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[Malaysia] Early Childhood Education in Malaysia: A Comparison with Japan

Early childhood education in less developed countries has a significance that is particular to the context of the country. This paper focuses on Malaysia where early childhood education is implemented and expanded as a means to achieve 100% enrollment in primary school (Universal Primary Education). Furthermore, from the perspective of human resource formation in a global society, its early childhood education also functions to educate children in the Malay and English languages from an early age. This paper examines the background of the introduction of early childhood education in Malaysia and its overall framework.

Furthermore, this paper raises issues that are also pertinent to early childhood education in Japan and thus indicates possibilities for comparative study of Malaysia and Japan. Some important points of comparison with Japan are tuition-free early childhood education or subsidized education for low-income or poor families, early childhood education as a bridge that aids the transition to primary school, and early childhood education that considers diversity.

Keywords: Transition to primary school, tuition-free early childhood education, women's labor, Universal Primary Education (UPE), social welfare measures for low-income households, multicultural society, teacher education
Japanese Chinese

>>Basic Data of Malaysia malaysia


Why Early Childhood Education Now? For UPE

In many less developed countries, early childhood education and child care are receiving much attention as a means of attaining Universal Primary Education (UPE). A term used in the field of international educational development, it refers to making primary education available to all children and ensuring 100% enrollment.

Despite the various efforts of international organizations, aid organizations and governments from the 1990s, primary education did not become universal. Early childhood education consequently came to be seen as a way to raise the primary school enrollment rate by the "habituating" more children in early childhood to attend school. In other words, early childhood education became the focus of attention with a view to establishing a smooth transition between early childhood education and primary school education (defined as basic education in the context of international education).

Malaysia, which aims to become an advanced nation by 2020, focused on early childhood education from the late-1990s to the early years of this decade. Much of this effort was, of course, devoted to attaining UPE. At this time, the Child Care Center Act 1984 (308 Act) had already been passed against the background of rising workforce participation by women since the 1970s, and the basic infrastructure of child care had already begun to be established. Nevertheless, compared with primary education, which was becoming universal, preschool education was still not fully available.

This paper provides an overall view of early childhood education in Malaysia and sheds light on its characteristics in Malaysia as a non developed country and the differences and similarities with issues in Japan.

Preschool Education and the Curriculum that Considers Diversity

One characteristic of Malaysia is its ethnic diversity. Its population comprises Malays as well as Chinese, Indian and indigenous peoples. The education system is organized to reflect this ethnic diversity in consideration of these ethnic groups. The aim of preschool education is to educate citizens with high-level skills and competency in a global society.

Preschool education in Malaysia is positioned as the preparatory stage for primary education. As such, while preparing children for primary education, the curriculum of early childhood education promotes national unification among ethnic groups. For example, although the significance of learning English from an early age is emphasized, the ability to communicate in the official language of Malay is also given importance. At the same time, consideration is also given to the languages other than Malay that are spoken by non-Malays. Moreover, the practice of Islamic and other moral values is also important. In this respect, the preschool curriculum is organized to develop competent human resources with the dual aims of uniting the Malaysian people and promoting economic development. (Sugimoto, 2005; Tejima, 2006)

Furthermore, with the Education Act 1996, preschool education was made a part of the national education system. Preschool education was incorporated into the compulsory education system that was introduced at this time, and has come to function as a social welfare or relief measure for children from relatively poor families who are unable to attend primary school or to attend it regularly or for children from low-income families who are primarily ethnic minorities.

Wide Selection of Preschools

Unifying the child care system in Japan has been a topic of discussion for some time now. In Malaysia as well, many different institutions provide early childhood education and child care. There are a number of administrative parent organizations, which manage these facilities centrally. These consist of government organizations such (i) the Ministry of Education; (ii) Department National Unity, Ministry of National Unity and Social Development;(iii)governmental organizations such as Bahagian Kemajuan Masyarakat:KEMAS/Community Development Division, Ministry of Rural Development; (iv) Jabatan Agama Islam or Departmentof Islamic Religion in each state; (v) Muslim organizations such as the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia:ABIM); and (vi) private sector facilities that operate early childhood education and child care services.

Most preschool education facilities (except day care centers) are under the administration of parent organizations which are national government entities or Departmentof Islamic Religion in each state in each of the states. Nevertheless, privately-run facilities account for a higher percentage of enrollment. As of 2005, out of the total population of 553,600 children five years of age or above, or 92,303 children, only 16.7% were enrolled in facilities operated by the Ministry of Education. [Ministry of Education Malaysia 2005, p.27]

Tuition-free Preschool Education and Early Childhood Education by the Ministry of Education

What are the distinguishing characteristics of these various preschool facilities? In 2007, the author observed a preschool class given at a primary school under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. In this preschool class in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, one teacher with a staff of two (one assistant and one student intern engaged for about three months), was in charge of a class of 25 students. In the interview, I was told that the class lasted from 8:00 to 11:30 and class activities mainly consisted for simple group work. (interview, July 26, 2007)

Preschool classes administered and operated by the Ministry of Education are attended by children who are six years of age or a little older. Among the diverse preschools, the classes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education do not charge tuition and include free school lunch as well. Many parents want to send their child to such schools, but admission is based on parental income. (According to the teachers, the standard seems to be a maximum income of 1,000 ringgits per month.) Students who are unable to attend a preschool under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Education choose to go to a KEMAS or private kindergarten. On the other hand, there are many parents who do not consider sending their child to any institution other than private kindergarten from the outset.

Teacher Education and Quality

Teacher education presents many issues for less developed countries. In Malaysia, which is no exception, maintaining the high quality of preschool teachers is difficult. The number of preschool teachers in Malaysia has dramatically increased from 21,000 (1999) to 28,000 in 2004. As a result, the number of preschool children per teacher has decreased from 27 (1999) to 21 (2004). [UNESCO 2007, p.304]

Qualification requirements for kindergarten teachers in Malaysia are not clearly stipulated. As a result, kindergarten teachers have a various educational levels and range from those who have completed elementary school to graduates of secondary education. While observing the above class, I was told that preschool teachers with bachelor degrees are rare, which suggests that the problem is serious. Furthermore, in preschool education, nearly 100% of all teachers are women.

Public and private institutions are engaged in the formation and education of kindergarten teachers, but through separate administrative parent organizations. Even in the case of kindergartens that are public, the method and content of teacher education vary according to the particular administrative parent organization under which it operates. For example, universities and teachers' colleges in Malaysia mainly offer four different teacher education programs. In reality, however, teachers at preschool facilities do not necessarily have a diploma in the field of preschool education or a bachelors' degree. Furthermore, these administrative parent organizations offer their own teacher education programs and teacher development training for practicing teachers, and it will take some time before these programs are unified.

Comparison of Preschool Education in Japan and Malaysia

In recent years, as early childhood education and infant and child care have become the focus of much attention throughout the world, Malaysia has also implemented and expanded its preschool education. Malaysia's early child education offers a useful perspective for the consideration of early childhood education in Japan in the future. The following three areas provide particularly significant points of comparison with the system in Japan.

First, the Malaysian preschool education system is tuition-free from the first stage of preschool education. Making preschool education tuition-free has been discussed in Japan, and the case of Malaysia, where it was implemented first, is instructive. Second, efforts are made to ensure a smooth transition from preschool education to compulsory education, although this context differs from that of Japan. Not only are these efforts instructive for developing countries in the context of linking preschool to basic education, but as a precursory example, they may point to possibilities of better linking preschool education to compulsory education that are now being discussed in Japan. Third, although Malay is emphasized as the official language and consideration given to ethnic diversity, English language education is given from an early age in order to educate competent citizens in a global society. This paper compares preschool education in Japan and Malaysia and sheds light on their differences and similarities, which will be the focus and direction of my future research.


Kamogawa, Akiko (2007). Early Childhood Education in Malaysia. Survey of Early Childhood Education in Developing Nations in Asia. 2004-2006. Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research. (B) (Nobuko Uchida, Chief Researcher) (no. 16402039), pp. 9-23.

Ministry of Education Malaysia (2005), Malaysian Educational Statistics 2005.

Rohaty Mohd Majzub(2003), Pendidikan Prasekolah: Cabaran Kualiti, Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Sugimoto, Hitoshi (2005). Chapter 8 Preschool Education's Response to Globalization and Teacher Education System. Malaysian Education from and International Perspective: Globalization Impact on Education (Malaysia ni okeru Kokusaikyouikukankei: kyouiku heno global impact) Toshindo.

Teshima, Masahiro (2006) "Chapter 6 Early Childhood Education for Malaysian Unification through the Malay Language and Internationalization through English" in Ikeda, Mitsuhiro, and Chiaki Yamada,ed. Preprimary Education in Asia: System and Practice of Curriculum(Ajia no shugakuzen kyoiku: yoji kyoiku no seido karikyuramu jissen) . Tokyo, Akashi Shoten.

UNESCO (2006). Malaysia Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programmes.

UNESCO (2007) EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007


Akiko Kamogawa

Born in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. Ed.D, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University since 2008. Research on comparative education, particularly, education in Southeast Asia. Previously research associate in Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University; Research Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Kyoto University. During ten years of research on education in Malaysia, studied at University of Malaysia, Published “Career Development of Adolescent Females in Malaysia (Toshindo, 2008) based on field work on career development of secondary students in Malaysia, Recent research interests include early childhood education, compulsory education and policy in Malaysia, international higher educational networks in Southeast Asia and exchange student flows, and career development of exchange students.

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