History of Education in Malaysia

Sekolah Pondok (literally, Hut school), Madrasah and other Islamic schools were the earliest forms of schooling available in Malaysia. Early works of Malay literature such as Hikayat Abdullah mention these schools indicating they pre-date the current secular model of education.

Secular schools in Malaysia were largely an innovation of the British colonial government. Many of the earliest schools in Malaysia were founded in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. The oldest English-language school in Malaya is the Penang Free School, founded in 1816, followed by Malacca High School, St. Xavier's Institution, King Edward VII School (Taiping) and Anglo Chinese School, Klang. Many English-language schools are considered quite prestigious.

British historian Richard O. Winstedt worked to improve the education of the Malays and was instrumental in establishing Sultan Idris Training College with the purpose of producing Malay teachers. Richard James Wilkinson helped established the Malay College Kuala Kangsar in 1905 which aimed to educate the Malay elite.

Initially, the British colonial government did not provide for any Malay-language secondary schools, forcing those who had studied in Malay during primary school to adjust to an English-language education. Many Malays failed to pursue additional education due to this issue. Despite complaints about this policy, the British Director of Education stated:

It would be contrary to the considered policy of government to afford to a community, the great majority of whose members find congenial livelihood and independence in agricultural pursuits, more extended facilities for the learning of English which would be likely to have the effect of inducing them to abandon those pursuits.

Malay representatives in the Federal Council as well as the Legislative Council of Singapore responded vehemently, with one calling the British policy "a policy that trains the Malay boy how not to get employment" by excluding the Malays from learning in the "bread-earning language of Malaya". He remarked:

In the fewest possible words, the Malay boy is told 'You have been trained to remain at the bottom, and there you must always remain!' Why, I ask, waste so much money to attain this end when without any vernacular school, and without any special effort, the Malay boy could himself accomplish this feat?

To remedy this problem, the British established the Malay College Kuala Kangsar. However, it was mainly intended as a way to educate low-level civil servants and not as a means to opening the doors of commerce to the Malays - the school was never intended to prepare students for entrance to higher institutions of education.

Missionaries of Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Josephian order and the Lasallian Brothers, Marist Brothers, Seventh-day Adventists, Anglicans, and Methodists started a series of mission schools which provided primary and secondary education in the English language. Most of these were single-sex schools. Although nowadays they have fully assimilated into the Malay-medium national school system and most admit students regardless of gender and background (some single-sex schools remain), many of the schools still bear their original names, such as the ones with the names of saints or words such as "Catholic", "Convent", "Advent" and "Methodist".

During the British colonial period, large numbers of immigrants from China and India arrived in Malaya. The Chinese and Indian communities eventually established their vernacular schools with school curricula and teachers from China and India respectively.

In the 1950s, there were four initial proposals for developing the national education system: the Barnes Report (favoured by the Malays), Ordinance Report (modification of the Barnes Report), the Fenn-Wu Report (favoured by the Chinese and Indians), and the Razak Report (a compromise between the two reports). The Barnes proposal was implemented through the 1952 Education Ordinance amidst Chinese protests. In 1956, the Razak Report was adopted by the Malayan government as the education framework for independent Malaya. The Razak Report called for a national school system consisting of Malay-, English-, Chinese- and Tamil-medium schools at the primary level, and Malay- and English-medium schools at the secondary schools, with a uniform national curriculum regardless of the medium of instruction. Malay-medium schools would be known as "national", while other languages schools would be known as "national-type".

In the early years of independence, existing Chinese, Tamil and mission schools accepted government funding and were allowed to retain their medium of instructions on the condition that they adopt the national curriculum. Chinese secondary schools were given the options of accepting government funding and change into English national-type schools or remain Chinese and private without government funding. Most of the schools accepted the change, although a few rejected the offer and came to be known as Chinese Independent High Schools. Shortly after the change, some of the national-type schools reestablished their Chinese independent high school branches.
In the 1970s, in accordance to the national language policy, the government began to change English-medium primary and secondary national-type schools into Malay-medium national schools. The language change was made gradually starting from the first year in primary school, then the second year in the following year and so on. The change was completed by the end of 1982.

In 1996, the Education Act of 1996 was passed to amend the Education Ordinance of 1956 and the Education Act of 1961.

In 2004, the Ministries of Education were split into two which are Ministries of Education and Ministries of Higher Education. The later handles matter regarding tertiary education. However, both ministries were recombined in 2013 to form a single Ministries of Education.It were re-split again 2015.