Types of School in Malaysia

YE event in SIS Penang

Choosing the right school for your kids is one of the best decisions you can make. Because it is an essential factor that can affect the course of the child’s future.

Talking about the different types of schools in Malaysia, there are many options to choose from. In this blog post, you’ll learn the different types of schools in Malaysia and how they operate.

The education platforms, just like the country’s cultural and ethnic landscape, are diverse and numerous. They include:

  • Government or public schools
  • International schools
  • Vernacular schools (where Tamil and Mandarin are the primary medium of instruction)
  • Private schools


malay primary school students in class

1. The Government or Public Schools

In Malaysia, there are over 10,000 government schools, including primary and secondary schools. The government funds these schools. Parents are only required to pay for miscellaneous expenses, such as exercise books, stationery, etc.

The school’s curriculum emphasizes the national language of Bahasa Malaysia, and other subjects (except languages) are taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

The Ministry of Education introduced the Malaysian Education blueprint in 2013 -2025 which is to reduce the emphasis on examinations and rote-learning — and to focus on more continuous assessments and independent learning. The goal of this is to promote active learning and nurture well-rounded students.

While this is appreciable, it also means that the kids to whom this structure applies will not have a centralized assessment or examination that determines if they can continue with their studies until they reach Form 5.

Based on the blueprint, government schools these days aim to understand the current performance and challenges that exist in the system. They also focus on establishing a clearer vision so that they can cater to each individual students the best they can. This, for example, was shown in the abolishment of arts and science stream in secondary schools. Finally, the government school systems also aim to create comprehensive transformation programmes to help the students get a more well-rounded education.

Whether this development has a positive impact on a child’s overall education is yet to be seen. However, the Ministry of Education is still working towards the achievement of the goals set in the blueprint despite knowing that it will take some time for the results of the effort to reflect.


enrolling in an international school

2. International Schools

In the past, international schools in Malaysia used to be populated only by students from expatriate communities, and there used to be a quota that limited the number of local students who attended these schools.

But, the Ministry of Education lifted the restriction, and access to the best international schools in Malaysia is now available for both Malaysian and International students. This is mainly due to the overwhelming interest shown by Malaysian parents.

So why do more parents prefer international schools compared to government schools?

Undeniably there are many benefits of enrolling your child to an international school. One of them is the inclusion of IGCSE syllabus along with local subjects that gives students an added advantage in terms of education. International schools also tend to have better co-curricular activity as well, training students to be well-rounded individuals.

International schools like Straits International School, for example, have local and foreign teachers who are trained to give quality education to students. The teachers in international schools also tend to give more attention to the students as the classes are smaller compared to government schools. This not only helps the student but it also helps the teachers to identify the unique ways they get to teach the students.

Straits International School even have scholarship programs for new and existing students who perform well. This not only lessens the financial burden of parents, but it also recognises and acknowledges excellent students.

If you are a parent who wishes to give your child a well-rounded education, as well as an added advantages of being prepared on a bigger scale, an international school in Malaysia, is your best bet.


SMJK Heng Ee Cawangan Bayan Baru

3. Vernacular Schools

The vernacular schools were created specifically for specific ethnic and cultural communities in Malaysia — the Chinese and Indians. This schooling system was introduced to promote the languages and cultural values of these communities.

Over the past three decades, the vernacular schools, especially the Chinese schools, have further developed and it is now common to see children from other ethnic communities going to school in such environments.

Vernacular schools use either Mandarin or Tamil as a medium of instruction. However, Bahasa Malaysia and English language are taught as compulsory subjects.

Although the Chinese vernacular schools have earned a reputation for producing top scorers, the excessive amount of homework given to the students and the pressure a child is subjected to due to the school’s culture that places a premium on performance and academic excellence is usually a cause for concern.


school kids holding hands

4. The Private School

The private school system has existed in Malaysia for close to 40 years. It began as an effort by the education providers to expand and enhance learning opportunities for Malaysian families who can afford to send their children to private schools in Penang, Malaysia.

The private schools also follow the Malaysian national curriculum (and the IGCSE syllabus in some cases), but what differentiates the private schools from the government schools is the extensive physical infrastructure and facilities that for greater access to technology and a wide range of other academic and non-academic activities.

The private schools offer many benefits. Just like international schools, they include more personal attention for each, smaller classes, as well as better levels of interaction between the school and parents of the kids.



Parents who intend to send their children to a Penang international school have a range of options to choose from.

It is advisable to carry out research before making a final decision on which international school in Malaysia to enrol your child. Have more questions?

Please feel free to get in touch with our friendly and helpful counsellors.