Thailand, Malaysia launch vocational programme in South ahead of AEC
After years of working together, education officials in the South’s Special Administration Zone and the Malaysian Education Ministry have agreed on a vocational academic programme in preparation for the Asean Economic Community in 2015.
The Thai officials were from the Office of the Vocational Education Commission. Sermsak Nilwilai, chairman of the centre’s working group on planning and international cooperation, said that though both sides had yet to sign a memorandum of understanding on the vocational exchange programme, the new collaboration promised a good start to foster people-to-people connectivity through education.
The centre organised a study tour programme of Thai students from five provinces – Yala, Satun, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla – between June 12 and 25. Over 70 students and teachers from 18 vocational colleges took part in programmes at Alor Setar Vocational College in Kedah, and Langkawi Vocational College, Malaysia.
The programmes helped the students share knowledge and skills in classrooms and workshops as well as teaching systems. The Alor Setar Vocational College focuses on electrical and electronics engineering technology, automotive engineering technology, while Langkawi specialises in the field of hotel hospitality.
Wansuhailan Waleng, in the second year of a high professional certificate on hotel and service programme at Pattani Vocational College, said he applied to attend the programme to learn more about neighbouring countries.
He believed that Thai students could take advantage through the exchange of ideas, national languages, learning systems, and cultures such as costumes and traditional food.
“If we learn the cultural diversity of each other, we can adjust ourselves to coexist peacefully. However, communications remains a big problem for Thai students in the South who cannot speak English or Bahasa languages,” said Wansuhailan.
At the Langkawi workshop, the Thai students had a chance to learn cooking, bakery making, mocktails, handkerchief folding, and a full set of table arrangements and serving. Finally, they had a chance to get real experience at a five-star hotel in Langkawi.
Wansuhailan added that Malaysian students were interested in learning the Thai language and about Thai food. They felt that Thai people were friendly with smiles, so it was easy to familiarise themselves with other cultures.
Most students who took part in the study tour programme at Alor Setar Vocational College, said that though it was only two-weeks long, they received good experience to share knowledge and skills in classrooms and workshops, exchange cultures and enjoy sports activities.
The Thai students said that the Malaysian college offered students longer time to practise at the workshops than in Thailand. Moreover, the Malaysian vocational students were disciplined to develop skills through practical components including electrical and electronics engineering technology, and automotive engineering technology.
The Thai teachers acknowledged that besides the discipline, Malaysian students were confident in expressing their opinions and engage in learning activities.
These would inspire and encourage Thai students to change when they got back to their colleges.
Working with different culture
The Thai students all agreed that in the first few days of their stay in Alor Setar, they had to adjust to different cultures and a way of life. For example in food culture, Malaysians people eat 5-6 meals a day, starting from around 7am and lasting until 9.30 pm.
However, language remains an obstacle as most are poor in English. Some students who could speak Bahasa, help translate in Thai to foster the understanding of others.
As in Thailand, the Malaysian government has set an ambitious goal to increase the number of vocational students. Currently, the average enrolment of upper secondary students in technical and vocational courses in Malaysia was about 10 per cent.
Last year, the Malaysian government vowed to transform the technical education and vocational training sector in a move to make it more appealing to students. As demand for vocational skills continues to rise, the government has planned for at least 3.3 million skilled workers in the next 10 years in order to meet the demands of the country’s economic development.
Malaysia’s Education Ministry will encourage the public to change the perceptions of those who think vocational and technical education is for weak students.