The National Education System
As with many other countries, the national education system is built with a mission to serve the needs of the nation. What these needs are and how they will be achieved are found in the Education Act 1996 (Act 550). The Act lays down the overall legal framework of education and describes the formal National Education System (NES). The preamble to the Act states the National Policy on Education as based on the National Philosophy on Education.
The National Education Philosophy
The preamble to the Education Act 1996 articulates the National Education Philosophy as follows;
WHEREAS acknowledging that knowledge is the key determinant of the destiny and survival of the nation:
AND WHEREAS the purpose of education is to enable the Malaysian society to have a command of knowledge, skills and values necessary in a world that is highly competitive and globalised, arising from the impact of rapid development in science, technology and information:
AND WHEREAS education plays a vital role in achieving the country’s vision of attaining the status of a fully developed nation in terms of economic development, social justice, and spiritual, moral and ethical strength, towards creating a society that is united, democratic, liberal and dynamic:
AND WHEREAS it is the mission to develop a world-class quality education system which will realise the full potential of the individual and fulfill the aspiration of the Malaysian nation:
AND WHEREAS the National Education Policy is based on the National Philosophy of Education which is expressed as follows:
“Education in Malaysia is an ongoing effort towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are responsible and capable of achieving a high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large”:
AND WHEREAS the above policy is to be executed through a national system of education which provides for the national language to be the main medium of instruction, a National Curriculum and common examinations; the education provided being varied and comprehensive in scope and which will satisfy the needs of the nation as well as promote national unity through cultural, social, economic and political development in accordance with the principles of Rukunegara:
AND WHEREAS it is considered desirable that regard shall be had, so far as is compatible with that policy, with the provision of efficient instruction and with the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.
Categories of Educational Institutions According to the Level of Financial Support from the Government
The classification is based on the extent of financial support received from the government. The different levels of support have their origins in the way the post-independent government consolidated the different types of schools that had evolved during the colonial period into forming a national educational system. Government funding was the main incentive offered to non-government owned schools to make then conform to a single system of education based on a national curriculum with the National Language as the medium of instruction. The recommendations for the new educational system came from the Razak and Rahman Talib reports. Educational institutions in the NES are divided into three categories under the Act according to the level of support they receive from the government. The categories are;
- government educational institutions or government schools that are established and fully maintained by the government;
- government-aided educational institutions which are those in receipt of capital grant and full grant-in-aid from the government;
- private educational institutions. Private schools of course, get no aid or funding from government, although under s. 34(2) of the EA1996, the Minister is given the discretion to give grant-in-aid to an educational institution not established by him which is a college or a special school.
- Also under s. 52 of the EA1996, subject to such conditions and limitations as the Minister may deem fit to impose, financial assistance by way of a grant may be given out of moneys provided by Parliament to an Islamic educational institution which is not maintained by the Minister under this Act or by the Government of a State and which is either an educational institution within the meaning of this Act or is not such an educational institution only because the teaching therein is confined exclusively to the teaching of the religion of Islam.
The Five Levels of the National Education System (NES)
The NES is made up of five levels of education, which are:-
- Pre-school education for children from the ages of four to six years;
- Primary education which lasts six years is designed for pupils from the age of six years;
- Secondary education is education that caters for pupils who have completed primary education. Secondary education comprises lower secondary (three years) and upper secondary (two years) education;
- Upper Secondary Education is defined in the Education Act 1996 to mean education suitable to the abilities and aptitudes of a pupil who has completed lower secondary education.
- Post-secondary education is broadly defined by the Education Act 1996 to mean education provided to pupils who have completed upper secondary education but excludes higher education from the definition. Post-secondary education in the form of Form 6 is offered in some secondary schools. Another type of post-secondary education offered in a number of government institutions is the one-year matriculation programme. Private institutions offer a wide variety of such programmes from the ubiquitous ‘A’ levels to university foundation programmes that prepare students completing upper secondary education for entrance into a university or other tertiary institution.
- Higher education is defined by the Education Act 1996 in terms of the institution that offers the educational programme defined as the ‘course of study’ and the type of award the course of study leads to. The statutory definition of higher education is ‘education provided by a higher education institution’ and a higher educational institution is one that provides higher education leading to the award of a diploma, degree or the equivalent thereof’.
Pre-school education and Kindergartens
The term pre-school education is defined by the Education Act 1996 as educational programmes for pupils from the ages of four to six years. As it with all other levels of schools in the NES, kindergartens, which are defined as centres providing pre-school education, have to be registered with the MOE. Kindergartens are required to use the National Pre-School Curriculum but may teach in languages other than the National Language. If the National Language is not used, it shall be taught as a compulsory subject.
'Around 77% of students are now enrolled in some form of preschool education (either public or private), and the target is for universal enrolment through the Education National Key Results Area (NKRA) in the GTP'. Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025
Child Care Centres
The Education Act 1996 expressly states that the provisions applying to pre-school education and kindergartens do not apply to child care centres that are established under the provisions of other legislation. The Child Care Centre Act 1984, regulates premises at which four or more children under the age of four years from more than one household are received to be looked after for reward.
Under the Child Care Centre Act 1984, child care centres fall within the purview of the Social Welfare Department.
The Education Act 1996, defines “primary education” to mean a course of study at primary level which is designed for a duration of six years but which may be completed within five to seven years. Primary schools in the NES must use the national curriculum for primary schools and conform to the language stipulations that the Education Act stipulates for primary schools.
National schools and National Type Schools
This distinction only applies to primary schools. The difference between national schools and ‘national type’ primary schools is that latter conform to national curricula but uses either Mandarin or Tamil instead of the National Language as the medium of instruction. The distinction does not apply to secondary schools. National secondary schools all use the National Language as the medium of instruction. There are no national schools at the secondary level teaching in any of the vernacular languages.
‘National schools’ are government-funded or government-aided schools;
- providing primary education appropriate for pupils from the age of six years;
- using the national language as the main medium of instruction;
- in which the English language is a compulsory subject of instruction; and
- in which facilities for the teaching of—
- the Chinese or Tamil language shall be made available if the parents of at least fifteen pupils in the school so request; and
- indigenous languages shall be made available if it is reasonable and practicable so to do and if the parents of at least fifteen pupils in the school so request.
“National-type schools” are government or government-aided primary schools;
- providing primary education appropriate for pupils from the age of six years;
- using the Chinese or Tamil language as the main medium of instruction; and
- in which the national and English languages are compulsory subjects of instruction;