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Educational Development in Malaysia: Meeting the Challenges of National Integration Seminar presented by Associate Professor Anna Christina Abdullah



INTRODUCTION • Malaysia occupies the southernmost peninsula of Southeast Asia and the northern one-third of Borneo. • It became a nation on September 16, 1963 when Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya which had earlier gained independence from the British on August 31, 1957 to form a single federation. • Malaysia has a democratically elected government with a constitutional monarch.


Population (26,640,200) • Malaysia - multi-ethnic population consisting of native (bumiputera) and ‘immigrant’ (non-bumiputera) ethnic groups. • Malays - main indigenous ethnic group. The main ‘immigrant’ groups -Chinese and Indians • Bumiputeras 65.1% (2000). • Chinese 26.0 % • Indians 7.7 %


  E - Liberalization and Globalization Era
(1990-the present)
  D - Socio-Economic Reengineering Era
  C - Early Independence
  B - The British colonial period
A - Primitive and Feudal Period



A - Primitive and Feudal Period
Primitive and Feudal Period (35,000BCE-1786)
• The first human beings arrived in East Malaysia around 35,000BCE and in West Malaysia around 25,000BCE.
• On the peninsula, the aboriginal people are collectively known as the Orang Asli.
• The modern Malays are the descendents of the Deutero-Malays – an amalgam of many early ethnic groups including Indians, Chinese, Siamese, Arabs, and Proto-Malays. During the 13th century, a great maritime kingdom called Srivijaya emerged in the Malay Archipelago. However, as other ports emerged towards the end of the 13th century, Srivijaya’s influence declined and paved the way for the Malays to emerge as the dominant power in the Malay Archipelago.
• Malacca was founded in 1400 by Parameswara, a prince from Sumatra. The strategic location of the port of Malacca at the narrowest part of the Straits of Malacca allowed it to control the lucrative spice trade. Revenue from port taxes and services greatly enriched Malacca. Muslim traders from Arabia and India brought Islam to Malacca. Soon after establishing his kingdom, Parameswara converted from Hinduism to Islam

• Malacca fell to the Portuguese in 1511.
• The Dutch defeated the Portuguese and conquered Malacca in 1641
• After that it was the British who colonized all of Malaysia.

Primitive and Feudal Period (35,000BCE-1786)
• Education during this period was typical of feudal societies. Only members of the royalty and nobility had the benefit of formal education that prepared them for ruling the masses.
• Education for the rest of society was largely of an informal nature involving the passing down of traditional life skills from generation to generation.
• However, the Islamic clergy established a small number of Qur’anic schools or pondok for the purpose of religious education.

B B - The British colonial period
The British colonial period (1786-1957)
• Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company convinced the Sultan of Kedah to allow them to build a fort in Penang, an island off the northwestern coast of the Malay Peninsula in 1786.
• Penang, Malacca, and Singapore collectively came to be known as the Straits Settlements.
• The main concern of the British was to maintain peace and order to facilitate the exploitation of the economic resources of Malaysia, especially tin and rubber.
• The British encouraged mass immigration of workers from China and India to work in the tin mines and rubber plantations respectively. Rapid urban development took place during the booming colonial economy.
• The Malays remained in rural areas; the towns were dominated by the Chinese and a minority of Indians who eventually controlled commerce and industry.

Colonial period can be divided into 3 phases:
• 1786 – 1941 Laissez faire (divide and rule)
• 1941- 1945 (Japanese occupation)
• 1945 – 1957 (after Japanese occupation)

1786-1941: laissez faire
• During the colonial period, four types of schools existed – English schools where English was used as the medium of instruction and three types of vernacular schools, viz., Malay, Chinese and Indian.
• Christian missionary groups also established English schools in the major towns. English education was the best as it consisted of both primary and secondary levels and students could further their education until university level in England or at the Raffles College in Singapore.
• Although the colonial government did not feel the need to build schools for the masses, for the Malays at least, the British felt some form of obligation to provide a basic form of education designed to teach them to be better able to carry on in subsistence farming and fishery as well as to develop habits of punctuality and good behavior in order that they not disturb the peace.

• The Chinese community actively established their own schools and imported curricula, teachers and textbooks from China.
• The Indians, on the other hand, were left at the mercy of the rubber plantation owners. Plantation owners who built schools for the children of their workers only saw it fit to provide a rudimentary form of terminal primary education in dilapidated buildings.
• The best education was available in English schools. More non-natives were able to benefit from English schools than natives.
• The quality of Malay, Chinese and Indian vernacular schools was generally poor and the curricula focused on their respective motherlands. Thus, the population became divided, and remained so for more than 150 years.

1941-1945. Japanese occupation of Malaysia
• too brief to have had much impact on education in Malaysia.
• the defeat of the British at the hands of Asians shattered the myth of white superiority and led to a surge of nationalism in colonial Malaysia.

1946-1957. After the Japanese Occupation
• the British propose formation of Malayan Union.
• The Cheeseman Plan, which advocated primary and secondary education in the four existing languages – English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil.
• Chinese and Tamil language teaching were to be made available in the English schools, and at the same time the teaching of English was to be made compulsory in all vernacular schools.

• Malay nationalists organized mass protests against the Malayan Union and demanded independence.
• The Cheeseman proposal was abandoned in 1949 with the demise of the Malayan Union.
• The Barnes Committee was set up in 1950 to look into reforming and integrating the educational system.

The Barnes Report (Malaya 1951a)
• recommended that all existing schools should be transformed into National schools in which children of the various ethnic groups would be taught through the medium of Malay and English.
• Not surprisingly, the Chinese saw the Barnes Committee proposal as an attempt to eliminate their languages and cultural identities and protested vehemently against it.
• To appease the Chinese, another committee called the Fenn-Wu Committee was formed in 1951. It was sympathetic towards Chinese vernacular education and recommended a bilingual policy where Malay and English would be used as media of instruction, but at the same time provisions would be made for the learning of Chinese and Tamil in schools.

The Report of the Central Advisory Committee (Malaya 1951b)
• took into consideration the collective wisdom of the Barnes and Fenn-Wu committees.
• Its recommendations formed the basis for the Education Ordinance of 1952 in which a bilingual national system of education with a common curriculum was established based on only one type of school – the National School.
• Malay and English were placed on an equal footing as media of instruction in the national school but Tamil and Chinese were taught as third languages.

C C - Early Independence
Early Independence (1957-1970)
• The Razak Report and the Education Ordinance of 1957. The Report of the Education Committee, 1956 (Malaya 1956), popularly known as the Razak Report was the government’s educational blueprint for post-independence Malaysia to create a national education system aimed at fostering national integration. The Razak Report resulted in Malaysia’s first legislation on education as an independent nation – the Education Ordinance of 1957.
• There are two major differences between the education ordinances of 1952 and 1957. Under the former, Chinese and Tamil vernacular primary schools existed outside the national education system but under the latter, such schools were integrated within the national education system as national type primary schools. Thus, the 1957 Ordinance favored the interests of the non-bumiputeras more than the 1952 Ordinance.

The Rahman Talib Report and the Education Act of 1961
• Committee set up to review implementation of the Razak Report.
• little progress in implementing the use of the Malay language as the main medium of instruction in Malaysian schools and phasing out English-medium schools.
• The Report of the Education Review Committee, 1960 (Malaya, 1960) resulted in the Education Act of 1961.
• The most significant outcome of the Education Act of 1961 was that a definite timetable was set to phase out English medium schools and convert government-aided Chinese-medium secondary schools into Bahasa Melayu medium secondary schools.

D D - Socio-Economic Reengineering Era
Socio-Economic Reengineering Era (1970-1990)
• Non-bumiputera domination of the economy accelerated after independence resulting in increasing interethnic tensions which culminated in the violent inter-racial riots of May 13, 1969.
• The government launched a 20-year plan in 1970 called the New Economic Policy (NEP) to regulate and restructure the economy. In particular, ownership of equity capital of bumiputeras, nonbumiputeras and foreigners would conform to a ratio of 30:40:30.
• In the restructuring of the corporate sector, the share capital of bumiputeras increased from 3 percent in 1970 to 18.5 percent in 1985 and 20.3 percent in 1990.

Impact on educational policies
• A racial quota system was set up for entry in tertiary education. Other preferential practices - construction of elite fully residential schools for bumiputeras and the near total bumiputera monopoly of government scholarships.
• During this period the national language policy laid down by the Rahman Talib Report was implemented without any further delay; nor was it resisted by the non-bumiputeras


Key milestones in the implementation of the Bahasa Malaysia policy

1970 1970 The phased conversion of English-medium national type primary schools to Bahasa Malaysia-medium national type primary schools was started in the first year of primary school
1975 1975 The conversion of English-medium national type primary schools to Bahasa Malaysia-medium national type primary schools was completed
1976 1976 The phased conversion of vernacular and English national type secondary schools to Bahasa Malaysia-medium national type secondary schools was started in the first year of secondary school  
1981 1981 The conversion of vernacular and English national type secondary schools to Bahasa Malaysia-medium national type secondary schools was completed. The use of Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction in the first year of all university degree programmes was started.
1983 1983 The use of Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction in Form 6 was completed.
1985 1985 The use of Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction in Malaysian universities was completed  

The Report of the Cabinet Committee to Review Educational Policy (1979).

• to recommend steps to improve the implementation of the Education Act of 1961. In particular, the Committee was charged with reviewing the existing primary and secondary school curricula.
• The Mahathir Report:
• primary school curriculum too content-heavy; unbalanced development of the individual child. More attention to the development of basic literacy and competency skills and moral and spiritual values.
• The New Primary School Curriculum, now called the Integrated Primary School Curriculum, was introduced in 1982 as a pilot project in 302 schools. In 1983 KBSR was implemented nationwide. To maintain curriculum continuity the Integrated Secondary School Curriculum was pilot tested in 1988 and implemented nation-wide in 1989.

E E - Liberalization and Globalization Era
(1990-the present)
Liberalization and Globalization Era (1990-the present)

• Although the aim of carving out a 30 percent share of the economy for the bumiputeras by 1990 was far from being achieved, the government decided that enough momentum had been built up to justify the easing of government regulation of the economy.
• In 1991, the National Development Policy (NDP) was launched which allowed for a limited liberalization of the economy.

Educational Acts… • Two major pieces of educational legislation were passed in 1996. The most important impact of the Education Act of 1996 was to incorporate preschool education within the national education system. • The Private Higher Educational Institution (PHEI) Act which was also passed in 1996 aimed to increase private sector participation in tertiary education. The PHEI Act allows the private sector to establish degree awarding institutions. It also allows foreign universities to set up branch campuses in Malaysia.

LEVELS OF EDUCATION • Malaysia has a centralized system of education. Until recently, overall control of the entire education system was in the hands of the Education Minister who is ultimately answerable to the Prime Minister. • Since March 27, 2004, however, the Education Ministry has been split into two – the revamped Ministry of Education which encompasses most of the original divisions and departments, and the Ministry of Higher Education. • The Ministry of Higher Education oversees the Institutes of Higher Education Management Division, the Polytechnics and Community Colleges Management Division, the National Accreditation Board, the Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation as well as 17 universities and university colleges.

Structure and Curriculum

• Malaysia’s current system of education can be described as a P-13 system, i.e. 13 points or year levels of education preceding university education. • The P-13 system is sub-divided into 6-3-2-2 levels consisting of 6 years of primary schooling, 3 years of lower secondary education, 2 years of upper secondary education and 2 years of pre-university education. • Under the Education Act of 1996, preschool education of children of age 5+ has been incorporated within the national system of education.

Preschool Education

• Preschool education is offered both by government agencies and the private sector. • All preschool centres have to abide by the curriculum guidelines set by the Ministry of Education under the Education Act of 1996. • Although Malaysia has achieved near universal primary education (exceeding 96 %), the preschool enrolment rate at 64 %. However, it is envisaged that this will increase to 95% by the year 2010. As might be expected, the participation rate in rural areas is lower than that in urban areas.

Primary School Education

• Only in 2003 that Malaysia implemented a policy of compulsory primary education. The enrollment rate for primary education increased steadily from 93 % in 1991, 94 % in 1992, 95 % in 1994 and 96 % in 1995 and is expected to reach 99 % by 2010. • The primary education system is divided into the national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan or SK) and vernacular or national type schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan or SJK). The medium of instruction in the SKs is Malay. Chinese vernacular schools or SJKC conduct classes in Mandarin and Indian vernacular schools or SJKT use Tamil. • Recent attempts to establish vision schools (Sekolah Wawasan). Vision schools share facilities among two or more national and national type schools, ostensibly to encourage closer inter-ethnic interaction.

Secondary School Education

• learners are streamed into three types of lower secondary schools, regular day schools, fully residential schools, and MARA Junior Science Colleges. Fully residential schools and MARA Junior Science Colleges are elite schools reserved largely for bumiputera students. • Lower secondary education for most students lasts three years. However, all students from the SJKC and SJKT, apart from those who achieve excellent results in Bahasa Malaysia in the UPSR, are retained in ‘Remove’ Classes for a year before commencing secondary schooling. • Entry into upper secondary education depends on the learners’ performance in the PMR. Upper secondary education is divided into three streams – the academic, technical and vocational streams. There are four kinds of upper secondary schools in the academic stream – regular day schools, fully residential schools, Science Secondary Schools and MARA Junior Science Colleges.

• The vocational stream offers practical training in trade skills for less academically-inclined learners. The technical stream, on the other hand, provides training in highly specialised technical skills. • At the end of the two years of upper secondary education, students sit for the SPM, a national examination equivalent to the British General Certificate of Secondary Education. • In Malaysia’s centralized educational system, all secondary school students follow the KBSM curriculum. Under the previous secondary school curriculum, pupils were streamed into science and arts streams, whereby they had to select more or less preset science or arts subject packages. • Under KBSM, pupils are allowed to select between two to four elective subjects from a minimum of two elective packages: Humanities, Vocational and Technological, Science and Islamic Studies.

Post-Secondary/Tertiary Education. • Post-secondary education is divided into college, polytechnic and pre-university education. Students who only wish to pursue their studies up to the certificate and diploma levels enter Teacher Education Colleges, Polytechnics, and the Tunku Abdul Rahman College where professional courses are offered. • STPM and matriculation serve as two parallel filters for university entrance. The two systems of examinations are not equivalent as the matriculation program is internally examined by the individual matriculation colleges while the STPM is examined according to a central standardized system.

ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION • National Integration and Equity Issues. Malaysia has made tremendous strides in terms of creating an integrated national system of education from the chaotic legacy of the British colonial administration. • At the same time, Malaysia’s record in providing universal access to education regardless of social and cultural background is good.

Sponsored mobility • Out of necessity, the government was forced to suspend meritocracy in 1970 and implement a preferential education selection policy in favour of Malays and other bumiputeras to enable the bumiputeras to catch up economically with the non-bumiputeras. • The Malays have made tremendous strides in education and a vibrant professional, managerial and entrepreneurial bumiputera class has emerged. • Nevertheless, the progress made in education amongst the bumiputeras has been uneven. The drop-out rate from primary schools for the Orang Asli and minority bumiputera communities in Sabah and Sarawak stands at a staggering 62% against the national average of 3.1% in 1995 (Ministry of Education, 2001).

Natives vs Non-natives • On the larger question of national integration between natives and nonnatives, the national school has clearly failed in its role as the catalyst for national integration as it is only attended by 2 % of the Chinese school-going population. • Worse still, the preferential educational policy has created a dual meritocratic carriageway where entrance into choice university programs is apparently made easier for bumiputeras through the matriculation track while non-bumiputeras have to take the more challenging route. • The dual meritocratic system is also evident in the sharp dichotomy that exists in enrolment in public and private HEIs where the former is attended mainly by bumiputeras and the latter by nonbumiputeras.

Access by Gender • Where educational access by gender is concerned, Malaysia has more than achieved gender parity in educational access. • The participation of males decreases as they move up the educational ladder until females account for more than 60% of the enrollment in public universities.

Malaysia has the following
higher education opportunities
for secondary students:

20 Public Universities
4 Foreign University Branch Campuses
33 Private Universities
500 Private Colleges
24 Polytechnics

(B) Schooling provided. By the Private Sector

The private sector plays an important role in pre-tertiary education particularly at pre-school levels and actively offers pre-school, primary and secondary education in urban areas. The private sector or self- funded providers offer education to school-going children for a fee.

Private education is well-rooted in the Malaysian education system and the history of private education in Malaysia can be traced way back to the 1950s.

The types of Private Educational Institutions in Malaysia are:

Pre-schools / Kindergartens (covering a period of one to three years)

Private Primary Schools (covering a period of six years)

Private Secondary Schools (covering a period of five years)

Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary Schools (covering a period of six years)

Foreign System Schools (International & Expatriate Schools)


Other Learning Centres

All private schools and foreign system schools need to obtain the approval of the Ministry of Education, through its Division of Private Education before they are allowed to operate and recruit students.

(a) Pre-schools / Kindergarten

(covering a period of one to three years)

Private pre-schools or kindergartens are designed for children between the age of four and six for an education period of one to three years. There are many private pre-school centres in Malaysia, particularly in the urban areas. They offer a range of early childhood programmes at a fee. These programmes are designed to meet the diverse needs of young children during the most crucial years of their life.

Pre-school education is part of the National Education System, and the roles of operators in early childhood education are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. All kindergartens are required to follow the National Preschool Curriculum introduced by the government.

(b) Private Primary Schools (covering a period of six years)

Private primary schools in Malaysia offer primary schooling (Standard 1 to Standard 6) to the more affluent segment of the Malaysian society.

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