Implementation of Education Policy in Malaysia


Policy in Malaysia is designed generally upon the requirement of the political and social structure and the future demand of the nations as a whole. Since Malaysian community is a multi-ethnic society; therefore, any public policy formulation has to be carefully studied by taking into consideration many factors such as political, social and economic factors to give an acceptable norm of satisfaction among its citizen. Therefore, this term paper will briefly explain the influence of all these factors that eventually set up the current education policy in Malaysia.

Malaysian Political System

In order to understand the public policy in Malaysia; therefore, it is essential to get a clear scenario on the country’s political system and its social structures. Malaysian political system is based on Parliamentary Democracy and is ruled as a Constitutional Monarchy with his Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the King) as the Supreme Head of the country. Malaysia upholds federal constitution that divides authority into legislative, judicial and executive authorities. The doctrine of separation of power, check and balance are clearly stated in the Federal Constitution. Concept of federalism also becomes a basis for Government Administration between the state and the federal government. Such system is so effective to coordinate the public policy formulation and implementation processes with the assistance of the government machinery. Since independence (31 August 1957), National Front Party (Barisan Nasional), which composed of United Malay National Organization, Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress and other affiliation parties, has become the only ruling party in the country and three major races represent it: the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian. Malaysia’s total population is estimated at 20.56 million (1996). Three major races in Malaysia are the Bumiputras (sons of the soils) including Malay (59% or 12.13 million), the Chinese (26% or 5.34 million) and the Indian (8% or 1.52 million). The structure of the society has definitely influenced the development of the current Malaysian Education System through various series of events in reforming the education policy just to suit the current and the future demands of the nation.

Important Features of Policy Process

In Malaysia, the social and political systems are very closely related in formulating public policy. The establishment of public policy is complex due to involvement various interested parties during the process to derive to a decision. Public Policy in Malaysia can be created through one or combination of three processes. First is through political channel that means the policy is initiated through Cabinet orders or through the recommendation of several political reigning parties. Second is through administrative processes at the ministerial level. Since a policy has implication on the administrative machinery, the drafted policy is discussed at several high-level of government meetings. Third is through the combination of both processes via integrated interaction. Special Committees may be set up to study in-depth the policy before presenting it to the Cabinet. Hence, we can see in this paper that public policy in Malaysia such as Education Policy will always be revised from time to time adjusting itself to the contemporary requirement by applying these three processes.

In general, policy making process in Malaysia has to go through several stages such as identifying the arising problems, recommending suitable alternatives, implementing the suitable action policy, coordinating various events to suit the established policy and finally evaluating the effectiveness of such policy. Upon all processes, policy revision is vital nowadays due to the development of complex society in the modern era. Besides the policy process making, the roles played by certain groups are essential to provide a better input in the content of the policy. Generally three categories are identified: the politicians and government public administrators; the publics; and the related interest group. The first group is the major players to be responsible in ensuring the success of the policy implementation. This group can be refined as the Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, and high-level of government officials. The policy is implemented under the jurisdiction of the Constitution and government regulations. Under the Constitution, the federal, state and local governments are given constitutional rights to implement public policy. As for the publics, they can act individually or form interest groups to put forth their ideas and needs for government consideration. However, these individuals and interest groups do not automatically have the exact power to formulate a public policy or playing as a major actor. Still, their movement can sometimes get a kind of strong public support through their campaign and activities and they also can make the policymaker to understand a ground problem in a clear vision to resolve the arising problems. Now let us relate Malaysian education policy in a clear sense of its policy processes and implementations before and after independence.

Evolution of Malaysian Education Policy

During the British Colonialism, the government at that time identified a need to establish a systematic school system that would create a quality education for all races in the country. However it was made in the sense of satisfying the British interest not to the nation as a whole. In 1950, Barnes Committee headed by L.J.Barnes (Oxford University) was established to make a study upon meeting such requirement. Barnes Report was available in 1951 that highlighted the following recommendation. All Malay and English school would be preserved and should be given priority. Vernacular school would be closed and replaced by the National School. English would be the medium of instruction at the secondary level. Free education was guaranteed at the National School. The Chinese and the Indian felt dissatisfaction about such recommendation and voiced out that their system of education should also be emphasized. Fenn-Wuu Committee was then established to revise the education problem for the Chinese community. The committee recommended that the Malay, Chinese and Indian languages should simultaneously be a medium of instruction in the school system and therefore all schoolbooks should apply those languages. However, the government objected such proposal. In this case, the British administration had shown strong enforcement to implement its own education policy according to their interest not according to the nation’s interest.

At the end of British colonialism era, the society, especially from several group of educated Malay made a movement to revamp the colonial education system. The essence of having a new national education policy was to make it more representative to the nation. Such movement had made the education issue to be prioritized in the aspect of nation building. Hence, the government agreed to set up a special committee led by Tun Abdul Razak (first Minister of Education and the second Prime Minister of Malaysia) to make several recommendations. This committee composed of high level of government officials and education experts from various groups (local and foreign). This comprehensive recommendation was known as Razak’s 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, Malay language should be the main medium of instruction in the education system. The content of the Razak’s Report was later became the basis feature to establish 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. Education Policy should reflect to the satisfaction of all society in Malaysia and this had become a part of the political agenda for the ruling party.

To speed up the process of national integration and unity, the Rahman Talib’s Report was made by new special committee to review the education policy in 1960 and became a basis to establish the Education Act 1961. The act provided the legal basis for enabling national language to be a compulsory subject in primary and secondary school and in all training institutions. The act required pupils to have a satisfied grade in national language subject to be awarded a certificate for public education examination especially at the end of the lower and upper secondary levels. All School using English as the medium of instruction were gradually adopting National language. Since national language is Malay and had already accepted by the Chinese, Indian and other races; therefore, such enforcement will enable the society as a whole to shape up the language proficiency in the Malay language.

In 1979, a report from the Special Cabinet Committee chaired by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (Mahathir’s 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. This report has become a guideline for reforming the education system in the recent years. 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. Pre-school education has become one of the important components 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. This will guarantee that the rural society will get the same opportunity to develop their social status by having quality education. The New Primary and Secondary Education Curriculums have been introduced to focus on developing skilled and knowledge manpower for the nation.

From the brief explanation above, we can analyze that the education policy in Malaysia is always being changed from time to time in order to meet the current and the future demands. We also can observe that such policy will be effectively implemented through collaboration among races and also through enforcing it by legal binding.

Examplification of Policy Process Related to Education Reform

In brief, Public Policy in Malaysia can be created through legal action, planning, program and project. The implementation of education policy combines most of the factors mentioned above. Education Policy was initiated structurally through a set up of special committee that proposed several recommendations. Minister and Public Administrators in the Ministry of Education were held responsible to overview such recommendations. Several inputs were given by a group of experts (interest group) especially from the National Union of the Teacher Profession (NUTP) to strengthen the policy content. Finally, the proposed policy that portrayed a set of guidelines was put forth for the Cabinet approval and the Cabinet composed of Ministers that represent the affiliation political parties in the National Front Party. Therefore once decision is derived, it would be considered as representative to the nation at large. To enforce it, a set of regulations was introduced. Education Policy was then strengthened by the enforcement of Education Act.

To simplify, the Education Act 1996 was prepared in conjunction to the guideline set in the Education Policy. Public Administrators in the Ministry of Education were responsible to gather related materials to compose the drafted bill in two versions: Malay and English with the assistance from the expertise of the Attorney’s General Office before presenting it to the Cabinet. After having such draft, a memorandum (recommendation paper) was prepared to justify the concerned education bill and was sent to the related ministries and central agency such as Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning Unit, Implementation and Coordination Units, Attorney’s General Office; etc to get an advisory comment. The feedback is important to guide the Cabinet before making a decision. This Bill was prepared before the Parliament session begins, usually in one month before the session started. The Bill indicated certain parts of the existing law to be amended, if it involved amendments. After information was gathered, the Minister of Education gave approval to forward the memorandum and the drafted bill at the Cabinet weekly meeting (Wednesday) after getting the clearance from the Cabinet Secretariat. This secretariat is under the Cabinet, Constitution and Inter Government Relation Division, Prime Minister Department headed by the Chief Secretary to the Government who is also the Head of the Government Civil Service. When Cabinet approved the bill, the decision was conveyed to the Ministry and the Ministries concerned. The Ministry of Education proceeded to obtain a notice of Presentation on the Bill to the House of Representative and the Senate Office for debate and approval in both houses during the Parliament Session. The bill was passed by both houses (more 2/3 vote) and was submitted to His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the Royal Assent. The bill became law after gazetted. Finally, the decision was conveyed administratively to related parties and through several high-level of government meetings such as Meeting of the State Chief Minister; Meeting of Secretary-Generals of Ministries and Heads Of Services; Meeting of Heads of Federal Departments; Meeting of Chief Executives of Federal Statutory Bodies; and Meeting of Liaison Committee Between Federal and State Government.


Education reformation between countries may be different due to the characteristics of the nation, political and socio-economic establishment within one state. Hence, any kind of proposals on reforming education system in Malaysia has to be justifiable within the scope of the main vision of the country; in another word, the national policy. One way to collaborate is to proceed along the line with the vision of the country that has already been accepted by the whole nation and through structurally effective government machinery that has main players (the actors) to formulate and implement the policy effectively and efficiently.

Azman Mohd. Yusof

Policy Science

Graduate School of Policy Science, Saitama University

25 February 1998