, warn labour experts.

This is because employers will use the presence of a large pool of school leavers to justify not paying them more as they lack higher skills or academic qualifications, said National Association of Skilled Workers secretary-general Mohammad Rizan Hassan.

“When you enter the workforce with a lower academic level, it gives employers the option to offer you a lower salary as you do not possess the skills needed or a higher academic qualification to prove that you have acquired the knowledge for the job,” he said.

Mohammad Rizan said the connection between education and careers should be made clear to students from a young age to make them understand that not continuing their studies would greatly affect their careers in the long run.

“The understanding of having a career in the future is taught too late among youth. We need to show that there is a future from school to [their] careers, so that they understand how the world works,” he added.

He said youth need guidance when facing big decisions on whether to continue their studies or leave school and find work.

“When we try to approach our youth, it is still in the ‘old school’ way through career or university fairs or exhibitions, which cost a lot of money. Youth need a trustworthy relationship with adults who can guide them into the future,” he said.

At the Dewan Rakyat last year, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek said 180,680, or 48.74%, of SPM students from the 2021 school session had chosen not to further their education, based on data from the eProfil Kerjaya Murid system.

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Fadhlina added that in the year before, 115,939 SPM school leavers had opted not to further their education, making up 35.16% of the batch.

Noting the decline in university enrolment among SPM leavers, Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi, who is the Provost and chief executive officer of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, said there should be attractive starting salaries for fresh graduates to encourage them to further their studies.

“A young person may compare their potential earnings after studying for four years with their immediate earnings if they pursue gig work like a delivery rider – we need to make sure that learning pays.

“This move will also help with the brain drain we are suffering from,” the Vice-Chancellor’s Council for Private Universities chairman said when contacted.

Prof Mushtak said there is another precarious trend within the declining number of SPM students who do not qualify for science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree courses because they lack the necessary mathematics and science subjects in secondary schools.

To remedy the situation, he said that Malaysia needs to stop the early streaming of students at secondary schools into science and non-science classes and keep the options open for students to remain in a general stream.

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“The world is changing and we need our young people to learn a wide range of skills and knowledge.

“We allow and encourage universities to accept students who lack the necessary mathematics and science knowledge into science degree programmes, provided that students can go through the necessary bridging courses to ensure the knowledge gaps are plugged.

“For example, Microsoft announced that it will invest more than US$2bil [RM9.37bil] in Malaysia and create 200,000 AI [artificial intelligence] workers to remain a magnet for foreign direct investment.

“Malaysia needs to unlock its education system and make it more flexible,” he added.

As of 2023, there were 1.25 million students enrolled in tertiary institutions, including polytechnics and community colleges, according to the Higher Education Ministry website. The figure is a slight increase from 1.2 million in 2022.

Of the 1.25 million students, 159,545 were foreign students continuing their studies in various fields in tertiary institutions.

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