T3 Development of Education in Malaysia

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1. The Malay Schools and the Pondok Education System

1.1 Basic primary education

Initially, education among the Malays was informal and mainly focused on Al Quran and religious matters. The British government, on the other hand, set up Malay schools to teach Malay children to become better farmers than their parents. The curricular was set in order (1) to familiarise Malay boys with the simple arithmetic needed to handle small business transactions, (2) to develop a better sense of hygiene; and (3) to train the sons of the Malay aristocracy in English to serve the colonial masters (Abdullah Hassan, 2007 in Vishalache, 2010). The first Malay school was established in 1855 in Gelugur, Pulau Pinang. In order to attract Malay parents to send their children there, A.M. Skinner, the Inspectorate then had included religious study in the curriculum.

As the Malay community was not keen on co-ed schools, the British government established the first Malay Girls’ School in Teluk Belanga. The curriculum emphasized on reading, writing, arithmetice, geography and physical education. Later elements of basic living skills such as farming and weaving were introduced at the request of the Malay community. Statistics show that there were 16 Malay schools with 569 students in 1872. In 1892, the number of Malay schools increased to 189 with a total of 7,218 students.

The British Colonial administrator then reinforce compulsory primary education and with the help of the local Malay leaders to encourage the parents to enroll their children into the schools.

1.2 Secondary education

As the number of students increased, two more schools were set up in Teluk Belanga and Kampung Gelam, Singapore. The Teluk Belanga Malay School was upgraded to a high school in 1876 and later into a teacher training college. 1878, Maktab Perguruan Taiping Perak were established in 1989, Maktab Perguruan Matang, Perak in 1913, The Sultan Idris Training College (1922) and the Malay Women’s Training College (1935) were established to train teachers. The school in Kampung Gelam was then transformed into a religious school.

Richard WInstedt was appointed as the Deputy Director of Malay Education System. He visited and studied the education system in Indonesia and Philipines and proposed that:

  1. The Malay schools shall focus on agriculture and handicrafts.
  2. There’s a need to increase the teaching personnel using new tools or equipment and reference materials.
  3. All of the Malay schools shall be equipped with the relevant new tools and equipment.
  4. Establish a main teacher training college.

There were no effort in the British Colonial administrator to provide Malay secondary schools. Only a small number of Malay elites had succeeded in furthering their studies in the English Secondary Schools and were appointed as local administrators.


1.3 Religious education

Pondok schools

Sekolah Pondok (literally, Hut school) were the earliest forms of schooling available in Malaysia. Students stay in the huts and learn Tauhid, Fiqh, Hadis, Nahu Saraf, Tasauf, Arabic and Jawi from the Ulama.

Besides the Pondok School system, which is the preliminary religious schools, a group of Islamic religious figures such as Sheikh Tahir Jalaluddin and Sayid Syeikh Ahmad Al-Hadi had establish Sekolah Agama Madrasah or Islamic religious schools to compete with English and Malay schools. These schools had better infrastructure, and were more organized and systematic compared to sekolah pondok (informal religious classes managed by individuals).

Madrasah schools in Malaysia.

Madrasah Al-Iqbal, Singapore (1907), Sekolah Al-Hadi, Malacca (1917) and Madrasah Al-Mashoor, Pulau Pinang (1919) were the pioneer religious schools. More schools were rapidly established between the 1920’s – 1940’s. The establishment of these religious schools provided a sense of security among the Malays that the position of Islam was secured despite the influence of other religions and way of life brought about by the English and vernacular schools. However, the aim to build a modern, rationale and progressive Muslim society was not realized as the curriculum lacked emphasis on Mathematics, Science and English Language, which were considered as essential subjects to promote mobility amongst a modern Muslim society.


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