Types of Education


Malaysia is located in the tropics of South East Asia, straddling the South China Sea. Malaysian Government has initiated major educational reforms by formulating new legislations on education to develop world-class quality education and meet the demands and requirements of the new millennium, as well as to affirm the position of English as a second language. The ‘Malaysian Education’ brand draws on deep cultural, religious and political resonances to promote education that emphasizes lifestyle, culture and quality. This includes the value to be gained from its unique multicultural population of Malay, Indian and Chinese, its Islamic religion and its experience of colonialism. According to the calculations by industry analyst, the Malaysian government is well on target to realize its 2011 goal of 100,000 international students.

Education System

Education in Malaysia may be obtained from government-sponsored schools, private schools or though homeschooling. It s broadly consists of a set of stages which include:

  • Pre-school
  • Primary education
  • Secondary education
  • Tertiary education
  • Postgraduate

Primary and secondary educations in government schools are handled by the Ministry of Education (MOE), but policies regarding tertiary education are handled by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE).

Primary Education

There are two main types of public primary schools in Malaysia: national and national-type. National-type schools are further divided into Chinese national-type schools and Tamil national-type schools. By degree of government funding, national schools are government-operated, while national-type schools are mostly government-assisted, though some are government-operated.

The medium of instruction is Malay for national schools, Mandarin and simplified Chinese characters writing for Chinese national-type schools, and Tamil for Tamil national-type schools. Malay and English are compulsory subjects in all schools. All schools use the same syllabus for non-language subjects regardless of the medium of instruction.

Primary education begins at the age of 7 and ends at 12. It consists of six years of education, referred to as Year 1 to Year 6 (also known as Standard 1 to Standard 6).

At the end of primary education, students in national schools are required to undergo a standardized test known as the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) or Primary School Evaluation Test. Students are promoted to the next year regardless of their academic performance.

Secondary Education

Public secondary schools are extensions of the national schools. Students study in five forms. Each form will take a year. However, some students will have to study in “Remove” before they can study in Form 1 because of the poor academic results. At the end of Form 3, the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) or Lower Secondary Evaluation is taken by students. Based on choice, they will be streamed into either the Science stream or Arts stream.

At the end of Form 5, students are required to take the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) or Malaysian Certificate of Education examination, before graduating from secondary school. Students are given a GCE ‘O’ Level grade for their English paper in addition to the normal English SPM paper. This separate grade is given based on the marks of the essay-writing component of the English paper. The essay section of the English paper is remarked under the supervision of officials from British ‘O’ Levels examination.

Chinese Independent High Schools

After receiving primary education in national-type primary school, some students from Chinese national-type schools may choose to study in Chinese independent high school. Students in Chinese independent high school study in three junior middle levels and three senior middle levels, similar to the secondary schools systems in mainland China and Taiwan, each level usually takes one year. Like the students in public secondary school, students in Chinese independent high school are streamed into several streams like Science Stream or

Art/Commerce Stream in the senior middle levels. The medium of instruction in Chinese independent high schools is Mandarin, and uses simplified Chinese characters in writing.

Students in Chinese independent high schools take standardized tests known as the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) at the end of Junior Middle 3 (UEC-JML/JUEC) and Senior Middle 3 (UEC-SML/SUEC. UEC is run by UCSCAM (United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia).

UEC-SML is recognized as the entrance qualification in many tertiary educational institutions internationally like Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, China and some European countries, as well as most private colleges in Malaysia. However, it is not recognized by the government of Malaysia for entry into public universities. As the government of Malaysia does not recognize the UEC, some Chinese independent high schools provide instructions in the public secondary school syllabus in addition to the independent school syllabus, thus enabling the students to sit for PMR, SPM, or even STPM.


Some students undertake their pre-university studies in private colleges. They may opt for programmes such as the British ‘A’ Levels programme, the Canadian matriculation programme, the Australian Higher School Certificate (HSC) and South Australia Matriculation (SAM) program, and International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme.

After SPM, students from public secondary school would have a choice of either studying Form 6 which consists of two years of study; or the matriculation (pre-university). If they continue studying in Form 6, they will take the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) or Malaysian Higher School Certificate examination before graduating. Its British equivalent is the General Certificate of Education ‘A’ Levels examination. STPM is regulated by the Malaysian Examinations Council.

Although it is generally taken by those desiring to attend public universities in Malaysia, STPM is internationally recognized and may also be used to enter private local universities or colleges for undergraduate courses

Additionally, all students may apply for admission to matriculation which is a one or two-year programme run by the Ministry of Education.

Tertiary Education

Malaysian government formed the Ministry of Higher Education in 2004 to oversee tertiary education in Malaysia. Tertiary education in Malaysian public universities is heavily subsidized by the government. Applicants to public universities must have completed the Malaysia matriculation programme or have an STPM grade. However, excellence in these examinations does not guarantee a place in a public university.

Students also have the choice of attending private institutions of higher learning. Many of these institutions offer courses in cooperation with a foreign institute or university. Some of them are branch campuses of these foreign institutions.

Many private colleges offer programmes whereby the student does part of his degree course here and part of it in the other institution. This method is named “twinning”. The nature of these programs is somewhat diverse and ranges from the full “twinning” program where all credits and transcripts are transferable and admission is automatic to programs where the local institution offers an “associate degree” which is accepted at the discretion of the partnering university. In the latter case, acceptance of transcripts and credits is at the discretion of the partner. Some foreign universities and colleges have also set up branch campuses in Malaysia.

Postgraduate Programmes

Postgraduate degrees such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) are becoming popular and are offered by both the public universities and the private colleges.

All public and most private universities in Malaysia offer Master degrees in Science, Arts and Commerce either through coursework or research and Doctor of Philosophy degrees through research.

Vocational Programmes and Polytechnics Schools

Besides the university degrees, students also have the option of continuing their education in professional courses. Polytechnics in Malaysia provide courses for diploma level (3 years) and certificate level (2 years).

ed by the government, these public universities are allowed to recruit international students for full-time undergraduate and postgraduate studies their courses are assured by MQA and the Immigration Department will issue a ‘Student Pass’ to every student enroll by these universities.