A 16-YEAR-OLD dropped out from school in Bentong, Pahang in the 1980s and went on to work as an apprentice in a medium-sized piling company in Johor. After gaining experience in the trade, he set up his own business mainly to teach himself to design his own piling process, tools and equipment.
Today he is the multi-millionaire owner of a company specialising in piling for oil and gas refinery bases, besides consulting on hillside construction, including in Hong Kong. Many thirdgraders from remote villages who were givenasecond chance to study at Institut Teknologi Mara in the early 1970s became captains of industries, leaders in corporate organisations and businessmen in niche services.
Several students from Infotech, one of the many vocational institutions under Mara, who were selected to further their studies in London in the late 1990s, are now PhD holders. One of them became the president of a local university.
The first narrative is about a self-made individual who had gone through an informal lifelong learning process in a critical engineering sector.
The second and third narratives are about individuals who had benefited from training for “late bloomers” provided by the government’s educational institutions.
While self-made “professionals” are rare in this country, stories about late bloomers graduating from professional and vocational institutions are abundant.
The government, therefore, should introduce an initiative to award these self-made professionals with university degrees, record their experiences, achievements and inventions, and appoint them as national icons in TVET-based and STEMcentric education.
Equally critical, the government should study the technical training and professional learning modules conducted by its vocational institutions — now under many stakeholders in several ministries; they should be managed by a single authority with a common mission and vision.
These efforts are needed to enhance Malaysia’s TVET-based and STEM-centric educational modules and strategies in the IR 4.0 era and beyond, and to facilitate a planned migration of our education system to the digital era.
This is to guarantee, protect and sustain the socioeconomic rights, employment marketability and economic security of all Malaysians, particularly the Bumiputeras as the majority population. A few scholars have even proposed introducing IR 4.0 subjects in privately-run tahfiz schools when they are managed by a special government body.
Dr Rais Saniman, one of the surviving members of the New Economic Policy drafting team, for example, had expressed concern about tahfiz students being deprived of job opportunities in the IR 4.0 era. He said this can be avoided if national leaders, policymakers and the Bumiputera elite fully understand the provisions on human and socioeconomic rights of all Malaysians.
Most human rights on educational opportunity and employment equitability are stated in the Federal Constitution, the United Nations Charter, the International Labour Organisation’s Standards on equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Dr Rais emphasised the above because “while each Malaysian has equal political rights, i.e. one vote each, in terms of socioeconomic rights, that is jobs, income and wealth, including education, the Bumiputera community is left far behind”.
Adopting and emphasising rights as the major thrusts of Malaysian educational and development policies is critical to avoid “technological inequality” in the IR 4.0 era and beyond.
Most countries are restructuring their policies to ensure economic security in an era which might bring with it “a series of social, political, cultural, and economic upheavals”. Hence, it is advisable that our government formulate policies which would enable Malaysians to become a technologically dominant community.
Among the approaches are maximising equitable and inclusive economic growth to 7.5 per cent per annum in real terms, reducing extreme inter- and intraracial inequalities, pursuing a full employment policy for all Malaysians, and reducing income and capital imbalances.
Additionally, there should be initiatives to modify Malaysia’s economic system, to reorganise the education system to be STEM-based, including in tahfiz schools; and to enhance the private sector’s role in creating “equal opportunity employment”.
However, education in liberal sciences, including politics, anthropology and philosophy, should be equally emphasised to explore and nurture societal variables essential to the sustenance of national unity in a plural state.
The government, therefore, must formulate socioeconomic policies to protect and guarantee equitable access to education, employment and business opportunities in the IR 4.0 era and beyond, in line with the human rights’ documents.
The writer is an analyst of strategic and security issues, and was a member of parliament for Parit Sulong, Johor, 1990-2003.