I HAVE been keeping up with Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran’s efforts to promote greater interest in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) among our youths. He has done well in getting more industrial players to provide attachment training to students whereby employment opportunities are greatly enhanced.
Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik has also chipped in to further encourage TVET by suggesting a change of name for this course to attract more students to take it up. The Education Ministry will also be collaborating with other ministries to give greater recognition to TVET qualifications by amalgamating all TVET institutions under one accredited body.
All of these are well and good, but will we get the desired outcome?
Many Asian cultures place greater preference on academic courses over technical ones. This mindset is not easy to change, but try we must. It is about time.
The mindset and perception of our youths and the general public towards TVET must be changed. They should be impressed with the true values of doing TVET courses.
Give talks and organise seminars on the many advantages and importance of TVET by speakers in their respective fields. Expose children to TVET as early as when they are in primary schools. To plant the interest in them from young, the curriculum must be interesting, enjoyable, creative and innovative.
If baby boomers were to look back on their school days, many would remember that they were either in the Science or Arts stream. There was no technical education to cater to their interest, passion or talent. In short, they didn’t have a choice.
TVET courses are aplenty now, and efforts to create awareness about these among students should be actively conducted in schools. Encourage them to take such pathways as their careers by providing the right information.
Another area of concern is the lack of direction and continuity. Our country started technical education on a big scale for schools by having Industrial Arts for boys and Home Science for girls in our secondary schools in the early 60s under the auspices of the Colombo Plan and the Peace Corps programmes.
Then we shifted to Living Skills for both girls and boys. Living Skills was then replaced by Design and Technology, where students learn more digitally savvy subjects like coding (today’s latest technology).
Robotics, toy car racing technology and mechatronics had been introduced to schools before. The first two topics were haphazardly introduced and died a natural death – a sheer waste of funds and resources. Mechatronics, together with coding, is taught in schools now.
By all means move with the times, but we must adopt a more holistic approach. The workshops in schools were great “play places” for students to try out their skills and talents, albeit amateurishly.
Practical work is now a thing of the past, as many schools have been asked to dismantle their workshops. Studying technical subjects without workshop activities is akin to learning the sciences without doing experiments in laboratories.
International and private schools still teach technical subjects in workshops and do a lot of practical projects.
As a retired technical teacher, I firmly believe practical work is a must as it is the essence of technical education.
The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, which is common in many advanced countries, was brought on by a good background in technical education from young. Many households in advanced countries have small workshops in their compounds. Such a culture encourages and enhances creativity and innovativeness while promoting interest in taking up hobbies.
Our planners and policymakers must look at the bigger picture when formulating future roadmaps for TVET.
Apart from opening doors and opportunities for the job market, TVET should also look at developing a more well-rounded education system for our youths in this challenging world. The planners must not miss the forest for the trees.
KHOO KOK HEONG