The earliest forms of schooling existed in Malaysia were rickety hut schools (Sekolah Pondok), along with Madrasah and other types of Islamic schools. Malaysian secular schools were the pure products of British colonial government’s innovation.
Many of these early schools were first established in both Melaka and Penang, which the oldest English-language school being the Penang Free School, founded back in 1816. This was followed by the Malacca High School and thirdly, the Anglo Chinese School in Klang.
The arrival of Christian missionaries from various denominations, such as the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, the Methodist and others, kick-started a series of mission schools providing English-based primary and secondary education. These are typically single-gendered schools. They have been fully assimilated into BM based national school nowadays, and most will enrol students regardless of their gender or background.
The British colonial period saw large numbers of immigrants pouring in from China and India. These growing immigrant communities eventually founded their own vernacular schools with curricular and teachers hailing from China and India respectively.
During the 1950s, there exist four initial proposals for improving and developing the nation’s education system. These are namely; The Barnes Report, Ordinance Report, The Fenn-Wu Report and the Razak Report. Eventually, the Barnes Report was officially implemented through the signing of the 1952 Education Ordinance. As the Report favoured Malay based education, it was poorly received by the Chinese communities. A few years later in 1956, revisions were made and the Razak Report was instead accepted by the Malayan Government as the official education framework for the freshly independent Malaya. The Razak Report detailed that a balanced national school system should be established, consisting of Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil based schools at primary level, and Malay and English based schools at secondary level with a uniformed national curriculum regardless of the language of choice. Malay based schools shall henceforth be known as ‘national’ while others adopting other languages as ‘national-type’.
During the early years of Malaysia’s independence, Chinese, Tamil and Christian mission schools all received government funding and were allowed to keep their language of choice as medium of instruction provided that they adopt the national curriculum. For Chinese secondary schools, they were given the options of receiving government aid and change into national-type English schools, or to remain as Chinese based school but go private without any government funding. Most accepted the change though a handful rejected the offer and went private to become Chinese Independent High Schools. Shortly after this change, some of the national-type schools re-established back their Chinese independent high school branches.
Education pretty much stayed the same until the 1970s when, in accordance to the national language policy, the government exacted changes to English based primary and secondary national-type schools into Malay based national schools. This change came about gradually starting from the first year of primary school, then moving on to the second year in the following year and so on. The whole change came to a full circle by the end of 1982.
The Education Act of 1996 was eventually passed to amend on the Education Ordinance established back in 1956 and also the Education Act of 1961, effectively creating a fresh slate on Malaysia’s education scene.
No big changes occurred until the year 2004 when the Ministries of Education were split into two; the Ministries of Education and the Ministries of Higher Education. The latter’s role is pretty much self explanatory. Both however were recombined back in 2013 to form again a single unified Ministries of Education.