Education in Malaysia
is overseen by the Ministry of Education (Kementerian Pendidikan). Although education is the responsibility of the federal government, each state and federal territory has an Education Department to co-ordinate educational matters in its territory. The main legislation governing education is the Education Act of 1996.
The education system is divided into preschool education, primary education, secondary education, post-secondary education and tertiary education. Education may be obtained from the multilingual public school system, which provides free education for all Malaysians, or private schools, or through homeschooling. By law, primary education is compulsory. As in many Asia-Pacific countries such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Japan, standardised tests are a common feature. Currently, there are 37 private universities, 20 private university colleges, seven foreign university branch campuses and 414 private colleges in Malaysia.
Sekolah Pondok (literally, Hut school), Madrasah and other Islamic schools were the earliest forms of schooling available in Malaysia. Early works of Malay literature such as Hikayat Abdullah mention these schools indicating they pre-date the current secular model of education.
Secular schools in Malaysia were largely an innovation of the British colonial government. Many of the earliest schools in Malaysia were founded in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. The oldest English-language school in Malaya is the Penang Free School, founded in 1816, followed by Malacca High School, St. Xavier's Institution, King Edward VII School (Taiping) and Anglo Chinese School, Klang. Many English-language schools are considered quite prestigious.
British historian Richard O. Winstedt worked to improve the education of the Malays and was instrumental in establishing Sultan Idris Training College with the purpose of producing Malay teachers. Richard James Wilkinson helped established the Malay College Kuala Kangsar in 1905 which aimed to educate the Malay elite.
Initially, the British colonial government did not provide for any Malay-language secondary schools, forcing those who had studied in Malay during primary school to adjust to an English-language education. Many Malays failed to pursue additional education due to this issue. Despite complaints about this policy, the British Director of Education stated:
It would be contrary to the considered policy of government to afford to a community, the great majority of whose members find congenial livelihood and independence in agricultural pursuits, more extended facilities for the learning of English which would be likely to have the effect of inducing them to abandon those pursuits
There is no fixed rules on when a child needs to start preschool education but majority would start when the child turns 3 years old. Schooling can begin earlier, from 3–6, in kindergarten. Preschool education usually lasts for 2 years, before they proceed to primary school at age 7. There is no formal preschool curriculum except a formal mandatory training and certification for principals and teachers before they may operate a preschool. The training covers lessons on child psychology, teaching methodologies, and other related curricula on childcare and development. Preschool education is not compulsory.
Preschool education is mainly provided by private for-profit preschools, though some are run by the government or religious groups. Some primary schools have attached preschool sections. Attendance in a preschool programme is not universal; while people living in urban areas are generally able to send their children to private kindergartens, few do in rural areas. Registered preschools are subjected to zoning regulations and must comply to other regulations such as health screening, fire hazard assessment and educational guidelines. Many preschools are located in high density residential areas, where normal residential units compliant to regulations are converted into the schools
Primary education in Malaysia begins at age seven and lasts for six years, referred to as Year (Tahun) 1 to 6 (also known as Standard (Darjah) 1 to 6). Year 1 to Year 3 are classified as Level One (Tahap Satu) while Year 4 to Year 6 are considered as Level Two (Tahap Dua). Students are promoted to the next year regardless of their academic performance.
From 1996 until 2000, the Penilaian Tahap Satu (PTS) or the Level One Evaluation was administered to Year 3 students. Excellence in this test allowed students to skip Year 4 and attend Year 5 instead. However, the test was removed from 2001 onwards due to concerns that parents and teachers were unduly pressuring students to pass the exam.
Before progressing to secondary education, Year 6 pupils sit for the Primary School Achievement Test (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah, UPSR). The subjects tested are Malay comprehension, Malay writing, English comprehension, English writing, Science and Mathematics. In addition to the six subjects, Chinese comprehension and written Chinese are compulsory in Chinese schools, while Tamil comprehension and written Tamil are compulsory in Tamil schools.
School types and medium of instruction Public primary schools are divided into two categories based on the medium of instruction:
Malay-medium National Schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan, SK)
non-Malay-medium National-type Schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan, SJK), also known as "vernacular schools", further divided into
National-type School (Chinese) (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina), SJK(C)), Mandarin-medium and simplified Chinese writing
National-type School (Tamil) (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Tamil), SJK (T)), Tamil-medium
All schools admit students regardless of racial and language background.
Malay and English are compulsory subjects in all schools. All schools use the same syllabus for non-language subjects regardless of the medium of instruction. The teaching of the Chinese language is compulsory in SJK(C), and Tamil language is compulsory in SJK(T). Additionally, a National School must provide the teaching of Chinese or Tamil language, as well as indigenous languages wherever practical, if the parents of at least 15 pupils in the school request that the particular language to be taught.
In January 2003, a mixed medium of instruction was introduced so that students would learn Science and Mathematics in English. Due to pressure from the Chinese community, SJK(C) teach Science and Mathematics in both English and Chinese. However, the government reversed the policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English in July 2009, and previous languages of instruction will be reintroduced in stages from 2012.
By degree of government funding, National Schools are government-owned and operated, while National-type Schools are mostly government-aided, though some are government-owned. In government-aided National-type Schools, the government is responsible for funding the school operations, teachers' training and salary, and setting the school curriculum, while the school buildings and assets belong to the local ethnic communities, which elect a board of directors for each school to safeguard the school properties. Between 1995 and 2000, the Seventh Malaysia Plan allocation for primary education development allocated 96.5% to National Schools which had 75% of total enrolment. Chinese National-type Schools (21% enrolment) received 2.4% of the allocation while Tamil National-type Schools (3.6% enrolment) received 1% of the allocation.
Previously, there were also other types of National-type Schools. The English National-type Schools were assimilated to become National Schools as a result of decolonisation. Others, such as those for the Punjabi language were closed due to the dwindling number of students. The role of promoting the Punjabi language and culture is currently fulfilled by Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) based organisations.
The division of public education at the primary level into National and National-type Schools has been criticised for allegedly creating racial polarisation at an early age. To address the problem, attempts have been made to establish Sekolah Wawasan ("vision schools"). Under the concept, three schools (typically one SK, one SJK(C) and one SJK(T)) would share the same school compound and facilities while maintaining different school administrations, ostensibly to encourage closer interaction. However, this was met with objections from most of the Chinese and Indian communities as they believe this will restrict the use of their mother tongue in schools.
Secondary education Public secondary education in Malaysia is provided by National Secondary Schools (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan, SMK). National Secondary Schools use Malay as the main medium of instruction. English is a compulsory subject in all schools. Since 2003, Science and Mathematics had been taught in English, however in 2009 the government decided to revert to use Malay starting in year 2012. As in primary schools, a National Secondary School must provide teaching of Chinese and Tamil languages, as well as indigenous languages wherever practical, on request of parents of at least 15 pupils in the school. In addition, foreign languages such as Arabic or Japanese may be taught at certain schools. Secondary education lasts for five years, referred to as Form (Tingkatan) 1 to 5. Form 1 to Form 3 are known as Lower Secondary (Menengah Rendah), while Form 4 and 5 are known as Upper Secondary (Menengah Atas). Most students who had completed primary education are admitted to Form 1. Students from national-type primary schools have the additional requirement to obtain a minimum C grade for the Malay subjects in UPSR, failing which they will have to attend a year-long transition class, commonly called "Remove" (Kelas/Tingkatan Peralihan), before proceeding to Form 1. As in primary schools, students are promoted to the next year regardless of their academic performance. Co-curricular activities are compulsory at the secondary level, where all students must participate in at least 2 activities for most states, and 3 activities for the Sarawak region. There are many co-curricular activities offered at the secondary level, varying at each school and each student is judged based in these areas. Competitions and performances are regularly organised. Co-curricular activities are often categorised under the following: Uniformed Groups, Performing Arts, Clubs & Societies, Sports & Games. Student may also participate in more than 2 co-curricular activities
After the SPM, students from public secondary school would have a choice of either studying Form 6 or the matriculation (pre-university). If they are accepted to continue studying in Form 6, they will also take the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (which is usually abbreviated as STPM) or Malaysian Higher School Certificate examination (its British equivalent is the General Certificate of Education 'A' Levels examination or internationally, the Higher School Certificate). STPM is regulated by the Malaysian Examinations Council. Although it is generally taken by those desiring to attend public universities in Malaysia, it is internationally recognised and may also be used, though rarely required, to enter private local universities for undergraduate courses.
Additionally all students may apply for admission to matriculation. However, unlike STPM, the matriculation certificate is only valid for universities in Malaysia. This matriculation is a one or two-year programme run by the Ministry of Education. Previously, it was a one-year programme, but beginning 2006, 30% of all matriculation students were offered two-year programmes.
Not all applicants for matriculation are admitted and the selection criteria are not publicly declared, which has led to speculation that any criteria existing may not be adhered to. A race-based quota is applied on the admission process, with 90% of the places being reserved for the Bumiputeras, and the other 10% for the non-Bumiputeras.
The matriculation programme has come under some criticism as it is the public opinion that this programme is easier than the sixth form programme leading to the STPM and serves to help Bumiputeras enter public universities easily. Having been introduced after the abolishment of a racial-quota-based admission into universities, the matriculation programme continues the role of its predecessor, albeit in modified form.The matriculation programme adopts a semester basis examination (two semesters in a year) whilst STPM involves only one final examination, covering all one and a half years' syllabus in one go.
The Centre for Foundation Studies in Science, University of Malaya, offers two programmes only for Bumiputera students : i) The Science Program, a one-year course under the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Higher Education. After completing the program, the students are placed into various science-based courses in local universities through the meritocracy system. ii) The Special Preparatory Program to Enter the Japanese Universities, a two-year intensive programme under the Look East Policy Division of the Public Service Department of Malaysia in co-operation with the Japanese Government.
Tertiary education is heavily subsidised by the government. Before the introduction of the matriculation system, students aiming to enter public universities had to complete an additional 18 months of secondary schooling in Form Six and sit the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia, STPM); equivalent to the British Advanced or 'A' levels. Since the introduction of the matriculation programme as an alternative to STPM in 1999, students who completed the 12-month programme in matriculation colleges (kolej matrikulasi in Malay) can enrol in local universities. However, in the matriculation system, only 10% of the places are open to non-Bumiputra students. Excellence in these examinations does not guarantee a place in a public university. The selection criteria are largely opaque as no strictly enforced defined guidelines exist.
The classification of tertiary education in Malaysia is organised upon the Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) which seeks to set up a unified system of post secondary qualifications offered on a national basis both in the vocational as well as higher educational sectors.
In period of 2004 till 2013, the government formed the Ministry of Higher Education to oversee tertiary education in Malaysia.
Although the government announced a reduction of reliance of racial quotas in 2002, instead leaning more towards meritocracy. Prior to 2004, all lecturers in public tertiary institutions were required to have some post-graduate award as a requisite qualification. In October 2004, this requirement was removed and the Higher Education Ministry announced that industry professionals who added value to a course could apply for lecturing positions directly to universities even if they did not have postgraduate qualifications. To head off possible allegations that the universities faced a shortage of lecturers, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow said "This is not because we are facing a shortage of lecturers, but because this move will add value to our courses and enhance the name of our universities...Let's say Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg, both [undergraduates but] well known and outstanding in their fields, want to be teaching professors. Of course, we would be more than happy to take them in." He went on to offer as an example the field of architecture whereby well-known architects recognised for their talents do not have master's degrees
Postgraduate degrees such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) are becoming popular and are offered by both the public universities and the private colleges.
All public and most private universities in Malaysia offer Master of Science degrees either through coursework or research and Doctor of Philosophy degrees through research
Islamic religious schools
A system of Islamic religious schools exists in Malaysia. Primary schools are called Sekolah Rendah Agama (SRA), while secondary schools are called Sekolah Menengah Agama (SMA).
Another type of schools available in Malaysia is the Islamic religious schools or sekolah agama rakyat (SAR). The schools teach Muslim students subjects related to Islam such as early Islamic history, Arabic language and Fiqh. It is not compulsory though some states such as Johor make it mandatory for all Muslim children aged six to twelve to attend the schools as a complement to the mandatory primary education. In the final year, students will sit an examination for graduation. Most SAR are funded by respective states and managed by states' religious authority.
Previously, former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad suggested to the government that the SARs should be closed down and integrated into the national schools. However, his proposal was met with resistance and later, the matter was left to die quietly.
Such schools still exist in Malaysia, but are generally no longer the only part of a child's education in urban areas. Students in rural parts of the country do still attend these schools. Some of the academic results published by these schools are accepted by mainline universities by taking Malaysia High Certificate of Religious Study (Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia, abbreviated as STAM), and many of these students continue their education in locations such as Pakistan or Egypt