K-12 Education System in Malaysia

The Ministry of Education has the responsibility for providing education at the pre-tertiary stage which includes the k12 education system in this nation. This includes pre-school, primary, secondary as well as post secondary level of education. The ministry has established a complete and comprehensive schooling system from pre-school to secondary education besides regulating the public as well as private schools plus educational institutions. 

National Education System in Malaysia

National Education System: As per the system of national education, a child’s education commences at pre-school when he/she is 4 years old. There is a 6 year mandatory primary education when a child attains the age of 6. Apart from government or public aided schools, there are also many private schools in Malaysia. 11 years of free primary as well as secondary education are provided by public schools. Fee is charged by private as well as global international schools. Primary education is compulsory for all students in Malaysia. Children aged 7 to 12 years can register as well as enrol in primary schools

Home Schooling: Home-schooling is allowed only if permission is given by the ministry. School term commences in January and closes in November. Students from public as well as private schools appear for common public exams at the close of the primary, lower as well as upper secondary and sixth form levels. 

Examinations: While the first 3 exams are carried out by the Examination-Syndicate under the Ministry, the final level or sixth form examination is carried out by the Examination Council of Malaysia. There are also foreign/international and expat schools in Malaysia. 

Schools in Malaysia

Public as well as private funded schools exist side by side within the educational system. Primary as well as secondary education in the public schools are free of cost, and this is not so for private schools. The Ministry estimates that 95 percent of primary as well as secondary school education in Malaysia is offered by public aided schools. Private sector is a leading provider of pre-school and tertiary education

3 categories of educational institutions exist in Malaysia under the Education Act namely:
  • Public schools
  • Public aided schools
  • Private schools
Foreign system schools which include international and expat schools are another type of private aided school. These are not under educational legislation and are exempted from following the curriculum mandated by the state.

Pre-Tertiary Education Structure in Malaysia

As per the Education Act 1996, pre-tertiary education for school aged children exists at 4 levels namely:
  • Level 1 which is Pre-School (for 4-6 year olds)
  • Level 2 which is Primary School (Standards 1 to 6 for 6 years from age 7-12)
  • Level 3 which is Secondary School (Ages 13-17 and Form 1-5 for 5 years)
  • Level 4 which is Post Secondary School (From Age 18 onwards and Sixth Form/Matriculation for 1 to 2 years)
Pre-school Education: This is part of the system of national education. Children commence education at preschools/kindergartens from ages of 4 to 6. Providers of pre-school education are kindergartens readily available in Malaysia. These schools are formed by government agencies, NGOs and the private sector. Leading government agencies providing preschool education comprise Ministry of Education, Ministry of Rural Development plus several other state level departments.

Kindergartens have been mandated to adopt Pre-School Curriculum which is national and established by the Ministry. This curriculum gives pre-school children a chance to develop their personality and communication skills. 

Primary Education: Primary schooling in Malaysia commences when the child is 6 years old. With effect from 2003, home based teaching/home-schooling is only allowed if the ministry gives permission for the same.  The following are the primary 3 categories of schools in primary educational system: 
  • Government schools: These are public funded and aided schools
  • Government aided schools:  These are public funded national type schools ( this is inclusive of Chinese and Tamil national type educational institutions)  
  • Private schools   
For the national schools, language of instruction is Bahasa Melayu. Medium of instruction in national-type schools is Mandarin if it is a Chinese type national school or Tamil if it is Tamil type national school. Malay language known as Bahasa Melayu is a compulsory/mandatory subject and English is taught as a second language. Private schools are approved under the Education Act (1996) for teaching the fundamental core subjects which are part of the curriculum.

National curriculum for primary schools or Primary School Integrated Curriculum/Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Rendah is mandatory This education curriculum is divided into two phases namely Grade 1 to 3 and Grade 4 to 6. At the time of Phase 1, the stress is on strong reading, writing as well as mathematical skills
Phase 2 involves further mastery of these skills. 

Students must then sit for the common public examination referred to as Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah /Primary School Achievement Test at the end of their primary education.

Secondary Education: After primary education, students are promoted to secondary level education for around 5 years. The education at these schools is free but not compulsory/mandatory. Two categories of secondary schools are there namely 
  • National Secondary Schools and 
  • Secondary Schools of other kinds. 
Within the former, there are academic secondary schools plus technical secondary schools (belonging to three streams namely technical, vocational and skills). 

Secondary education is divided further into upper and lower. There is also a transition programme called Remove Class for students from National Type Chinese and Tamil Primary School. This is for students who could not pass common public exams. Different levels of secondary education include the following:
  • Lower secondary level ( Grade 1 to 3, ages 13 to 15): This is oriented for general education
  • Upper Secondary Level (Grade 4 to 5, ages 16 to 17): for segmenting students into different categories such as arts, science etc.
Lower secondary level students also appear for a  common public exam known as Penilaian Menengah Rendah/PMR or the Lower Secondary Assessment/LSA. PMR is of a diagnostic nature and students will then proceed to the upper secondary level to complete 2 more years.  

Following Penilaian Menengah Rendah examin, students are part of the upper secondary classes. Following two years of upper secondary education, students appear for public common exam called Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia/Malaysian Certificate of Education.

Different types of upper secondary schools exist namely:

Academic Secondary Schools: students in these schools study broad academic topics. This includes core, mandatory/compulsory and elective subjects various categories such as arts and science

Technical Schools: These schools offer education pertaining to 3 areas namely technical, vocational and skills. Students following the technical stream can opt for core subjects of the upper secondary school curriculum and choose science or technical subjects as electives. They can also opt for careers in these fields later. Vocational education provides pre-employment aptitude and skills. Students can then opt for higher studies at community colleges, polytechnics and such like. 

National Religious Secondary Schools: Also known as Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama, such schools offer Islamic Religious Education as well as Arabic Studies. Subjects pertaining to science and technology are also taught. Compulsory/core subjects include Al-Quran study, Tasawwur Islam and Syariah Islamiah study to name a few. School students can also opt for elective subjects such as arts, pure science, technology, IT and languages. 

Special Education Schools: These are schools for children who have special needs or are visually impaired.

Upper Secondary Education: Upper secondary level is associated with open certification. Here, students study 6 common core/fundamental subjects and a massive range of electives based on their choice. After 2 years of these studies, students take on common public examination- Malaysia Certificate of Education/Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia Open Certification Examination. 
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