Current Status of Malaysian Education System

Malaysia comprises a multiethnic society and the density of its population is estimated at 20.56 million (1996). From this figure 19.65 million are Malaysian while 907,000 are foreign national. Three major races in Malaysia are the Malay (59% or 12.13 million), the Chinese (26% or 5.34 million) and the Indian (8% or 1.52 million). Based on age distribution, 35.2% are between 1 to 14 years old, 52.3 % are 15 to 49, 6.3 % are 50 to 59 and the rest is about 6.1%. Besides the structure of the society, The education system are very much influenced by several historical events particularly in education policy formulation and the future needs of the nation.

After the era of British colonialism, there was a need to revamp the colonial education system; hence, a new educational policy was set up after a special committee led by Tun Abdul Razak (first Minister of Education and the second Prime Minister of Malaysia) made a recommendation. This comprehensive recommendation was known as Razakís Report 1956. The objective of this committee was to establish a national education system that would promote the cultural, social, economic and political development accepted by the nation as a whole, having regard that the Malay language would be the national language. Hence, it should be the main medium of instruction in the education system. The content of the Razakís Report became the basis of the education system as enshrined in the Education Ordinance 1957. Furthermore, the Malaysian Government at that time started to make several evolutionary changes especially upon educational curriculum to suit the aspiration of the Malaysian outlook.

To speed up the process of national integration and unity, the Rahman Talibís Report was made to review the education policy in 1960 and became a basis to establish the Education Act 1961. The act provides the legal basis for enabling national language to be a compulsory subject in primary and secondary school and in all training institutions. In addition, it is a requirement to have a satisfied grade to be awarded a certificate for public education examination especially at the end and upper secondary levels. All School using English as the medium of instruction were gradually adopting National language.

In 1979, a report from the Cabinet Committee chaired by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (Mahathirís Report), who was the Minister of Education at that time (later become a Prime Minister since 1981), was finalized after a six-year study. The objectives were to achieve national unity in a multiethnic society besides increase the sense of patriotism, to produce skilled manpower for national development and to further extend the policy of democratization of education in order to strike a balance in all aspects of education between rural and urban areas. In 1995 and 1996, the Education Act was amended to give sufficient need to meet the challenges in the 21st century beside making Malaysia as a center of excellence to the world. The national education philosophy indicates that it is essential to develop potential individuals who are responsible and capable of achieving high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large. Therefore the current Malaysian education system is designed to meet such demand. The system is categorized as pre-school, primary, secondary (lower and upper), post secondary and higher education levels.

Pre-school education has become a part of the formal education system after the Education Act in 1996 enacted. It guarantees access of pre-school education to children between the age of five and six in urban and rural area.

At primary level, there are several types of primary schools in Malaysia namely as National School (5244 schools), National Type (C) School (1282) for the Chinese medium of instruction, National Type (T) School (530) for the Indian and finally the Special School (28) for the handicapped. This level involves children at the age of 7 to 12. They will be assigned to Year-One to Year-Six classes. The medium of instruction lies on National language except at the National Type (C) and (T) Schools. The objective is to provide basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, inculcating the thinking skills and values across the curriculum. At Year-Six class, pupils will sit for Primary School Achievement Test (PSAT). However, there will be automatic promotion to the secondary level regardless to the result of the PSAT.

Schools at secondary level are subdivided into six categories: regular (1376 schools), fully residential (36), vocational (47), technical (32), religious (45) and special school (3). After leaving the six-year orientation at primary level, Pupils are then promoted to enroll in the lower secondary level, which has a period of study for three years (Form One to Form Three). School leavers from the primary level who attended the National Type (C) and (T) School have to undergo a year transition class before enrolling in Form One. This is to enable them to acquire a sufficient understanding of the national language, which is also a medium of instruction at the secondary level. At the end of the three-year period, pupils are required to sit for the Lower Secondary Assessment (LSA).

At the upper secondary level the education is offered in academic, technical and vocational school. Based on their performance at the LSA examination, certain pupils are channeled (based upon application and qualification) to one of these schools. However, those who trailed at the LSA examination still have a chance to enroll (automatic promotion) in the academic school. The period of study will cover for two years (From Four to Form Five). It is important to indicate that although this level introduce curriculum in technical or vocational skill, general education is still introduced due to the requirement of implementing the teaching of the common core subject to all categories of school. In Form-Five, the pupils from academic and technical school will sit on the Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) examination while the third will sit for the MCE (Vocational) examination. Upper secondary school leavers have the opportunity to enter Polytechnics in order to become technical assistant and technicians where these days such careers are very demanded in manufacturing, commercial and service sectors.

Post secondary level prepares students for university entrance (local and foreign) and other higher education institutions. Two programs offered at this level: Form-Sixth and Matriculation Level. The first will cover a period of two years and will require students to sit for the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (MHSC) examination. The latter is designed as a preparatory class that enables student to meet the university entry requirement. Normally the period will be at most conducted in two years. However, such requirement is dependent upon the universities that offer such program.

Higher education level aims to produce professionals as demanded by the nation for human resources and also provide facilities for research and consultant services. Nowadays all universities in Malaysia are urged by the government to focus more on the fields such as science and technology. At present the number of established local university are nine and this number does not include the private education institution.

Education curriculum is the heartbeat of the education system. The primary and secondary educations have adopted a new curriculum based on the Cabinet Report on Educational Policy Implementation in 1979 (Mahathirís Report). It is to realize the National Education Philosophy and the requirement for the human resource in the country. The school curriculum are categorized as New Primary School Curriculum (NPSC) and Integrated Secondary School Curriculum (ISSC) for lower and upper level. NPSC emphasizes reading, writing and arithmetic skill. They covers the communication skill; the man and environment; and individual self-development. NPSC together with ISSC will foster the holistic and integrated development of individuals in the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical aspects towards producing a balanced, harmonious and responsible citizen. At the lower secondary level, there are core and additional subjects and divided into such component: Malay, English, Mathematics, Art, Science, History, Geography, Islamic Religious Education/Moral Education, Physical and Health Education, and Integrated Living Skills; and additional subjects are Chinese and Tamil Languages. The Integrated Living Skills are divided into two sections. First, the core subject comprises three components: manipulative skills, commerce and enterpreneurship and family life education. Second, the elective subject also comprises three components: additional manipulative skills, home economics and agriculture. Student will choose one component in the elective subject.

At the upper secondary level, ISSC Curriculum is to suit the academic, technical and vocational schools. In the Academic School, this new curriculum gives more flexibility to the student to choose subjects according to their interest and potential. The lower secondary core subject will be further studied and the electives are classified as humanities, vocational and technology, science and Islamic studies. In the Technical and Vocational School, the curriculum provide them with technical and vocational oriented curriculum. Besides the core subject, technical school provides elective areas such as technical, agricultural and commerce while vocational school, the areas are engineering trade, home economics, commerce and agriculture.

In conclusion, Malaysian educational system is designed in a sense to create a united, democratic, just, liberal and progressive society. The new curriculums are designed in such manner to meet the standard of the current education system in Malaysia and it gives more flexibility to the students. A well-designed curriculum that suit the education structure will therefore produce an effective education system to achieve not only the national policy and education philosophy as a whole but also able to satisfy the need of the existing and future generation.

Azman Mohd. Yusof

Education Policy

Graduate School of Policy Science, Saitama University

November 1998