Essential Education


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.

The primary

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.


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.


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.

Internatio­nal 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”

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