Public primary schools are divided into two categories based on the medium of instruction:
• Malay-medium National Schools [Sekolah Kebangsaan, SK]
• non-Malay-medium National-type Schools [Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan, SJK], also known as "vernacular schools" that are further divided into:
1. National-type School (Chinese) [Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina), SJK(C)], Mandarin-medium and simplified Chinese writing
2. National-type School (Tamil) [Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Tamil), SJK (T)], Tamil-medium
The main type of public secondary school in Malaysia is the National Secondary Schools (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan, SMK). These schools use Malay as their main medium of instruction, but English is also a compulsory subject in all schools.
A subset of the public secondary schools is known as National-type Secondary Schools (Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan, SMJK). During Malayan’s Independence in 1957, it was decided that secondary education would be provided in Malay-medium National Secondary Schools and English-medium National-type Secondary Schools. Fee paying, English-medium schools owned and administered by missionaries/religious bodies were offered government aid provided that they adopt the national curriculum. Secondary schools using other languages as their medium of instruction, most of them being Chinese schools, were offered government aid on the condition that they convert into English-medium schools.
Other types of government or government-aided secondary schools include Religious Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Agama), Technical Schools (Sekolah Menengah Teknik), Fully Residential Schools and MARA Junior Science College (Maktab Rendah Sains MARA).
Private schools are required to use the National Curriculum for primary and secondary education, as required by the Education Act 1996. Besides the National Curriculum, private schools offer similar core subjects as national schools and prepare students for the same public common examinations. Private schools are open to both local and international students. Besides day school, some private schools also offer full residential facilities for students.
Students usually spend 6 years in a Chinese Independent High School. The 6 years are divided into two stages: 3 years in junior middle and 3 years in senior middle. The curriculum used is developed and coordinated by the Curriculum Department of the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (UCSCAM).
International schools in Malaysia are funded by the private sector and teach an international curriculum using English as a medium of instruction. These international schools are not governed under the Education Act 1996 but are subjected to supervision by the Ministry of Education through its Private Education Division. Although these schools mainly cater for the needs of the international community, such as the children of the staff of foreign businesses, international organisations, foreign embassies and missions, up to 40% of students may be Malaysian.
The main types of international curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education are the British curriculum, the Australian curriculum, the American curriculum and the Canadian curriculum. Many of these schools offer education from pre-school right up to the preparation of students to sit for an external international examination like IGCSE 'O' level, GCE 'A' levels, International Baccalaureate Diploma, Grade 1 to 12, etc.
In Malaysia, home-schools provide education that takes place at home or a replication of school in a home environment. According to the Education Act 1996 (Act 550), any parent who wishes their child to be exempt from schooling (primary school) must apply to the Ministry of Education. Soon after the Act was passed in 2003, following a personal enquiry to the Ministry, 3 conditions were mentioned as requisite for exemption:
• The child in question should be medically certified as unfit (learning disabled) or not suited (high IQ/exceptionally gifted) for conventional schooling
• The family is constantly travelling abroad
• The curriculum used must be the National Curriculum in the main, while others could be used as supplement.