An Overview of the Education Structure in Malaysia

Educational structure in Malaysia
Preschool: According to the Malaysian system of education, pre-school education commences at the age of 4. Once a child reaches 6 years on the first day of January in a school year, he/she enters the first year of compulsory primary education. Following the completion of primary education, students go on to complete secondary and post secondary education. University studies comprises the final stage of education.

Primary and Secondary Education: Primary education lasts for 6 years and this is followed by 5 years of secondary education. While primary and secondary education are provided free of cost by the government, further education is subject to the academic performance and financial capabilities of the student. 

Further Studies: School leavers who have obtained certain qualifications can opt for further studies at post-secondary schools to obtain pre-university qualifications. These include sixth form, matriculation programmes, pre-university qualifications such as GCE “A.” Education can further be completed at tertiary or higher educational institutions which then leads to an award of a certificate or diploma. Study opportunities at higher levels include certificate, diploma and undergraduate and postgraduate studies. While undergraduate courses include professional studies and bachelor degrees, postgraduate or higher studies involve Master’s degrees and doctorates. 

Higher Education: Higher education at the diploma level for secondary school certificate holders/SPM from 17 years onwards is different from the Bachelor’s degree. Those opting for Bachelor’s degree courses need post secondary qualifications such as STPM equivalent to the GCE “A” level and other pre-university qualifications. The structure of education in Malaysia can be divided into pre-tertiary and higher education levels. While the Ministry of Education Malaysia oversees pre-tertiary education from pre-school to primary, secondary and teacher education), higher studies fall under the purview of the Ministry of Higher Education.   

Levels of the Education Structure

The national education system includes the following levels of education namely:
  • Pre-primary/Kindergarten Education for children between the ages of 4 to 6
  • Primary Education from ages 7 to 12 which is equivalent to Standards 1 to 6
  • Secondary Education is from age 13 to 17 for students from Form 1 to Form 3
  • Upper Secondary Education is for students aged 16 to 17 which is Form 4 to Form 5: this includes academic secondary education, technical/vocational secondary education and religious secondary education.
  • Post-secondary Education in the Pre-University from age 18 for 1 to 2 years- either in Form 6 for one and a half years or Matriculation certificate for one year
  • Higher Education.
Higher Education: Higher education comprises certificate and diploma education at polytechnics or colleges from the age of 18. At teacher training institutes, education commences from age 18 onwards. Bachelor’s degree programmes range from age 19 or 20 for three to five years. Postgraduate studies involve studying for master’s or PhD studies following acquisition of a Bachelor’s degree for one to five years.

Pre-tertiary Education in Malaysia

Within the Malaysian education structure, 7 broad categories of educational institutions exist including pre-tertiary and higher educational institutions. At the pre-tertiary level is the Ministry of Education, Malaysia and 5 categories of educational institutions fall under this:
  • Government and private sector kindergartens following National Pre-School Curriculum
  • Government schools following National Examination and the National Curriculum of Malaysia
  • Government aided schools following Malaysia National Curriculum and National Examination
  • Private Schools following Malaysian National Curriculum and National Examination
Foreign system schools such as global and expatriate schools which follow an international curriculum and use English as a medium of education.

Types of Primary Schools: Within the primary schools funded by the government, there are national schools and national type schools. Within the national type schools, there are Chinese national type schools and Tamil national type schools. The national language is a compulsory subject and English is taught as the second language.

Key Statistics: As per the OECD 2012 report, around 7,696 public primary schools exist in Malaysia and student enrolment amounts to 2,853,580. Number of public secondary schools equals 2,219 and total number of students enrolled here adds up to 2,283,962. 186 private primary schools are currently there in Malaysia and a total of 57,298 students enrolled here according to an OECD 2012 report. According to the Ministry of Education, there were 87,003 students enrolled in 145 private secondary schools.  For latest updates about OECD Malaysia click here.

Here is official data of Ministry of Education, Malaysia.

Malaysian Higher Education

Structure of Education in Malaysia

Public and Private Higher Educational Institutions

For higher educational institutions, the governing body is the Ministry of higher education. 2 categories of educational institutions exist namely the public and the private.

Public institutions are government funded public universities, polytechnics and colleges. Private higher educational institutions which are not funded by the government include non university status institutions like colleges, university status institutions such as university colleges and private universities and foreign university branch campuses.

Statistical Overview of Universities and Institutions

According to the  Ministry of Higher Education, there were around 400 private colleges in 2011 and 6 branches of foreign university campus. Malaysia is also home to 20 public universities and 30 polytechnic institutions. Around 72 community colleges and 50 private universities and university colleges are also located in Malaysia in 2011. 89,686 higher educational institutions are situated in Malaysia. According to the Ministry, around 508,256 students enrolled in public higher educational institutions including 25,855 international students in 2011. In the same year, students enrolled in private higher educational institutions totalled 541,629 students including 62,705 international students. 

Academic Qualifications Plus Examinations in Malaysia

Types of Examinations Conducted

UPSR: At the close of 6 years of primary schooling, pupils must appear for a common public examination know as PSAT/UPSR or Primary School Achievement Test / Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah.

PMR: Towards the close of the third year at the lower secondary level, students must appear for a public examination called Penilaian Menengah Rendah/PMR or the Lower Secondary Assessment/LSA.PMR is not a terminal examination, but a diagnostic evaluation and students access free upper secondary level education for another 2 years following its completion. From 2016, PMR will be done away with and school based assessment will be used for Form Three students. 

SPM: Following two years of upper secondary education, students should appear for the public common examination referred to as Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, SPM or the Malaysian Certificate of Education equivalent to GSCE ‘O’ level. Free post-secondary courses for students with SPM qualifications include the Sixth Form and matriculation class.

STPM: The Sixth Form (Upper and Lower Form for one and a half years) prepares students for common public examinations namely  Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM)which equals GCE A levels. Matriculation class for one year conducted by matriculation colleges under the Ministry of Education award candidates who pass the exam with matriculation certificate. 

Courses Available

Different types of courses are available for students in Malaysia. The highest study is that of the doctoral level. Research master degrees are also offered here. Fully or partly taught master’s degree programmes equalling 40 credits are next. Students can also opt for postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates. Bachelor’s degree courses are next and they equal around 120 credits, according to the Malaysian Qualification Framework. Students can also opt for graduate diploma, graduate certificate and advanced diplomas. At the lower rungs of the higher education system, are the diploma, certificate and skills certificate courses. 


Higher education in Malaysia is well structured. First 11 years of education encompassing the primary and the secondary levels are free. Primary education is mandatory. Public as well as private educational institutions abound in Malaysia.
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