Sunday, 6 March 2011

Brief Comparison between United Kingdom and Malaysian Education System

Education has various definitions and meanings. According to Cambridge Advanced Leaner’s dictionary, education is the process of teaching or learning in a school or college or the knowledge that you get from the school or college[1]. Education is very important for a society to make sure that the country is well developed and harmony. There are many books and journals discuss about the purposes of education. According to Airil Haimi Adnan and Edwin Smith (2001) there are seven main social functions of education. The social functions of education are as follow[2]:

  1.   Development; to ensure the development of society for the modern world
  2.  Political; to uphold the current political system and maintain the loyalty to it.
  3.     Value function; education as a medium to promote a society norms and values.
  4.     Identity function; education as a medium to create a national Identity and harmony society
  5.  Stratification function; education as a medium to select the more able from the society as a whole using a meritocratic principles.
  6. Economic function; to produce a human capital that can stimulate the economic growth and bring wealth to the nation.
  7. Socialisation function; education act as a medium for the kids to socialise with each other.

Both United Kingdom and Malaysia’s education policy are trying to address all the functions of education above. In this essay I am going to compare the education system between United Kingdom and Malaysia. I also going to discuss about how both country can learn from each other. The similarities and differences in terms of the structure of school system are also discussed in this essay.

The basic structure of education system in United Kingdom and Malaysia is almost similar. Education system in United Kingdom consists of three stages where each stage can be subdivided. Meanwhile, Malaysian education system can be divided into four stages which also later can be subdivided.

United Kingdom education consists of pre-compulsory, compulsory and post compulsory education. Pre-compulsory education can include playschool, kindergarten, nursery, pre-prep and reception. Pre- compulsory stage is for kids at the age five years old and below. Class for Kids who attend primary school at the age of four is called reception class.

Compulsory stage can be divided into two, primary and secondary school. Primary school is for kids at the age of five to eleven years old. The national curriculum for primary school is called key stage 1 (age five to seven years old) and key stage 2 (age seven to eleven years old) [3].

Before 2010, primary school students were required to take National Curriculum Assessment (Sats) examination. However, in April 2009, National Union of teacher (NUT) voted to boycott the Sats exam for primary school starting 2010 onwards. Even though some school still doing the sats exam, the result were not handed to the government. According to Christine Blower, the acting secretary of NUT, there is overwhelming evidence that Sats damage the education of children, supported by evidence linking them to deterioration in children health[4].

Meanwhile, secondary school in United Kingdom can be divided into two key stages, key stage 3(age 11 to 14) and key stage 4 (age 14 to 16). At the end of key stage 4 (year 11) students are required to take GCSE examination. Sats examination at the end of key stage 3 was abolished by government in 2008. Teachers and parents praised the education secretary, Ed balls (now shadow chancellor of exchequer) and describe the decision as the first sensible decisions that Mr Balls had done. The decisions to abolish the examination also get a support from the members of opposition party. Mr Balls described that Sats exam for key stage 3 is less relevant as parents and teachers already have GCSE and A-level to measure the standard[5].

As United Kingdom reform the education system to be fewer exams oriented, so do the Malaysian. Malaysian formal education starts at the age of four or five years old. This level is called pre-school level and equivalent to reception class in United Kingdom.  Pre-school is considered to be a preparation for kid before they enter primary school.

Children in Malaysia are required to spend six years in primary school. Primary school in Malaysia is for children at the age of seven to twelve years old. At the end of primary school, pupils were required to take primary school assessment (UPSR). On June 2010, Minister of education, Mr Muhyidin Yasin, announced government plan to abolish UPSR[6]. However, a lot of people including the government backbenchers opposed the idea. One of the parties in the government coalition, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) did not agree with this plan but suggested that the format of the UPSR might be change to create an education that is more holistic[7]. Finally on October 2010, Minister of education announced that the UPSR examination will be retained but there will be a changes in the format of the exam as suggested by the Malaysian Chinese Association.

Meanwhile, secondary school in Malaysia consists of two stages, lower form and upper form.  Lower form (form 1 to form 3) is for students at the age of 13 years old to 15 years old, while upper form (form 4 to form 5) is for students at the age of 16 to 17 years old. There will be a lower form examination at the end of form 3, and Malaysia Education Certificate (SPM) examination at the end of form 5. However, the government decided to abolish the lower form examination (PMR) on October 2010. The change in lower form examination and primary assessment (UPSR) will take change starting from 2016[8]. The decision to abolish any examination in Malaysia gets a mixed reaction from the people. Some people against it simply because they already used to the examination based system and claiming that the government change the education system too often. In my opinion, the government decision to reform the education system is correct because according to Airil Haimi and Edwin Smith, the examination based system restricted the full potential for development in society where the students only focus to success in examination and not the using the knowledge in real life.

For the post secondary education, there are a similarities and differences between United Kingdom and Malaysia. After secondary school in United Kingdom, students will enter a six form college to study As level and A level. The same system is practice in Malaysia where students study in 6th form (lower and upper form) after SPM examination. However, In Malaysia, there is another system which is called a Matriculation system that works differently from the 6th form system. Students will study in Matriculation College where the college use the university style teaching system. Student that gets good result in SPM will study in one year programs while other student will study in two years programs. One year programs allow student to enter the university earlier those students who study in 6th form and two years matriculation program[9]. However, students will face more difficulties because they are required to finish a lot of syllabus in a short period of time.

Based on the comparison above, there is huge evidence of political influences in education system for both countries. Teacher Union in United Kingdom play an important role to make sure that the government decision is the best for the children and the society. Teacher Union in Malaysia should be more proactive and play an important role advising the government in the issues of education. Malaysia government should hear the voice of the teacher and consult with the teacher union before deciding a new policy in education. By doing that, the government will come out with the decision that is good for everybody especially the children, teachers and schools.

In the other hand, United Kingdom should give a huge priority to students in all level. In Malaysia for example, most of the budget allocation for 2011 is spent for education. This includes MYR 6.4 billion to upgrade schools and MYR 29.3 billion for strengthening and training in education[10]. The recent decision by the coalition government to increase the tuition fees in university up to £9000 is going to burden the university students in England. According to the Shadow business secretary, it was unfair to charge the student for the cost of their degree, and the labour will oppose any decision to increase the tuition fees[11].

In conclusion, although both United Kingdom and Malaysia education system are not perfect, both governments are trying to address all the functions of education in their policy. The teachers can help the government to make decision regarding the education through the teacher union. Cooperation between the government and teacher could produce a better education system in the future.

Note: I wrote this essay during the first semester of my teaching course. I post it on this site just to share some of the works that I did during my study. I currently working on other assignment and quite busy with my second school placement. I plan to write a post about geography of the Moon but it seems that I still dont have a time to do it. Hopefully I will be able to post it by the end of March. May God make it easy for me.....


[1]Cambridge Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary, Cambridge University Press 2010, <>
[2]  Airil Aimi Adnan and Edwin Smith, ‘The social function of education in a developing country: the case of Malaysian schools and the role of Malaysian Teacher’, Intercultural education, Vol 12, No 3, 2001, pp. 327.
[3] ‘Education in England and Wales’, Aspire Aimhigher South east London, 13 June 2005, view on 30 October 2010, <,com_docman/task,doc_details/gid,51/ >
[4] Nicola Woolcock, ‘ The teachers and Head unite to force abolition on Sats’, Times online Sunday, 11 April 2009, view on 30 October 2010, < >
[5]  Graeme Paton and Matthew Moore,’ Sats for 14- year olds abolished: teacher and parents praised decision’, The Telegraph, 15 October 2008, view on 23 october 2010, < >
[6] ‘UPSR and PMR may be abolish’, The Star Online, June 2010, View on 23 October 2010, < >
[7] ‘MCA supports abolishing PMR exams but wants UPSR retained with changes’, Malaysian Chinese Association Online, July 2010, view on  30 October 2010, < >

[9] ‘Education System’, Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2010, view on 30 October 2010, < >
[10] ‘Education in Malaysia Budget 2011’, Education Talk, 17 October 2010, view on 2 November 2010, < >
[11] Sean Coughlan, ‘ Student face tuition fees up to £9000’, BBC online, 3 November 2010, View on 9 November 2010, < >

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