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EDU 3101

Malaysian Education
Azni Jaffar
IPG Campus Tun Hussein Onn
Batu Pahat


By the end of this topic, you should be able to:

1. Explain the history of education in Malaya
before the arrival of the British;
2. Provide the history of education in Malaya
after the arrival of the British;
3. Elaborate on the Education Reports in
Malaysia; and
4. Describe the history of education after
Malaysias independence.


1. An education policy involves the future of a nation because the

young generation is the pillar of the nations future.
2. The system of education in Malaysia is unique because the
Malaysian society is multiracial whereby each race has its own
culture and language.
3. Indeed, the Ministry of Education has to take into account this
multiracial factor in developing its education curriculum.
4. Through history, we know the needs of a certain race related to
the education field.
5. Besides that, history will tell us about the governments and
societys agendas and policies that have not been fulfilled.
6. Therefore, in developing the Malaysian education curriculum, it
is necessary for the curriculum developer to study and examine
the history of education in Malaysia. Scheme


The education system before the British arrival in Malaya is known as
the traditional period of the education system. It was informal and did
not emphasise on the intellectual development of the students. It was
more about passing knowledge down to younger generations.
During the traditional period, childrens daily life involved helping
their parents in various tasks such as looking for food, hunting,
cooking and self-defence. They learned skills in handicraft such as
basket weaving and wood or metal carving and they also learned
building skills, repairing agricultural tools and hunting from their
parents or other adults using the same methods. There were also
silat arenas to train male children in self-defence.
They acquired these skills by helping and observing family members.

Arrival of Islam
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, surau and mosques
started to be built and religious teachers normally lived at these
places of devotion. These religious teachers would normally
become the imams of the surau and mosques besides teaching
religious education. Religious education was delivered by
religious teachers who were normally from Arab descendants.
They taught counting, jawi, fardu ain and Islamic pillars. In a day,
students interacted as much as three times and each interaction
took about an hour. Interactions happened after fajr prayer, after
zohor prayer and once again in the evening.
In this education system, students did not have to pay any fee. In
return for the knowledge passed on to them, the students helped
their teachers to clean the area where they learnt, fetch water and
wood, or help them in the paddy field.
All these were done in between lessons. Indirectly, children learnt
living skills needed in adulthood.


The migration of a few learned and religious people from the

Middle East to Malaya during the 18th century changed the
education system in Malaya. The trouble in Pattani caused many
learned and religious people to migrate to Terengganu and
Kelantan. This migration resulted in the setting up of religious
schools or sekolah pondok. For instance, Syarif Muhamad who
originated from Baghdad founded a famous sekolah pondok in
Kuala Terengganu. Students who learned in sekolah pondok
stayed in surrounding huts.
In the 19th century, sekolah pondok or Arabic schools were built
all over Malaya, particularly in Kedah, Perak, Kelantan and Penang.
However, only a handful of students had the opportunity to learn in
schools founded by famous Islamic scholars at that time. This was
because the schools were built only in certain areas and the
number of schools was not enough compared to the number of


A modern sekolah pondok which was governed in a

more organised way is known as madrasah. The
madrasahs curriculum emphasised on reformist
teachings from the Middle East. It also taught vocational
subjects such as trade, counting, ways to grow paddy
and make soap. Nevertheless, the main subjects were AlQuran and religious education.
The standard of education in a madrasah was high so
the graduates were acknowledged by universities in the
Middle East. Among the famous madrasah in Malaya
included Madrasah Al-Masyhur in Penang and a few
famous madrasahs in Kota Bahru. Graduates from these
madrasahs qualified to further their studies at Al-Azhar
University in Egypt or at Masjidil-Haram in Makkah.

Discuss the characteristics of

education in Malaya before the arrival