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It’s the time of the year for either fists punching jubilantly in the air, or heads hanging low. Yes, the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exam results for 2011 were announced recently, much to the anticipation of students nationwide. While the country celebrates its best SPM results in five years, REFSA has a more sobering question in mind – where do these students go from here?

According to statistics in 2009, only 23% of them would pursue tertiary education. For the remaining 77 percent, or nearly 4 out of 5, the academic journey ends here.

Chart: Malaysia’s Labor Force Educational Attainment 2009

Source:  Ministry of Human Resources parliamentary written answer to MP Abdullah Sani bin Abdul Hamid (PKR-Kuala Langat), 8 Mar – 7 Apr 2011

It is reasonable that higher education is not the path for everyone. Financial concerns can force a high-school graduate to enter the workforce. Some are also not academically inclined, or interested in the professions that would require paper qualifications.

Can they, however, gain a footing in our certificate-obsessed society? Will they be able to earn a decent wage, or will they make up the bottom 40 percent of Malaysian households surviving on less than RM1,500 per month?

The contributions of an individual without paper qualifications should not be worth any less than those of degree-totting graduates. Specialized skills are just as useful as academic knowledge. For example, an architect still has to depend on his car mechanic when his vehicle has stalled, just as an accountant would still seek a plumber for a leaking pipe.

Does Malaysia have an adequate system to encourage school leavers to be trained in these vocational skills? Do our skilled workers earn a just wage and recognition for their abilities?

REFSA repeats our call: dignify vocational and skilled work to attract school-leavers in helping them gain a footing in the workforce. Introduce the concept for skilled tradesmen. By having a comprehensive system of training, recognizing and certifying our carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, bricklayers and welders, we can ensure the quality of their services, thus justifying higher wages.

No matter which path young Malaysians choose for their future, let them be empowered with the knowledge that skills and a hardworking and honourable attitude shall always be rewarded.


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(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of jeco, source:

REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive...

One reply on “The Lost 77%: When All You Have is SPM and Below”

  1. The authorities need to look at successful apprentice-type systems
    such as those of Germany and Denmark.

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