It was a great pleasure to attend this year’s ASEAN-Australia Education Dialogue in Penang. It was an even greater privilege to Chair the panel discussion on “Harnessing Digital Technology for Application in Workplace Training with Employment Outcomes”.
Before I discuss what I learned from AAED I wanted to acknowledge the terrific work done by Michael Fay from AFG Ventures Group and Thomson Ch’ng in bringing the Dialogue and the participants together. If this event is not on your radar then I would strongly recommend you consider attending next year’s event.
The Dialogue involved keynote addresses from leading government and education figures from across ASEAN and Australia. It also included six panel sessions focussed on:
- Strategies for Building the Quality of Research in ASEAN Universities and Strengthening Higher Education Research Partnerships with Australia
- Developing Enterprise Vocational Education in Partnership with Business and Industry
- Strategies for Strengthening Alumni Network and Enhancing Graduate Employability
- Building Student Mobility between ASEAN and Australia and within ASEAN
- Strengthening Quality Assurance and Developing Global Standards in ELT Centre Management in ASEAN and Australia
- Harnessing Digital Technology for Application in Workplace Training with Employment Outcomes
Speakers in the Digital Technology panel session included:
- Sarveen Kandiah – Managing Director, Open Learning, Malaysia
- Danny Bielik – CEO, Burst Learning, Singapore
- Pak Ikin Solikin – PT Ajar, Indonesia
- Dr Syaheerah Lebai Lutfi – Senior Lecturer, School of Computer Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
- Kathy Sims – Head, Agriculture Team, Academies Australasia and MD, RuralBiz Training, Australia
In addition to chairing the panel session on Digital Technology, I was also fortunate to facilitate a follow-up workshop looking at the issues in the use of Digital Technology to support workplace training and better employment outcomes, and the actions AAED could support to tackle these issues.
Some Australian readers may be surprised by the issues identified in the workshop – they’re issues we’re facing in the use of digital technology but don’t often talk about. They included:
- Mobile use is widespread across the ASEAN region and bringing education delivery costs down but mobile delivery is not well suited to the delivery of longer forms of educational content.
- Does this ‘mobile first’ focus mean we need a new pedagogy focussed on breaking down workplace training into bite sized chunks which are well suited to a mobile environment?
- Video is an option but bandwidth is a problem in some ASEAN countries (and I would add in parts of Australia too).
- Regulation and accreditation is an issue in the increasing use of digital technology and more mobile learning.
- Increasingly employers are looking to EdTech companies rather than traditional educators for digital workplace training courses.
- Lectures and classroom-based delivery is increasingly being replaced by project-based/hands-on learning, especially for learners who are already in the workplace and looking to upskill.
- Online learning is much more suitable to meeting the education needs of fast changing workplaces because the content can be quickly and easily modified.
- On the other hand, moving away from traditional teacher-directed education models to peer-mediated/socialised learning may be more difficult in a digital environment.
- Digital/online learning and EdTech are not necessarily the same thing. Sometimes they may work in harmony and in other circumstances they can disrupt each other.
- Government funding across a number of ASEAN countries and Australia is not well aligned to delivering the skill outputs the economies and individual learners need. Most funding is still based on inputs.
- Some ASEAN countries are very generous in their approach to funding and this causes problems because it can result in a focus on quantity over quality.
I have chosen not to separately list the proposed actions the workshop discussed for AAED to progress on digital technology. Instead I’ve chosen to wait until the Dialogue convenors publish the proposed actions for AAED across all of the Dialogue themes, as I feel it’s more appropriate for them to finalise and circulate them. When they are published I will then share a link to them.
In addition to the Dialogue, I was also pleased to also be able to attend two of the site visits organised in conjunction with AAED. While there were multiple options available, I chose the TVET options: a visit to a local polytechnic and a visit to a skills development centre which may have something to offer Australia as it contemplates the Skills Organisation models recommended in the Joyce Review.
Politeknik Tuanku Sultanah Bahiyah (PTSB) was established in March 2002 in a temporary campus and moved to its current location (a 100 acre campus) at Kulim Hi-Tech Park in 2003.
It is the 16th polytechnic created by the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia and now educates approximately 4,000 students each year.
Students can choose diploma or certificate level courses in one of six departments: Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Department, Computer Science and Mathematics, General Studies, and Commerce. PTSB also offers a Lifelong Learning programme offering part time study on weekends.
Graduates have a 94.5% employment or further study rate which compares favourably with the national rate of 84%.
In recent years they have introduced a number of innovations to incorporate training for Artificial Intelligence, Cyber Security, Big Data, Green Skills and other new and emerging skills into their courses.
The head of the Electrical Engineering Department has spent time in Germany studying the advances of Industry 4.0 and AI. PTSB has its own industry advisory committee drawn from employers operating in the neighbouring Hi-Tech industrial park. The inputs from the local industry committee are complemented by the Industry Advisory Committee which offers assistance to the National Department of Polytechnic Education.
Each course offered by PTSB includes 50 hours of teaching by industry professionals. This is complemented by teacher-return-to-industry programs.
While our visit coincided with students being on leave – we met trainers and Departmental heads teaching a range of courses and specialisations – some of which would be standard in our TAFEs and private RTOs and others which would not be widespread in Australia. For example the Department of Mechanical Engineering offers Diplomas and Certificates which involve hands-on learning in the following facilities:
- Machining Workshop
- Welding Workshop
- Fitting Workshop
- Project Workshop
- Foundry Workshop
- Plastics Workshop
- Strength and Material Laboratory
- Mechanics and Machine Laboratory
- Metrology Laboratory
- Robotics Laboratory
- Plant Laboratory
- CAD/CAM Laboratory
- Automation Laboratory
- Electrical Technology Laboratory
- Instrumentation and Control Laboratory
Keep in mind that even as it has laboratories focussed on automation, robotics, etc PTSB is not (yet) an elite or exceptional Malaysian polytechnic. In fact it’s aim is to be a ‘leading-edge TVET institution’.
The Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC) is, by contrast, a leading edge institution – and again it offers much that Australia can learn from. Its mission statement is ‘transforming talent, for industry, by industry’ and that’s certainly what it does.
The PSDC was established in the late 1980s in response to the skill shortages being experienced by global companies (like Intel, HP and Motorola) which had set-up in Penang as a consequence of its special economic development zone status. To help address these skill shortages government, leading businesses and educators came together to collaborate on a tri-partite skills development model.
The PSDC is Malaysia’s premier learning institution focussed specifically on meeting the immediate human resource needs of the business community. It has attained international recognition as an exemplary model of shared learning and human resource development.
In its 30 years of operation it has:
- trained over 200,000 participants through more than 10,000 courses;
- pioneered local industry development initiatives;
- assisted in the input and formulation of national policies on human capital development, and
- contributed directly to Malaysian workforce transformation initiatives.
In 2016 the PSDC executed its Industry 4.0 initiative to support the new phase of industrial revolution in Malaysia. It is now focussed on becoming a Centre of Excellence for Industry 4.0 in Malaysia by providing leadership, the right platform for learning of best practices, as well as talent development support through its high-end Shared Services facilities to meet the current needs and demands of the industry.
The PSDC is a not-for-profit with more than 200 employer members who contribute equipment, software and teaching resources. It is overseen by an industry-led Board and to meet the needs of its employer members beyond just education and training it has also established a suite of services including and Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Lab which allows PSDC members to access high-end testing facilities to support their design and development activities for the electrical and electronics sector.
In recent years the PSDC has provided consultancy services to Brazil, Madagascar and Bangladesh. I am deadly serious when I say they could also offer consulting advice to the Australian government and VET providers.