Secondary Education

Find out about secondary schools for children in the schooling system in Malaysia...

Secondary education is for children from 12 to 17 years old and lasts about five years. Each year is called a form (tingkatan):

  • Forms 1 to 3: Lower Secondary (Menengah Rendah)
  • Forms 4 to 5: Upper Secondary (Menengah Atas)

Children who have successfully completed primary school go straight into Form 1, but if they do not meet the grade requirement for Malay subjects they may have to attend a year-long transition class, called "Remove" (Kelas/Tingatan Peralihan),

As well as academic subjects, secondary school students have to do at least two extra-curricular activities, for example, drama or sports.

Types of secondary schools

  • Chinese Independent High Schools: Largely funded by the Malaysian Chinese community, students study in three junior middle levels and three senior middle levels, similar to the school structure in China. These schools also have a science and arts stream and recently have begun offering other streams, such as electrical engineering and food and beverages. Classes are taught in Mandarin and students use simplified Chinese characters for written work. There are standardised tests such as the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), which has a number of levels and is accepted internationally at many higher educational institutions, but not Malaysian public universities. Therefore some independent Chinese schools allow students to sit the recognised Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM)
  • Elite schools: These include Malacca High School, Royal Military College (Malaysia) and SMK Bukit Jambul. They are selective and only accept students with outstanding academic results in primary school
  • Islamic religious schools: There are both primary (Sekolah Rendah Agama - SRA) and secondary (Sekolah Menengah Agama - SMA) Islamic religious schools, which are also known as Sekolah Agama Rakyat (SAR). These schools teach an Islam-related curriculum, with subjects such as Arabic language and Fiqh. As universities in Malaysia no longer recognise results from these schools, many students only attend them as part of their education
  • MARA Junior Science College (Maktab Rendah Sains - MARA)
  • National and National-type schools: Most secondary schools use either Malay or English; however, there are schools with other languages, such as Chinese
  • Religious secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Agama)
  • Residential schools (Sekolah Berasrama Penuh): Also known as science schools, which are modelled on British boarding schools. They are also very selective in their admissions
  • Technical schools (Sekolah Menengah Teknik)

Examinations in secondary school

At the end of Form 3 students sit the Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) or Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) examination.
In Form 4, students choose an Art or Science stream; however, their PMR results influence the stream a student is allocated.

At the end of Form 5 students take the Malaysian Certificate of Education or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), which is an end of school certificate, equivalent to a GCSE. English papers are marked and graded according to British GCSE level grades and students are awarded this along with their SPM grade.

Further Secondary Education

Students who pass the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM), can then study further in Form 6, and take the Malaysian High School Certificate (STPM) or Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination, which is equivalent to British A levels or the American High School Certificate. The STPM qualification takes two years to complete (Lower Form 6 and Upper Form 6) and is recognised internationally.

It is also possible for students to complete a matriculation certificate after secondary school, in either a one- or two-year programme, although this certificate is not recognised internationally, only at Malaysian Universities. The matriculation programme is less demanding than the STPM programme.

Students can also take pre-university courses such as the British A level programme, the Canadian matriculation programme, or other national equivalent programmes at private colleges.