Interview: Mohamad Abu Bakar bin Marzuki
What is the technical education sector doing to address growing industry demand for manpower?
MOHAMAD ABU BAKAR BIN MARZUKI: One of the major challenges for the development of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) is the provision of adequate manpower for the industries present in the corridor. Not many students want to pursue technical education, and this is due in part to the perception that technical education leads to labour-intensive, blue-collar jobs.
Nonetheless, I believe Sarawak is moving in the right direction in terms of achieving sufficient manpower development. As one of our initiatives, we have launched the Centre of Technical Education, transforming it to ensure the curriculum directly meets industry requirements, with a specific focus on on-the-job training. We have conducted many seminars with the industry to that effect, with the goal of achieving the necessary dialogue to properly develop technical learning.
In terms of curriculum in universities, while education is the responsibility of the federal government, we are also collaborating with the state government and various institutions to foster a better understanding of Sarawak’s manpower needs. For example, if SCORE is in need of more electrical engineers, we would help convey this to these institutions so the relevant courses can be made available. This is taking place through smart collaborations with institutions like Swinburne University and University College of Technology Sarawak.
How do foreign universities contribute toward the development of the education sector in Sarawak?
ABU BAKAR: While our traditional role has been giving scholarships and loans to students, we have now expanded our reach to helping the government develop the quality of state education in a more holistic manner, complementing the federal government’s efforts. One such responsibility is our role in attracting foreign institutions to Sarawak, much as we did with Curtin University and Swinburne University about a decade ago. Along with the state government, we help these institutions to set up branches in Sarawak. These initiatives are meant to create more educational opportunities for local students to study domestically, through the framework of these universities, or internationally, by completing part of their studies overseas.
Before we choose which institutions to target, we look at the strengths of these universities in their home countries. For example, institutions that are strong in technical education with abundant apprenticeship programmes are well suited to fit the needs of the Sarawakian educational sector.
Of course, these partnerships are also dependent on their willingness to come to Sarawak. Australian universities in particular have a long-standing relationship with the people of Sarawak. A mere decade ago, the number of foreign universities with branches in Malaysia was very low. Sarawak, even with its relatively small population, has been a pioneer in helping set up foreign universities in the country, as evidenced by the large number of foreign institutions now present in Malaysia.
What is being done to improve access to education?
ABU BAKAR: To help the state government support and complement the role of the federal government with regard to education, we are collaborating with the Sarawak Department of Education to identify the needs of the rural population, especially in terms of teaching English and mathematics, and are conducting several programmes at rural schools.
One such initiative is High Performance Rural Schools, through which we adopt rural schools and conduct programmes for certain students to improve outcomes. We help with tuition, provide learning materials, hold motivational seminars and conduct capacity-building programmes in order to give them the same opportunities and facilities as urban students.
Furthermore, as part of our community development initiative, we conduct parenting programmes for rural community members to increase awareness about the importance of proper education in these areas.
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