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Grades and careers in a post-pandemic world

Amid the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say it's time for a change of mindset.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli & Azzman Abdul Jamal
3 minute read
The education system was severely disrupted by the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic which shut schools down and forced students to attend online classes from home as authorities fought to keep infections under control.
The education system was severely disrupted by the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic which shut schools down and forced students to attend online classes from home as authorities fought to keep infections under control.

More than two years after Covid-19 swept across the world, Malaysia’s education system is still struggling to recover with inconsistent sessions and some students forced to attend classes on a rotational basis in order to curb the spread of the virus, amid a new wave of infections brought on by the Omicron variant.

The long months of enforced lockdowns and home-based teaching and learning have left their mark on many students, some of whom say they have lost interest in continuing their studies.

Some have dropped out of school, choosing to enter the workforce instead of struggling to cope with classroom disruptions.

Yet most parents still take a conventional approach to education, preferring their children to seek careers in fields that require academic qualifications even as the pandemic wreaks havoc on their studies.

Some who spoke to MalaysiaNow said their children’s academic performance took a turn for the worse when the rising number of Covid-19 infections forced schools to retreat to the digital classroom.

They said their children were unable to concentrate during online classes in the same way that they had in physical school settings.

Nevertheless, they believe there is still time to fix this before their children sit for the SPM school-leaving examination.

Ally Sabari, 39, has two children aged 12 and 13. Her goal is to ensure that both of them can further their studies to the university level.

Despite the pandemic-induced setbacks over the past two years, she is confident that they will be able to achieve this.

“I still have a few more years to make sure that my children are on the right track,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“They can still improve their studies, for example by attending additional classes.”

Nevertheless, Ally is also open to alternative plans if her children in the end require careers that do not depend on academic achievements.

She herself owns a plot of land in her village in Kuantan, Pahang, and believes that modern agriculture is a field worth exploring. But this is only as a last resort, if her children are unable to enter college or university.

“Actually, we have already planned to return to our village when we retire,” she said. “And the cost of living is so high now.

“So I think this field might be able to guarantee a better income if it’s tackled in the right way.”

Abd Razid Borhan, 42, has three children aged eight to 17. He, too, encourages them to take their studies as far as they can although he will not force them against their will.

As long as they choose a career that is good and long-lasting, he said, he will support any decision they make.

“If they are not good in their studies, maybe they have other skills,” he added.

‘Wake-up call’

Educationist Anuar Ahmad said the pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for parents and students alike in considering careers other than those determined by academic qualifications.

“Education is not just about academic performance,” said Anuar who is attached to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

“It also encompasses a wide range of talent and potential. This is why technical education and vocational skills must be developed for students who are not academically inclined.”

In Malaysia, though, vocational training is not a preferred option as it does not lead to high-paying jobs, he said.

“The same goes for sports, arts, culture and entrepreneurship which are still seen as below the academic stream.”

Anuar said many parents hold to the traditional belief that academic achievements alone will lead to better job opportunities.

This is despite the high rate of unemployment today among graduates who majored in academic fields whereas those who attend vocational schools are able to find jobs, he said.

“This old way of thinking needs to change,” he added. “The reality today is that many who majored in academic fields are unemployed while 90% of graduates from vocational training centres are able to find work.”