EDUCATION IN MALAYSIA
A general overview of the range of national and private education choices in Malaysia, from types of schools and curriculums to methodology and qualifications.
The subject of education is a major concern for all parents and decisions are usually made once a child reaches preschool age.The primary goal is to ensure that the child receives the best possible education that will equip him or her with the academic, social and practical skills needed to succeed in life – and to do that, the choice of school and curriculum is extremely impor tant.
It is interesting to note that Malaysia has the highest number of students studying in international schools in Southeast Asia, which explains why there are new schools opening in the country regularly. Trying to narrow down your choice to just one out of the plethora of educational institutions in Malaysia can be a daunting task and parents would do well to inform themselves of the various curriculums and price brackets, as well as details like academic results, facilities and pastoral care.
Here, we help give a quick overview of your options which will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the educational landscape in Malaysia.
Preschool is not mandatory in Malaysia, but the majority of parents will enrol their children in some form of preschool from around the age of three until six as a child’s development progresses very quickly at this age.
Most preschools in Malaysia follow the Montessori method or have some variant of curriculum that incorporates the basic tenets of the Montessori philosophy. However, you will also find other popular early childhood educational philosophies such as Reggio Emilia and Waldorf.
goal is to ensure your child receives the best possible
education to enable success
in the future”
Blended curriculums that incorporate popular educational approaches like the aforementioned with the school’s own learning philosophy are also common. Most fit somewhere between the playbased and academic-based ends of the learning spectrum. Objectives of local preschool education may include a basic grasp of the national and vernacular languages as well, with Mandarin being a popular choice.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES
Once a child reaches primary school going age, which is seven for national schools, the cheapest option are the public schools.This is free for all Malaysians, and places are extremely limited for foreign students as local students are naturally given priority.
Public schools are usually divided into national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan; SK) and vernacular schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan;
SJK) which are separated according to the language of instruction. All public schools follow the national curriculum and Malay and English are compulsory subjects; Malay is also generally used as the language of instruction.Vernacular schools will offer additional instruction in the relevant languages: Chinese for SJK(C) schools and Tamil for SJK(T) schools. An advantage of public school education is that students will end up being multilingual.
The Malaysian national curriculum tends to take an exam-oriented approach, with student performance benchmarked by standardised tests that determine everything from what secondary school they go to, whether they study a science- or arts-based ‘stream’ in upper secondary and what tertiary programmes they can apply for. Of these tests, the
Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) taken in Form 5 is the most important as eligibility for scholarships and university programmes is determined
based on the results obtained in that examination.
When it comes to tertiary studies, public universities are also government-funded and as a result, the tuition fees are usually much cheaper than private universities.The universities are divided into Research, Focused and Comprehensive universities with the latter being more broadly focused, while Research universities prioritise R&D and Focused universities concentrate on specific subjects like technical, education, management or defence. Universiti Malaya is the oldest university in the country, the best-ranked of Malaysia’s tertiary institutions and a prestigious name in local education.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES
The basic definition of a ‘private school’ is a school that is supported completely by fees instead of being subsidised by the government (which public schools are).Therefore, private schools in Malaysia cover a wide spectrum, including but not limited to religious and independent schools, private primary and secondary schools that follow the national curriculum, and international schools with foreign curriculums.
Religious and Independent Schools
Religious schools in Malaysia tend to be Islamic religious schools.
Some states, such as Johor, mandate that Muslim children must attend these schools in tandem with regular schooling from the ages of six to 12. As a whole, it is not a mandatory education, nor is it usually the primary form of a child’s education.
Chinese independent high schools are popular among the
Chinese segment of the population and usually require a child to have had primary schooling in an SJK(C) to build the language foundation. Unlike public schools, the language of instruction is usually Chinese and students also take different standardised tests, although some schools do offer the public secondary school syllabus to enable students to take the local tests and gain entry into public universities.
National Curriculum Schools Another type of private school includes those offering the Malaysian national curriculum but with the flexibility to decide on how the curriculum is taught. Since the fees are generally higher in these private schools, the infrastructure and facilities tend to be better, and lower student numbers mean that classes are smaller and pupils get more attention from their teachers. These schools also use a different set of criteria in recruiting teachers compared to government schools.
In 2019 there were over 44,000 Malaysian students studying at international schools across the country.The international school scene in Malaysia is a dynamic one with over 160 schools and new institutions opening on a regular basis.
Some of the most popular foreign curriculums offered include American, British, Australian and Canadian curriculums, as well as acclaimed worldwide programmes such as the International Baccalaureate.There are also options to study French, German and Singaporean curriculums. All these schools offer education from the early years through to secondary school culminating in qualifications including IGCSEs, A Levels, IB, HSC and the American High School Diploma. Fees at these schools run the gamut from the upper bracket to much more affordable alternatives that are now readily available in this competitive market.
Private education is a significant decision to make and more often than not, will take up a hefty part of your finances. However, what you do get are excellent facilities, well-trained teaching staff, smaller class sizes, school trips, varied extra-curricular activities and the chance to be more involved in your child’s learning journey.
Private universities also derive their income from student fees and incur higher costs, with some of them being satellite campuses of renowned schools like the University of Nottingham, Monash University and HeriotWatt University.These institutions are associated with world-class standards of education and many who enrol in these universities tend to aim to spend some time studying or working overseas.The most popular degree choices at these universities include medicine, engineering, mass communications, law and accounting.
Choose from a wide range of curriculums, fee brackets, academic qualifications and types of facilities”