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Malaysia - Education and Schools

Malaysia provides free education to all Malaysians through a public school system. Private schools are also available and home schooling is possible, but the family is responsible for the costs that come with either private or home schooling. Only the six years of primary school are compulsory by law in Malaysia, with pre-schooling, secondary, and post-secondary schooling being the families’ decision and responsibility.

Malaysian children aged 3-4 can attend pre-school, while kindergarten is attended between the ages of 4 and 6. Primary school typically starts at age 7 and ends at age 12, when students in public schools are promoted to the next level without regard to their academic performance. Secondary school begins at age 13 and finishes at age 17 or 18, depending on the school. Some schools have a sixth year of secondary education, which is a college preparatory year.

Public primary schools are available, and vary by medium of instruction. Malay middle schools are taught in Malay, while other institutions known as “vernacular schools” are taught in either Mandarin or Tamil. These variations were created so that communities of Chinese or Indian cultures are able to instill their cultural values in the teaching environment. Private schools have existed in Malaysia for around 40 years, and are becoming more common as public schools are getting more and more crowded. International schools are taught in English and in an international curriculum. The curriculum can be American, British, Australian, or Canadian. These international schools are intended to serve the international population, such as foreign owned businesses, embassies, and so on. Malaysian students can also attend these schools, and attendance is increasing as the country becomes more globalized.

All public schools use the same syllabus regardless of the language in which the students are taught. Also, English and Malay are required subjects in all schools, even in vernacular schools. Malaysian schools are showing improvement in quality of education, according to standardized tests administered by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The curriculum in Malaysian schools is similar to that of American and UK schools, especially in the mathematics and science departments. Standardized testing has also become commonplace, like it is in the United States.

There are different enrollment requirements for different schools. Generally, public schools are only open to Malaysian children. If a child is born in Malaysia, and the parents are foreign, admittance to public school will be granted. If a child from another country is to be enrolled in a private institution, most schools require a copy of school transcripts (if applicable), parental visa and work permits, and vaccination records.

Public schools start around 7:30 am and finish between 12:30 and 1pm. The typical school terms as decided by the State are January through May for the first term, then from June through November for the second term. International schools follow the normal term for their countries’ curricula (September through May for most westerners).

Malaysian public school holidays include the end of year holiday that runs from November 25th-December 31st, term 1 holiday for one week in March, mid-year holiday for three weeks in May/June, and term 2 holiday at the end of August. The dates may vary slightly according to region, and international schools observe the holiday schedule of their country’s curriculum.

Admittance to secondary school can be competitive, as it requires passing of the Primary School Achievement test. There are a great variety of secondary schools in Malaysia, including religious schools, boarding schools, and elite schools for academically advanced students. Vernacular schools are also available at the secondary level. Extra-curricular activities such as sports and drama are offered and actually required of secondary students. A test is administered at the end of secondary school that acts as an equivalent to graduation. These test scores are important, as they can determine entry to post-secondary schools.

There are several options for higher education in Malaysia. There are public institutions, which include public universities, community colleges, polytechnics, and teacher training colleges. There are also private institutions such as universities and colleges, and branches of foreign colleges. It is difficult to determine which type of school offers the best education - it mostly depends on the individual’s focus. Entry requirements for both public and private institutions are similar, and require the same tests.

Public universities are funded by the government and have entry requirements. For international students, proof must be presented of having completed 12 years of primary and secondary education, a high school diploma or equivalent, a TOEFL score of at least 500, and passing of the Intensive Preparatory Bahasa Malaysia Programme. These extra requirements exist because publicly funded colleges are typically taught in the national language. Public Universities are not free, but tuition is typically less than half that of private institutions. Professors at public universities usually have more training and education than those at private universities. More public university professors tend to have PhD’s, making them more suitable to supervise research.

Private universities tend to have less space than public institutions, but the variety of courses available is much wider. Despite having more options, some of the resources are lacking compared to public institutions. Libraries in private universities tend to be limited when compared to those of public universities, mainly due to lack of funding and space. Tuition is also significantly higher because these institutions rely on alumni and corporate donations. Special interests may be better served at a private university, however. Choosing an appropriate tertiary school really depends on the student’s goals and priorities.

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