What Do You Think About Education In Malaysia?

First off, for a really good overview of the educational choices available in Malaysia, read this article by David BC Tan:

Between a rock and a hard place

I don’t have any children of my own (at least not as far as I know!), so let me tell you about my own educational experience.

I attended 2 years of government school, before going to 2 different private schools. What do I think of the education I received in Malaysia?

Dull and uninspiring.

Sure, it got me the qualifications I needed to study abroad in the UK. But for years, my ‘education’ involved very little thinking at all. Year after year it was memorise this, memorise that, and regurgitate it all during the many many examinations.

Even studying in the UK, the system was more or less the same. Memorise, memorise, memorise. I got bored. I was eager to start my career and quickly lost interest in my studies. Nevertheless, I still did very well in my A levels, and graduated from a top London University. I’d completed my education!

And what did I discover?

  • I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My education, which was meant to prepare me for life, hadn’t given me any inkling of what I should actually do with my life. Like much of the youth of today, I randomly scoured the job market for whatever I thought would pay me the most. And when I didn’t like it, I’d switch jobs. A passionate worker is hard to come by these days; people get stuck in the same job for years not because they love their job, but because they don’t know what else to do.
  • I wasn’t prepared for what I had to do. My education had trained me to expect to be spoon-fed every step of the way. As a new employee, I thought I’d be given exact instructions on what to do to along with detailed descriptions of what would happen along the way. Anybody who’s been in a real working environment knows that’s just a fairytale. Does that don’t know had best be looking for another job.

That basically sums up my personal education experience. What do you think about the education system in Malaysia (or wherever you’re from)?

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25 responses to this post.

  1. Mark, I totally agree with you about the Education System in Malaysia. But in term of working career, we have to look into the passion. Do whatever you are passionate about. Those people who keep on switching job or got stuck in the job for years is because they do not find their passion yet. And doing job without passion can be a struggle.
    I can bring myself as a good testimonial. I don’t really study well in my school life but I found what I am passionate off and so I further my study in it – The ECE. Now, I am enjoying my EC job.


    • Haha, I’m enjoying my EC work placements too, as well as the reading assignments (not the WRITING assignments though!!!), but I’ve got a million bills to pay, in British pounds! 🙂

      I just feel that a formal education system (later years, not early) should prepare people more for working life, even if it doesn’t instil them with passion. So many people haven’t got a clue!


  2. Posted by ummuitqan on 5 February, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I went to public school my whole life, including matriculation.

    Thereafter, I went to Australia to do medicine. Part of my training was to visit schools and have children as patients. From the parents, I learnt a lot about how their education like. Their education system is according to children’s development, teachers do refer cases for autism or dyslexia and parents care to support their boys playing netball.

    Science means tons of fun experiments, parents have to be very careful on what they pack inside the children lunchbox (unless they don’t mind being called to see the Principal) and Muslim parents get the chance of conducting the weekly prayers during assembly at a catholic school just because their children are the only Muslims attending the very same school.

    At uni we can take time-off from exam even if our pet dies as long as it is important to the students’ well-being, they are willing to accommodate.

    In essence (and the above description is not even close to being exhaustive), education system in Malaysia needs a lot to catch-up and we need people like you to paint a brighter future for our kids. Otherwise, more people will migrate out (1/2 of my Malaysian batch-mates do) and the brain-drain will take place at a very high cost.


    • Hi! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      I’ve heard a lot of good things about Australia and New Zealand. I don’t know the specifics, but people usually view the education system there as good. 🙂 Maybe I should have gone there to do my childcare course instead. 🙂

      When I was in boarding school in the UK, Muslim students were forced to attend the almost daily church sessions, and partake in everything, from sermons to singing. I asked my Muslim friend what he thought about it, and he said it’s OK, same God, different name. =-P Maybe he wasn’t very pious…


  3. Posted by Audrey Lee on 5 February, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I am all for holistic child-centred education. Although our Ministry of Education issued guidelines for school curriculums (from kindy up to secondary schools), it is not child-centred. Having said that, I have opted to send my children to the Malay-based government sponsored school (sekolah kebangsaan). Of the three types (Malay-based, Chinese and Tamil) schools, I think the probability of my children gettiing a more ‘all-rounder experience’ ,ie. being expose and able to mingle witth other races and opportunity to excel at their own pace (not being pushed by parents or teachers) is in the Malay-based schools.

    Above all, my children enjoy their school days. That’s what my eldest daugther told me when I asked her about her primary and secondary school experience. She was able to pick and choose which society or co-curriculum activities she liked and was not pressured to study hard (she studied at her own pace). I am not too concerned about academic qualifications so long as she does not fail any subject. In that way, I hope she would have intrinsic motivation to study and not depended on others to push her. To me, that’s the whole purpose of education; to stimulate and guide the student’s self-development (intrinsically).


    • That’s a great view Audrey, schooling should indeed be an enjoyable experience for the child, and not some horrible thing they have to endure out of necessity.

      Having said that though, what do you think about the problem of gangsterism in kebangsaan schools? In my time many moons ago, that was a perceived concern.

      Also, most Chinese who don’t go to Chinese schools usually end up with a limited command of the Chinese language. Such as myself. 🙂 It’s not for lack of effort too! I studied Mandarin all the way from Standard 3 right up to University (where the lecturer was White and spoke like he was from Beijing!)


      • Posted by Audrey Lee on 9 February, 2010 at 9:44 am

        I think Malaysian Chinese are not the only Chinese people who can’t speak Mandarin, there are many Chinese people who live outside China or Taiwan can’t too, eg. in Indonesia, Thailand, American-borned, Canadian-borned, etc. When do you think your non-Chinese lecturer learned how to speak Mandarin? My point is: when the need arise, you will learn the language. And when you have a reason, you will be motivated to learn it quick enough. My sister (who couldn’t write and spoke little Mandarin then) applied for a teaching job in China. After a year there, she could write in Mandarin and I am sure her spoken Mandarin has improved tremendously.

        I am not sure about gansterism in schools, although there are some cases of bullying. I am more concern of my sons being bullied in school than my daughter. Bullying among boys is more prevalent in co-ed schools. And I think bullying is even more prevalent in all boys and all girls schools.


        • Well, a good example would be Malay. All those who’ve been to a sekolah kebangsaan, or even a private school, would know how to communicate in Malay, although they wouldn’t use a single word of it beyond education purposes.

          If you weren’t moving to China, there wouldn’t really be many instances you could count as really ‘needing’ to learn Chinese.

          These days there is gender equality in bullying as well! 🙂 There was recently something in the papers about a gang of gals who beat up another gal, just because she talked to one of their boyfriends. =-P


  4. I’m still confused by the Malaysian education system, if there is a system in the first place. It seems like there is still no consensus on the language that subjects should be taught at. My child is a Malaysian while I’m a Singaporean.

    Singapore’s education system is organized and merit-based. High-ability students tend to enjoy their school-life more because they can handle the academia areas in much shorter time and spend more time enjoying co-curricular activities. Students who are more talented in the Arts (instead of Math & Science) tend to be on the losing end, until after their O-Levels, when they have more choices to pursue their interests in private schools.

    I enjoyed my schooling days as I experienced a balanced lifestyle and fit into the system very well; but this is certainly not true for many others who find the system too competitive.

    It is important for children to enjoy their childhood and be self-motivated to learn, so that they may succeed in life. Hopefully, this is what the education systems in Singapore and Malaysia can achieve in the near future.


    • I believe the compulsory language was Malay, then they switched it to English a few years ago, and then last year back to Malay, which caused a lot of dissatisfaction.

      I did my school subjects in Malay. In retrospect, I would have preferred it to be in English. I can still speak decent Malay, but when I came to England to study, I didn’t know the English terms for simple things and objects, i.e. even laboratory apparatus.

      An education system should cater to students with abilities of all levels, not just the high ability ones! 🙂


  5. Errm… right after Form 5, I went for a Diploma in IT but couldn’t continue further due to financial problems. With only 1 year of IT knowledge and not very good command in English, I took whatever jobs I can get and work my way up. Before I quit middle of last year to be a full time SAHM, I know I earned more than most of my peers who went to local universities and even some who went overseas to get Degree.

    I think whatever education you have, if you are not willing to learn and be flexible and most of all be humble, you can’t go far. Fresh grads nowadays are not willing to settle for lower pay, some have bad command in English but yet dared to ask for high pay.

    Just in case you want to know, I went for Malay kindergarten, followed by Malay national school during my primary and secondary school days (which explains why I’m bad in Chinese and my English improved tremendously after I met my hubby hehehehe…).


  6. […] is the original post: What Do You Think About Education In Malaysia? « Early Years Childcare Share and […]


  7. Hi Jenny!

    I don’t really remember what language my kindergarten was. 🙂

    People may value qualifications, but on the ‘shop floor’, employers normally value experience over paper qualifications. Some nursery managers in my class were in a debate on how they would obviously choose someone with years of experience but no qualifications, over some schmancy postgrad with no experience.

    Especially with the job-hopping fever, the fresh grad won’t think twice about leaving once he’s got experience and a better job offer.

    I think blogging so frequently helps your English as well, doesn’t it? 😉


    • Mark,

      My kindy was definitely Malay cos that’s where I learned my Jawi… can only remember the first few now…

      Yeah, in my line of (previous) work, they value experience more than your qualifications, which is why I get paid more than my friends who have very good qualifications – cos I start young mah… But I guess, in childcare line, other than experience, networking (as in maintaining good repo with parents) and word of mouth also helps a great deal right?

      Actually its pak-toh-ing with my hubby that helps improve my English leh… (imagine paktoh for almost 10 years, if like that English still bad then don’t know what to say lor…. ;p)


  8. Wow, they teach Jawi in kindie? I’ve always been curious about the language, it looks like an indiscernible bunch of scribbles. =-P

    The way it feels (here in the UK anyway) is that experience is preferred, but it doesn’t grant you any favours with employers. They pay minimum wage anyway, so they feel so what if you leave, they can easily get 10 more of you.

    As for repo with the parents, they wouldn’t stand up for you. Especially if they themselves are leaving, or their child is only there for a couple of years. =-P

    Yup, it’s a tough life!

    Hm, should pak toh with someone from different ethnic background each time then! So pak toh 10 times will know 10 languages! And can cook many styles too, yum yum yum! 🙂


  9. Posted by Maddie_moo on 10 February, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Honestly, I didn’t enjoy my studying time in Malaysia. The teachers were so rude and demanding. Only they can say ‘No’ but pupils are not allowed. I felt like a jailbird. Going to school was my most scary nightmare when I was young!

    Until I study in UK. I found lots of fun can be done in education. Teachers have given me freedom and trust, not just on myself, even my assignments. I can write and point out what exactly in my little brain. They valued my views, no matter what. I feel respected and confident about myself.

    I was from Chinese School, my English no good, doesn’t matter, my teachers said as long as you can express yourself. No one can be perfect in everything. Learn, Live and Laugh!

    That’s what the Education in Malaysia needed indeed. Respect and praises to students in Malaysia.


    • That’s a good point, I did notice that teachers in the UK seemed to treat students differently. They gave them some measure of respect, sometimes even taking the approach of ‘I’m your friend’ rather that ‘Do as I say!’.

      There are such respectful teachers in Malaysia though. As I’ve been ‘strong-willed’ in my school days, and been to 3 different primary schools, I’ve had my share of disagreements with teachers. Most of them were ‘I can say no, you can’t’, but there were some who were more open-minded.

      Sorry if I’m getting a little side-tracked here, but I always found it interesting (and confusing) that for those teachers who were willing to share mutual respect with me, although we got into disagreements in class, outside of the classroom, they were pretty friendly to me!


  10. Posted by angela07 on 30 March, 2010 at 11:05 am

    malaysian education or the education in malsysia is very rojak i say….not systemmatic at all…..it should be centralise….we in malaysia is proud to be malaysian…the “1 malaysia” with multi races n religion…..so school with mult path of stream like chinese school ,,,,indian school…..malay school….can be confusing n frustrating…..so how i wish there are only one school that conbines all as one malaysi n not separetly…..taking the language as extra bonus classes….like chinese school tends to push their student to major n sepcialize in writing, reading n speaking in chinese rather than focusing on the major subject which later on need to be learnt to pass the pmr..spm..stpm…learning subject in english n chinese n malay is tough for students in chinese school….its very stressfull for the students…..so basically malaysian education is not stable n stressfull…..i use to study in london for few years….i jst love going to school there…..not only studying is enjoyable but we do lots of outside activities that is so interesting…..stress free basically…..


    • Hi Angela,

      It is stressful juggling all those languages, but you can understand where the Chinese student is coming from. Malay is required for exams, English is required to get along in modern society, and Chinese is required for the child’s culture/background.

      Never mind having three languages, just between English and Malay there is already a lot of debate and controversy in the education system.

      Good to hear you had a stress free education in England. The students these days don’t look very stress free to me. 🙂


  11. M’sian education lack a good system for student support. All that is important is results in the form of standard set by the so-called “Education Dept” (Menteri Pendidikan). Memorising is the way to go. It does not train students to think, analyse & make their own conclusion. Oftentimes, knowing the way there is as important as the destination. I did all my early yrs, primary, sec yrs & college yrs in Msia. I was always doing pretty well in school, but yet (except for my vernacular primary education which was conducted by very dedicated teachers) I never felt inspired nor enlightened. Everything seems boring & too regimented.

    Now that I am here in the UK & a mother of a young child, I have been researching more on early years education. I have come to realise what I want for my child in her early yrs education (and consequently prinmary & sec yr edu) which I feel will benefit her for life – Methods which will mould her into a happy, analytical & conscientious adult. I don’t believe any ONE method will be an answer as every child is different & respond to diff teaching methods. For now, I believe she (my daughter) will benefit alot from the Steiner-Waldorf Education. Furthermore, the success of education also lies in dedication of the teachers and active participation of the parents. In Malaysia, in particular, I notice alot of parents take a backseat or hands-off approach when it comes to parenting their child. And when things go wrong, fingers are pointed at *gasp* the maid/the school teacher for not handling their child well but not realising that being a non-participant contributed to it in the first place.


    • Hi Tsu Lin,

      While it’s hard to pinpoint which is the BEST method of education, it’s easier to identify which are probably better (and worse), if you get my meaning. 🙂

      And I agree with your point on backseat parenting, it’s something very unfortunate which has been going on for a long time. Spread your research to help inform others! 🙂

      Steiner does seem to have a lot of potential. The very fact that they’re exempt from the EYFS is testimony to that. These days most of my time is in standard EYFS following nurseries though, where dedication of teachers and active participation of parents is exceedingly rare.

      The other day, a child was obviously unwell, and when we strongly suggested his mother take him to a doctor, she said no, because she’d already made (not work committed) plans for the day…huh


  12. Posted by Lily on 14 June, 2010 at 10:15 am

    I’m a secondary school student, and I think that the education system has its fair share of flaws. First of all, the new teachers are usually not really very passionate about teaching. Some actually graduated in another field but had to go into pedagogy because they couldn’t get a job – which, I feel, is a careless way to treat students. Will these people teach well? Will they be dedicated to it?
    Another point is that the way the subjects are taught encourages rote learning and memorising… especially Pendidikan Moral, which I feel is mostly useless as an exam subject.
    By the way, the new syllabus for the Form 4 Literature Component in English is made up of children’s stories and the poems aren’t as good as the previous ones, I feel. Our standard is dropping in that respect.

    I could go on and on…

    However, unless compared to the education system of developed countries, the flaws aren’t that obvious.


    • Hi Lily,

      Less-than-motivated teachers may not be directly the fault of the education system, but it does have a great impact. I know exactly what you mean when you say people are just ushered into education without considering their suitability.

      Even here in the UK, when someone’s ‘not doing good’ in their career/studies, people will just say hey, work with children or be a hairdresser. And you end up with people who hate what they’re doing and are only doing it because they’re forced to, and couldn’t care less if they were fired. This in turn drags down the image and professionalism of everyone else in the industry.

      As for Pendidikan Moral, that was hardly memorising. I memorised everything, and still only got a P5! 🙂


  13. Posted by mia on 12 August, 2011 at 10:08 am

    the key is STPM 🙂


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