Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy. It is located in tropical Southeast Asia and comprises the heavily populated Malay Peninsula (except for Singapore) and the less densely populated West Malaysia, primarily located on the island of Borneo. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur. The country has a combined population of about 23 million persons, with an ethnic majority of Malays and substantial minorities of Chinese and Indian/Pakistani ethnicity. Its recent history has included a complicated and sometimes antagonistic set of ethnic relations which have, to some extent, influenced some of its educational and cultural structures.
The sultanates of the Malay Peninsula and two on the island of Borneo (in various configurations) were under British colonial control from the late 19th Century. In 1957, Malaya became an independent state within the British Commonwealth. Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, and consisted of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah). Singapore peacefully seceded from the union in 1965. After a prolonged period of unsettled internal disputes, Malaysia emerged as a more stable nation under the leadership of the multiethnic National Front, led since 1981 by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Major opposition parties are the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action party and the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS). Elections held in 1994 have renewed the control of UMNO.
Most Malaysian educational structure is based either on British models or on Malaysian adaptations of it. The tradition is a very strong one and has served Malaysia well. However, in the last two decades, “American-style” education has taken root in the many “Community Colleges” that were originally formed to provide post-secondary educational opportunities to non-Malays (as affirmative action programs gave heavy education preference to the Malay population), but have since been increasingly popular in all ethnic segments of the country.
Secondary education is overseen by Malaysia's Ministry of Education while higher education is overseen by the country's Ministry of Higher Education.
In 1996 the Malaysian Government created the Lembaga Akreditasi Negara (LAN) [National Accreditation Board] to accredit private institutions. In 2002 it was joined by the Quality Assurance Division (QAD) that provided support for this task. With the adoption of the Malaysian Qualifications Framework in 2007, the LAN and the QAD were replaced by the Malaysian Qualifications Authority (MQA) which created the Malaysian Qualifications Register (MQR) to accredit ALL higher education programs in Malaysia. Please see the Malaysian Qualification Agency for more information.
Primary education, in both the traditional Malaysian education system as well as the independent Chinese school, both last for 6 years. Successful completion of primary education permits students to move into secondary school.
Lower secondary schools are offered for 3 years. In the traditional Malaysian education system, students are awarded the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (SRP), formally known as the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) up until 1997, at the end of their lower secondary studies. Students in lower secondary independent Chinese school do not receive the SRP but are permitted to advance to upper secondary independent Chinese school or two years of studies. Upper secondary schools in the Malaysian system offer students the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) at the end of two years of studies. Please note that students who complete upper secondary independent Chinese school are also eligible to sit for SPM as external candidates.
The vocational route in upper secondary Malaysian education is available. After two years of vocational studies, students earn the Sijil Pelajaran Vokesynal Malaysia (SPVM).
While many students choose to study in foreign universities having completed their upper secondary studies, Malaysia offers a number of academic and vocational post-secondary options for further studies.
Upon receiving the SPM, students are encouraged to continue to the Sixth form where, after two years of studies, they can earn their Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM). This leads to entrance into Sarjana Muda (University). For students with an SPVM, there are colleges and polytechnics that offer two years of additional training that can lead to either work or University. University lasts three years.
Second and Third Cycles
After having received a first cycle degree from University, students can attain a Post-grad diploma after 1-2 years of additional studies or a sarjana or Master's degree after 1-2 years of additional studies. Those who wish to continue their education can earn a Doktor Falsafah after 2-5 years of studies which can also lead to a higher doctorate.
Individuals who wish to teach in public primary and lower secondary schools are required to have a Diploma Perguruan Malaysia earned after the successful completion of a 3-year program.