Introduction to the Malaysian Education Structure (Lower and Higher Education)

Children in Malaysia begin their education as early as at the age of four at pre-schools although this is not compulsory. Primary education starts when the child reaches the age of six on the first day of January of the current school year. Prior to 2015, only the six years of primary education were compulsory but after 2015 the five years of secondary education were also made compulsory. The government provides free education for six years at primary level and five years at secondary level. At the end of this secondary education, students sit for a common public examination, Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).

Students who want to pursue higher education after the secondary level need to have the required academic grades and the funds to further their education. School leavers with SPM qualifications can opt to obtain a pre-university qualification (such as the sixth form, matriculation programmes or the GCE ‘A’ levels) or study for a certificate or diploma at a higher educational institution. The time needed to complete a pre-university programme depends on the type of programmes – students usually take a year to complete a matriculation programme or STAM and one-and-a-half to two years for STPM and A-levels.

At the higher education phase, study opportunities include certificate, diploma, undergraduate, as well as postgraduate studies. Undergraduate studies consist of bachelor degrees and professional qualifications while postgraduate studies offer master degrees and PhDs. Generally, higher education at the diploma level is for school leavers with a secondary school certificate such as SPM (usually age 17 onwards) while bachelor degrees require post-secondary qualifications such as STPM or GCE A Levels or other equivalent pre-university qualifications (usually age 19 onwards).

Malaysia welcomes international students for all levels of education. Since the mid 1990s, international students have been coming to Malaysia to pursue international school education and tertiary education at the various higher educational institutions in Malaysia.

Education Governing Authorities

Generally, the Malaysian education structure can be divided into pre-tertiary and higher education levels under the Ministry of Education Malaysia (MOE). The governance of higher education was separated from the MOE on 27 March 2004 and Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) was established as a full ministry under a Federal Minister. There were then two governing authorities in education: the pre-tertiary education sector (from pre-school to secondary education and teacher education) was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (MOE), while the higher education sector came under the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) until 2013.

The Ministry of Education Malaysia (or Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia in Malay). However in 2015, the two Ministries were split again and were merged again in 2018. In 2020 the two ministries once again split with the higher education ministry under a new federal minister.

Levels of Education

Similar to many developed countries in the world, Malaysia adopts a system of 6+5+2 years of formal education. The following section provides details of the various levels of the national education system.

Levels of Education
Pre-school and kindergarten education for children age 4 to 6
Primary education from age 6+ to 11+ (Standard 1 to 6 for six years)
Secondary education from age 12+ to 16+ (Form 1 to 5 for five years)
Lower secondary from age 12+ to 14+ (Form 1 to 3)Upper secondary from age 15+ to 16+ (Form 4 to 5) with the option to choose either
academic secondary education; ortechnical secondary education; orvocational education; orreligious secondary education
Post-secondary education or pre-university from age 17+ (for one to two years)Form 6, STPM (for one-and-a-half years); orMatriculation certificate (for one year); orUniversity Foundation or Asasi certificate, offered by respective public universities (for one year)STAM (for one year)
Higher EducationCertificate and diploma education from age 17+ onwardsTeacher education at Teacher Training Institutes from age 17+ onwardsBachelor’s degree from age 18+ or 19+ (for three to five years)Postgraduate studies [master’s degree or PhD studies after acquiring a bachelor’s degree] (for one to five years)