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Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia; a large country with a total geographic area of roughly 127,000 square miles. The country consists of thirteen states and three federal territories and is separated by the South China Sea into two like-sized regions known as Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Malaysia shares land borders with Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei, and maritime borders with Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. The capital and largest city in the country is Kuala Lumpur, while the federal seat of the government is located in Putrajaya.
According to the latest available census data, Malaysia has a population of roughly 28.3 million, making it the 43rd most populated country in the world. The population is comprised of a number of different ethnic groups, although ethnic Malays comprise just over half of the total population. Eleven percent of the population is “bumiputra,” a word that refers to non-Malay indigenous peoples, primarily Thais, Khmers, Chams and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. There also exist aboriginal people, although in much smaller numbers, located throughout the country. Those with non-bumiputra status make up nearly twenty five percent of the population, most of whom are either of Chinese or Indian descent.
Although the Malaysian Constitution allows for religious freedom, Islam is listed as and considered the official state religion of the country. The various religions adhered to in the country, in order of the number of people who practice them, include Islam (60%), Buddhism (20%), Christianity (9%), Hinduism (6.5%) and Confucianism (2%). Bahasa Malaysian, a standardized form of the Malay language, is spoken commonly among the majority of the Malaysian people. English is an active second language in the country and is used for many administrative functions and is the language of instruction for both mathematics and science in Malaysian schools.
Education in Malaysia
Education in Malaysia is overseen by two ministries. The Ministry of Education oversees education at the preschool, primary, secondary and all non-university, post-secondary levels. The Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for all tertiary or university education in the country. Although the education system is under the supervision of the federal government, each state has an education department that helps to oversee education matters in its specific territory. Education is provided at public schools, which are free to attend, or private schools, and the primary legislation governing each type is the Malaysian Education Act of 1996.
Primary education in Malaysia, which follows a voluntary preschool program, is compulsory for all students. It begins at age seven and spans six years, known as Year or Standard One through Six. Years 1 through 3 are classified as Level One (Tahap Satu), while Years 4 through 6 are known as Level Two (Tahap Dua). In Tahap Satu, the focus is on the basics—reading, writing and arithmetic. In Tahap Dua, these subjects are supplemented by several others, including science, technology, literature, history, geography, cultural and social studies, physical education and the arts. Following Year 6, and before students can progress to secondary school, all students must sit for the Primary School Achievement Test (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah, UPSR). This tests measures proficiency in written Malay, English, Science and Mathematics.
Secondary education in Malaysia spans five years, also known as Form (Tingkatan) 1 through 5. The initial three years comprise a student’s lower secondary education, while the final two Forms (4 and 5) comprise upper secondary education. Most students who complete their primary education are admitted to Form 1, where they will receive instruction in many of the same subjects taught in primary school, albeit more advanced with each passing grade level. In addition, subjects such as physics, chemistry and foreign languages are added at the upper secondary level, languages that, in addition to English, may include Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, German and French.
Higher education in Malaysia is provided by both private and public universities, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in most major academic fields, as well as a through any number of technical-vocational institutions, where students receive advanced training and instruction in a variety of career fields.