Primary education in Malaysia
The main school subject in Malaysian public schools is Malay language followed by English language and Mathematics. The amount of weekly lessons in these subjects is reduced in the second phase of secondary education, where the curriculum is extended to other subjects such as Science, Living skills or Local studies. The main objectives of living skills is to teach the student commerce, entrepreneurship and manipulative skills. Local studies are organised on the 3 topic levels of family/neighbourhood/school, locality/disctrict/state and the nation.
The national-type schools, meaning Chinese and Tamil schools, have nearly the same curriculum. The only difference is that Chinese or Tamil are the main subjects followed by Malay and Mathematics. English is not taught until the second phase of primary education.
After the first phase the students attends the Primary School Achievement Test (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah – UPSR), where they are tested in a minimum of 5 subjects (or 7 in Chinese and Tamil schools).
Secondary education in Malaysia
Students previuously attending national schools can proceed directly to secondary schools whereas national-type school students need to attend an additional transition year first to achieve a satisfying level of Malay.
In secondary schools the students can, apart from the compulsory subjects, choose from a wide range of elective subjects in the field of humanities, vocational/technical subjects, science and Islamis studies.
Depending on the students' result in the lower secondary examination (Penilaian Menengah Rendah – PMR), the students are divided either into upper level academic, technical or vocational schools. At the end of upper secondary education academic/technical school students take the Malaysian Certificate of Education Examination (MCE) whereas vocational school students attend the Malaysian Certificate of Education (Vocational) Examination.
During the two years of post-secondary (or pre-universitary) education, the students are prepared for either the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahn Malaysia) Examination or the matriculation examinations. Both examinations allow the student a university but matriculation courses prepare the student only for certain universities whereas with the Higher School Certificate the student can attend any university.
Issues in the education system
Apart from the exhaustingly long school hours, one of the main issues, especially for expat children, is that the instruction language in schools is either in Malay, Tamil or Chinese.
Another problem is that the English level of young people has decreased. A solution to this issue was seen in changing the instruction language of Science and Mathematics into English. After the introduction of this measure in 2003 this policy will be reversed again due to complaints that this might lead to erosion of Malay language in these fields.
The standardised tests which the students have to take after primary school and twice in secondary school are another issue as this leads to a large number of school dropouts.