Education in Malaysia is of a high standard and expat parents will have little trouble finding a school for their child. That said, due to the language barrier in the country, and in the largely Malay-speaking public schools, many expats prefer to place their children in English-speaking international schools.
Preschool begins at the age of four, but schooling only becomes compulsory from age six to 15.
Public schools in Malaysia
There are plenty of public schools in Malaysia, and the quality of education is generally adequate. What's more, attendance at a public school can be an ideal way for expat kids to integrate with the local population and learn to speak Malay – though for some, the language and culture barrier can be overwhelming, in which case alternatives should be looked at. Public school facilities are decent and the basic items needed for education are available, but student-to-teacher ratios can be quite high.
As public schools are supported by the government, locals aren't required to pay school fees. Expats, on the other hand, will have to pay tuition fees for public school attendance, though the costs are much lower than for private and international schools. In addition, expat children must have a foreign student pass to attend public schools, which creates a significant amount of extra admin for parents.
Private schools in Malaysia
There are a number of good private schools in Malaysia, but they are more expensive than their public counterparts. The extra cost is justified by advantages such as better resources and lower student-to-teacher ratios.
The main language of instruction in private schools is Malay, but maths and science classes are taught in a combination of Malay and English. Private schools must have certification from the Ministry of Home Affairs to admit foreign students, but students themselves don’t need any special documentation to attend.
Parents can generally expect a good quality of education at private schools. Cost-wise, private schools are a good middle ground between public schools and international schools.
Expat children at private schools are less likely to struggle with the culture shock that they may experience at a public school. The teachers are also usually well trained and have experience in communicating effectively and handling students from different cultures and backgrounds.
International schools in Malaysia
Expats who wish to have their children educated in the curriculum of their home country or a country other than Malaysia should consider an international school.
Most international schools in Malaysia are based in Kuala Lumpur. These schools usually maintain the culture, language, teaching methodologies and curriculum of their country of origin. The English National Curriculum, including the Cambridge IGCSE and A-Levels, is most commonly offered, with many schools also offering the International Baccalaureate programme.
In international schools, expat children tend to adjust easily thanks to the familiar teaching methods, content and language. International schools also give children (and parents) the chance to meet other expat families.
Special-needs schools in Malaysia
Children with special needs are either educated under tailored programmes at mainstream schools – known as the Special Education Integrated Programme (SEIP) – or at dedicated special schools.
Public schools offering the SEIP are fairly easy to find, with the programme being offered in many schools across the country. That said, there are very few dedicated public special schools. Those that do exist mostly cater to hearing and visual disabilities only. Parents may find more options in private education.
Tutors in Malaysia
Whether children need a little extra help with maths or are struggling to adapt to a new curriculum, tutors can be an invaluable resource to expat parents in Malaysia. Language tutors can be particularly useful for children being taught in a new language, such as Malay, and for maintaining fluency in the family's mother tongue.
Recommended tutoring companies in Malaysia include TeacherOn, ChampionTutor and MyPrivateTutor.
►Learn more about Malaysia's healthcare system in Healthcare in Malaysia.
►Discover great activities for Kids and Family in Kuala Lumpur.
"We have friends who have enrolled their kids in the local schools and they are very happy with them." Read more of Emily's thoughts on living in Malaysia.
Are you an expat living in Malaysia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Malaysia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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