On Education » Malaysia

Education in Malaysia

Population: 27.3 millions

Literacy Rate: 88.7%

GNP: USD11,100 per capita

Human Development Index: 0.81

Malaysia School Distribution:

  • 6,000 Primary Schools 650,000 Students/Level.
  • 4,500 Secondary Schools 600,000 Students/Level.

Teachers Distribution:

  • Primary Schools 32,000 (20 Students/Teacher)
  • Secondary Schools 30,000 (20 Students/Teacher)

Malaysia Academic Year starts from January to end in November.

Education in Malaysia is monitored by the federal government Ministry of Education.

In 2003, Malaysian education system has changed drastically which resulted in the use of English replacing Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) in all science and mathematics subjects. Besides that, new syllabus in most PMR (Form3) subjects and a new SPM (Form5) subject, English for Science and Technology (EST) are introduced. The use of English in all science and mathematics subjects only involved Primary One (also known as Standard One), Secondary One and Lower Sixth Form students in 2003. Thus, students in other forms that year were still following the old syllabus and learning science and mathematics subjects in Malay. These students would undergo the language change only when they moved on to either Secondary One or Lower Sixth Form.

Most Malaysian children start schooling between the ages of three to six, in kindergarten. Most kindergartens are run privately, but there are a few government-operated kindergartens.

Children begin primary schooling at the age of seven for a period of six years. There are two major types of government-operated or government-assisted primary schools. They are the national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan) which use Malay as the medium of instruction, and the national-type schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan) which use either Chinese or Tamil as the medium of instruction. Before progressing to the secondary level of education, students in Year 6 are required to sit for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR), or Primary School Assessment Examination.

Secondary education in government secondary schools last for five years. Government secondary schools use Malay as the main medium of instruction. The only exceptions are the Maths and Science subjects as well as languages other than Malay. At the end of the third year or Form Three, students sit for the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR), Lower Secondary Assessment. The combination of subjects available to Form 4 students vary from one school to another. In the last year (Form 5), students sit for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Malaysian Certificate of Education, which is equivalent to the British Ordinary or 'O' Levels (now referred to as GCSE). The oldest in Malaysia is Penang Free School. Penang Free School is also the oldest school in South East Asia.

Mathematics and Science subjects in government primary and secondary schools such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry are taught in English. The reasoning was that students would no longer be hindered by the language barrier during their tertiary education in fields such as medicine and engineering.

There are also 60 Chinese Independent High Schools in Malaysia, where most subjects are taught in Chinese. Chinese Independent High Schools are monitored and standardized by the United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (UCSCAM, more commonly referred to by its Chinese name, Dong Zong), however, unlike government schools, every independent school is free to make its own decisions. Studying in independent schools takes 6 years to complete, divided into Junior Middle (3 years) and Senior Middle (3 years). Students sit for a standardised test by Dong Zong known as the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) in Junior Middle 3 (equivalent to PMR) and Senior Middle 3 (equivalent to AO level). A number of independent schools conduct classes in Malay and English in addition to Chinese, enabling the students to sit for the PMR and SPM as well.

Malaysia’s secondary schools are grouped into a few types, namely SMK (National Schools) which include daily schools and religious schools (SMKA - There are 54 of them), SMJK (Chinese Independent Schools), SMT (Technical schools), SBP (Residential Schools, MRSM (Mara Junior College)and private-funding schools such SMA (Religious Schools), International Schools (such as Fairview International School)and Private Schools (such as Sri Cempaka)

Students who wish to enter public universities must complete one and a half more years of secondary schooling in Form Six and sit for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), Malaysian Higher School Certificate; equivalent to the British Advanced or ’A’ levels.

As for tertiary education, there are public universities such as University of Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. In addition, five international reputable universities have set up their branch campuses in Malaysia since 1998. A branch campus can be seen as an off-shore campus of the foreign university, which offers the same courses and awards as the main campus. Both local and international students can acquire these identical foreign qualifications in Malaysia for a cheaper price. The foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia are: Monash University (Sunway Campus), Curtin University of Technology (Sarawak Campus), Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus and FTMS-De Monfort University Campus of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

Students also have the option of enrolling in private colleges after secondary studies. Most colleges have educational links with overseas universities especially in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Malaysian students abroad study mostly in the UK, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, and Japan.

In addition to the National Curriculum, Malaysia has many international schools. International schools offer students the opportunity to study the curriculum of another country. These schools mainly cater to the growing expatriate population in the country. International schools include: the Australian International School, Malaysia (Australian curriculum), The Alice Smith School (British Curriculum), The Garden International School (British Curriculum), Lodge International School (British Curriculum), The International School of Kuala Lumpur (International Baccalaureate and American Curriculum), The Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur (Japanese Curriculum), The International School of Penang (International Baccalaureate and British Curriculum), amongst others.

Updated On: 15.05.09