Education in Malaysia: What You Need to Know as an Expat

RetirePedia's Roving Reporter Jim VeinotBy Jim Veinot

Malaysia's national goal is to become the educational hub of Southwestern Asia, with an eye to excellence at an international level. Here is their story... 

Education in Malaysia: A System in Transition

Many countries in Asia, either as a part of the recovery process from war or an effort to attain a greater level of economic well-being for its populace, have focussed on education. Often the higher the level of knowledge in a country, the greater the level of achievement and prosperity.

When the findings of the world bank studies of 2010 indicated that, in spite of an equal level of spending by Malaysia compared to other countries in the area, educational goals were not being met, the realization was that further analysis was necessary.

Only about 35% of students completed upper level middle school, and only about 15% of people aged 25-29 had completed a bachelor’s degree (2012).

When compared to other educational systems in the area, these results only surpassed Indonesia, while being far exceeded by countries such as Vietnam or South Korea.

Studies also revealed that the discrepancies were not so wide in city areas. The immediate conclusion was that in rural areas students were pulled out of school to work on the farms. However investigation proved that was not the case.

The reason this was happening, it was revealed, was that the education in Malaysia was highly centralized, with all hiring, curriculum definition, choice of textbooks, budget allocation and student evaluation done from Kuala Lumpur.

Among the many unfavourable results of this system was that the best teachers were kept in the city and the less qualified were sent to the countryside. This is a familiar pattern in many countries, some of which we’ve presented to you here at RetirePedia

Education in Malaysia: The New Blueprint

Malaysia created an educational blueprint in 2013. The three main goals were:

  1. Universal access and full enrollment from preschool to upper school by 2020.
  2. Improvement of scores on international assessments to the top ⅓ of participating countries within a time frame of 15 years.
  3. Reduce by ½ the current urban-rural, socio-economic and gender achievement gaps by 2020.

A number of steps have been undertaken to achieve these goals including:

  • Increasing compulsory schooling from 6 to 11 years.
  • Creation of a secondary school national curriculum which emphasizes problem solving, innovation, creative thinking and leadership.
  • The introduction of clear learning standards which can be understood by student and parent alike.
  • The introduction of English as a mandatory subject by 2016 and as a teaching language by 2025.
  • Increased entry standards for teachers, with the requirement that they have finished in the top 30% of their completed education.
  • The initiation of performance benchmarks with annual evaluations.

While only in the fourth year of this ambitious program, the results have been positive and the importance of education in Malaysia has become the accepted norm. Not only has the bar been raised but it is continuing to rise. 

Education in Malaysia: Private and International Schools

Mont'Kiara is one of the many private and international schools in Malaysia.Entrance to the Mont’Kiara International School in Kuala Lumpur [Photo credit: thechisholmtrail.files.wordpress.com]

Private schools are often the choice for expats as the difficulty in getting your child into the public school system is extreme, and the language barrier is high. While English is being introduced and promoted as a secondary language, the teaching languages are Malay, Chinese and Tamil.

Religious instruction and moral code based on Islam is a compulsory part of the public school curriculum, for Muslim children. This may not be attractive to expat parents. Indeed the culture shock to the children of expats would be extreme if registered in this system.

Private schools must follow much of the curriculum of the public school system but the courses are taught in the language of the school, most often English. There are also schools which teach in Chinese or Tamil, German or French. Religious instruction and instruction in the Malay language is not compulsory in these schools. Private schools do not offer post-secondary education.

International schools follow the curriculum of the sponsoring country, often the UK. The curriculum is 6 form British National or Cambridge International. There are schools offering programs based on the Australian educational system, as well as other countries such as China and USA. Their students graduate with an International Baccalaureate. 

Fee structures for both systems range between $3500/yr for pre-school to $7500 per year for senior students. Be aware that these fees may not include board, books, software and computer hardware and a variety of other add-ons such as extra-curricular activities.

There are also security deposits, fees for application and other miscellaneous fees. For secondary education think about $10,000 USD per year.

There are many private and international schools in Malaysia, many of them in Kuala Lumpur. Here are some of the more prominent, in alphabetical order, as listed on the ExpatArrivals.com website:

The Australian International School
www.aism.edu.my
Curriculum: Australian Curriculum
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

British International School Kuala Lumpur
www.bskl.org.my
Curriculum: British National Curriculum
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 2 to 18

Fairview International School
www.fairview.edu.my
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

Garden International School
www.gardenschool.edu.my
Curriculum: British National Curriculum
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

The International School of Kuala Lumpur
www.iskl.edu.my/
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

The International School at ParkCity
www.isp.edu.my
Curriculum: International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and based on UK National Curriculum
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 2 to 13

Mont’Kiara International School
www.mkis.edu.my
Curriculum: American and International Baccalaureate
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Nexus International School
www.nexus.edu.my
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Gender: Co-education
Ages: 3 to 18

Sayfol International School
www.sayfol.edu.my
Curriculum: British National Curriculum
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 2 months to 18 years

Victoria International School
victoria.edu.my/
Curriculum: Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

Post-Secondary Education in Malaysia

Many avenues exist for post secondary education, through universities, colleges, technical colleges, community colleges, trade schools and religious schools. Students graduate with degrees, diplomas and certificates. 

Often this education is internationally recognized as the facility is in partnership with an affiliated internationally recognized seat of education and the government of Malaysia. Many Malaysian students choose to venture abroad to continue their educational pursuits at a partnering university or college.

In conclusion, education is readily available in Malaysia, of a very high quality, continually improving and often in the language of your choice. The cost is substantial but probably not as expensive as private education in your home country.

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