The way forward for tertiary education could lie with TikTok
By: Dr. Jazli Aziz
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that has been a staple in schools, often posed to young children. I still remember the first time I was asked this question, and without hesitation, I proudly declared that I wanted to become a firefighter. It seemed like an easy question to answer at the time, and my classmates had their own dreams too, ranging from aspiring astronauts to aspiring police officers and doctors. However, if you were to ask the same question to school children today, you’d likely receive a very different set of answers.
On May 24th, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek revealed some startling statistics in a Parliamentary reply. A staggering 180,680 SPM students from the 2021 school session, which accounts for almost 50 percent of the intake, chose not to pursue higher education. This data paints a vivid picture of a shifting landscape in career aspirations. In recent years, the media has been abuzz with stories of many youths gravitating towards content creation or trying their luck at becoming social media influencers. And, truth be told, who can blame them?
The allure of fame and glamour associated with social media stardom often seems more appealing than the traditional path of higher education. High tuition fees, the daunting prospect of struggling to find suitable employment after graduation, and the spectre of low starting salaries have cast a shadow over the traditional route of pursuing tertiary education.
To the Ministry of Education’s credit, there are efforts to address this concerning trend. They are currently considering the implementation of “personal development and career education plans,” and counsellors are expected to play a crucial role in guiding students towards informed decisions. However, let’s be honest—these conventional approaches may not be enough to sway the mindset of Gen Z.
In a rapidly evolving world, it’s clear that you cannot solve modern problems with outdated solutions. It’s time to take a more proactive and innovative approach. As the saying goes, “You must fight fire with fire.” In other words, the key may lie in leveraging social media itself to communicate to the youth that tertiary education is not a lost cause.
As we have observed throughout the past few decades, technology has emerged as an unstoppable force, reshaping the world as we know it. Attempts to stem this tide often prove futile, as the pace of technological advancement continues to astound us. Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, made a now-infamous mockery of the iPhone in 2007 for its lack of physical buttons and keyboard compared to the BlackBerry. We all know how that played out – the iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry. In a similar vein, combating the allure of a social media career by staunchly championing tertiary education may well be an uphill battle.
Instead of pointing fingers at social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok for the declining interest in traditional education among our youths, we should be embracing these very platforms as powerful tools to rekindle their interest in learning.
The impact of social media, especially platforms like TikTok, became evident during last year’s general election. It’s clear that these platforms hold a profound influence on our youth. Consequently, a concerted effort by the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and universities to promote tertiary education through social media channels could yield remarkable results. Gen Z increasingly turns to TikTok as a primary source of information, bypassing traditional search engines like Google. Notably, numerous healthcare professionals and doctors leveraged TikTok during the pandemic to combat misinformation, demonstrating the ever-expanding reach of social media.
While I wholeheartedly support the intention to address the dwindling interest of our youth in furthering their education, it’s crucial to employ effective and modern methods. The government must also address issues related to employability and salaries of graduates. However, when it comes to engaging the youth and reigniting their enthusiasm for tertiary education, it’s clear that riding the social media wave is a more pragmatic approach than fighting against it.
The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]