Young people are easily the most misunderstood population in Malaysia. We have been labelled as greedy, unrealistic, ungrateful, too comfortable — you name it. We are blamed for our poor grasp of languages, inferior soft skills, minimal working experiences, poor grades…and the list goes on.
But has anyone ever thought whether it is fair to expect the young people to be ‘ready for employment’ with our flawed education, political and employment eco-system?
Our Voiceless Majority
While 45% of Malaysians are said to be below 25 years of age, it is complicated when it comes to defining how young does one have to be before he/she can be categorised as a ‘youth’.
In a study to determine the youthfulness of our Malaysian Parliament, the Centre of Public Policy Studies had relied on the Malaysian youth definition of 15-40 years old, while the international standard of a similar study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union has capped it to a maximum of 30 years old.
For a country where almost half of the population is below the age of 25 years old, it is odd that none of our Parliamentarians are from within the ‘youth’ category as per global standard.
Our voices do not go far to effect policy changes.
The youths are not given adequate opportunities to be in the driving seat of decision-making processes, and neither are we seriously consulted for policies of the present and the future. While the brighter ones are said to be ‘idealistic’ (or tin kosong) before being consequently ignored, the rest are candied with activities to feed their enthusiasm.
Our hopeful aspirants are encouraged to contest in the National Youth Parliament; a platform created to appease the itch among the young to discuss and debate issues a la Parliament, save for the fact that only the Minister of Youth and Sports can be bothered to address their bravado on stage. It is a simulation at best—and a disconnect—from the sad reality of having no say on the laws passed in the Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat.
The most recent cover-up is the Transformasi Nasional (TN50); one where the youths are said to be one of the stakeholders in the government’s wide-range of transformative initiatives by having our concerns engaged in the formulation of new policies.
Although admittedly it is a step in the right direction, it does not seem that the government is committed to increasing the quota of youth participation in the actual decision-making and policy-drafting processes. After all, why bother making changes when it is more convenient for the status quo to continue?
Their assumption is that the youths are not ready to be the agents of change—and it is not easy to challenge such notion when the majority is already comfortable to be on the receiving ends.
Imposing Solutions Because They Can
An absence of a strong political pressure by the youths means that the authorities have a free-reign to impose what they think are best for their interests; in isolation of alternative opinions by the very people who are suppose to go through their policy flip-flops.
A simple illustration is when the Ministry of Education (MOE) recently announced the use of iCGPA for a more holistic assessment of students in all 20 of our public universities. It is said that the iCGPA system is meant to produce more graduates with skills that are ‘holistic and balanced’.
I can understand the need of moving away from an exam-oriented system, but what the MOE is attempting to do is to cure the symptoms of a chronic disease without understanding the root cause of the disease itself.
The quality of our learning institutions needs to be re-assessed from both ends; such as on the quality of the syllabus’ content, competency of our lecturers, intake procedure of students, exposure to industrial trainings, student:lecturer ratio, and also the assurance of their freedom to academic expressions.
A cosmetic shift in the evaluation of the students’ CGPA will do little in increasing their employability. The authorities can afford to bulldoze their policies through as they are not incentivised to consider the needs of our large young population as collective demands of legitimate voters, which is partly caused by the lack of a strong check-and-balance by the youths ourselves.
There is also a lack of trust that the youths are not able to decide and work hand-in-hand with the authorities to chart our future.
It is, after all, a fair assumption on their behalf — can they possibly expect better ideas from products of their own remote-controlled learning institutions?
Dumbing Down of our Local Graduates
There are 227,421 graduates leaving local higher learning institutions (both public and private) in the year 2015 alone. Assuming that a consistent number of graduates are churned out yearly, several terms of iron grip rule is sufficient to dumb down a significant portion of the Malaysia’s population; who are degree-holders the least.
Our graduates are afraid to speak up for the fear of repercussions. It is a sad truth that our learning institutions do not encourage inquisitive thinking, save for a select few as an illusion to their superficial value of success.
We are often goaded with conformist views of the ruling government. Situation is made worse when higher learning institutions are empowered to respond to dissents by issuing out fines, suspensions and expulsions — which applies even to the rebellious minority of our academicians.
I am sure there are also tens of thousands of our students abroad who have been silenced by succinct threats against their scholarships or by the most unreasonable clauses in their contractual agreements, of which they had signed with one-eye closed.
Understandably so, many of our youths are trapped between a hard place and a rock. This is only happening because we are allowing the situation to be on cruise control. While there has been a steady increase of students who are more adamant to fight for their rights through legal recourse against the government, it remains a painstakingly lonely battle.
Aside of a pocket of activists and pro bono lawyers, our students are on a lost cause in fighting against the whole establishment of the government meant for the very purpose of stifling the competitiveness of our higher learning institutions.
Our higher learning institutions are meant to be inferior (beyond the context of classroom learning itself) as it is easier to control the feeble-minded than the confident, sharp and critical ones.
Fear-mongering and rhetorics also work better on people who are bereft of hope and are dependent on the government’s last say as their savior. Our education system — which is essentially led and controlled by politicians — are purposely left several steps behind to preserve the political expediency of the ruling elites.
The authorities have all but forgotten what student power can do if left unchecked—even if it means taking away the hope of the many millions of Malaysians; who may have believed that they can reach the space had they wanted to.
Our growing numbers of unemployed tertiary graduates is not actually the most worrisome of our higher education doldrums.
It is more depressing to think that it will be a long time before we can commit ourselves to inclusive reforms where the youths are no longer considered as mere subjects of change, but as important stakeholders in this overdue process of quality human capital investments.