Education System Before Independence (1400-1856)




Span across two (2) periods namely the British Colonial Period and During the British Colonial Period.


Phase 1 – Before the British Colonial Period (1400-1786)


Education system exist since Malacca sultanate , with the spread of Islam in the 15th century , education was more on Islam. Started at home to mosque, surau and madrasah to pondok schools.




When Portuguese conquered Malacca in 15th century, it changed to Roman Catholic missionaries then to Protestant under the Dutch followed by the British Education system in 1786 onwards.


Phase 2 – During the British Colonial Period (1786-1956)


British ruled Malaya for two decades, Japan make for 1942-1945 where all medium of instruction turned Japanese.


Stage One – Before the Second World War (1786-1941)


i)  Primary and Secondary Education


1854, the Governor of Straits Settlements was directed by the East Indian Company to prepare reports on status of education system, the report wanted:

- was the local dialect used as medium of instruction

- was the education system appropriately implemented by individuals or missionaries


The British policy of “divide and rule” to the three major groups had divided the groups into different status.


The Malays were given six years basic training:

-         provide basic arithmetic skills to start business

-         promote awareness on importance of moral values like hygiene, environmental. cleanliness

-         proficiency of children of royal family in English language


The Indians given same basic education of same period; employed as laborer in estates and railways; a policy detrimental to the economic and geographical mobility


The Chinese were given autonomy of setting own schools and design own curriculum, employing teachers and used books from China.


The British held steadfast to the policy that it was not their responsibility to provide education.


Malay Schools


Schools during the 1800


Gelugor Malay School, Penang 1826

Branches of Penang Free School

Bayan Lepas Malay School

Branches of Penang Free School

Air Hitam Malay School

Branches of Penang Free School

Teluk Belanga Malay School

Singapore 1856

Kampung Gelam School



These schools give schooling until standard five  using Malay Language as instructions; but then no support from parents. A.M.Skinner (the Inspectorate of Schools) started Quran recitations which lead to increase in numbers and by 1892 , 190 Malay schools were seen. But Malayan were lazy.


British Colonial Government enforced Compulsory Education Act or pay fine and also appealed to Malay leaders to encourage parents to send children to school.


1875 First Malay school in Klang District

1878 Sayong Malay School, Perak

1889 First Malay Girls school built in Teluk Belanga and Penang

1940 increase in numbers of pupils registered in schools but British did not set-up secondary schools  as they wanted Malays to be farmers and fishermen plus they were worried that highly educated people Malays would initiate anti-British feeling.


Chinese Schools


The founding and funding of Chinese schools was the responsibilities of  Chinese community; expenditures all borne by Chinese leaders and businessmen. The system was total China plus dialects of Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien thus causing non-standardisation of Chinese system of education.


As 1911 Chinese Revolution took placed, Chinese government payed attention to education abroad and made frequent visits and monitorings.


Chinese Education System


Type of school

Schooling Duration

Primary school

Six years

Lower Secondary school (Junior Middle Three)

Three Years

Upper Secondary school (Senior Middle Three)

Three Years


1913 – first Chinese secondary school in Malaya but in Singapore

1920 – abolition of different dialect and used Mandarin as it was more comprehensive

1920 – endorsement of Schools Registration Enactment where schools, teachers and Chinese School Board registered with British Colonial Government

1924 – focused on and converted to semi-aided government school

1945 – review of syllabi in all Chinese schools to ensure new syllabi centered on local context

1945 – introduction of English and Malay language in Chinese schools


Tamil Schools


Tamils were the biggest group of Indian immigrants to Malaya from South India to worked in rubber, sugar, coconut and coffee plantations thus opening of Tamil schools for their workers’ children.


1816 Tamil school in Penang

1850 Anglo-Tamil school in Melaka (10 years only)

1859 St Xavier Malabar school in Singapore


Indians were not responsive to schools; schools were inadequately equipped; poor organization of curriculum, administration and the like. Majority doesn’t like schooling, satisfied with being labourer.


1912 Enforcement of Labour Laws. All owner had to set-up school If children number exceed 10

1914 Setting-up of Tamil schools in urban district e.g. Vivikenanda Tamil schools in Kuala Lumpur financed by Indian associations

1930 Setting-up of Tamil Schools Inspectorate and running teacher training course to overcome Tamil trained teachers

1930 Introduction of Malayan syllabus using Tamil, Malayalam and Telegu


Tamil schools also had no secondary schools because Indian parents could not afford to sent children but those with more money would send children to English schools


As each run on its own tongue thus they are called vernacular schools.


English schools


English schools were known as mission schools. Founded and managed by Christians of Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Methodist. Most found in Straits Settlements and Malay Federated states.


English Schools


Penang Free Schools 1816







The school was founded by Rev. Sparke Hutchings on October 21, 1816, on the island of Penang, Malaysia. Its first headmaster was Mr. James Cox

 1816-1821. Its original premises on Farquhar Street first housed the Hutchings School, but is now the Penang State Museum. In 1928, the school moved to its current location on Jalan Masjid Negeri (also known as Green Lane). The school hosted the very first communist cell ever to penetrate a Malayan school. Several of the schoolmasters were socialist in outlook and encouraged the formation of the cell which went on to produce a cadre of communist leaders who went on to make their careers in China. The communist cell was suppressed in the late 1930s. The school received cluster school status from the Malaysian Ministry of Education in 2007.


Malacca Free Schools 1826




On December 7, 1826, Malacca High School (MHS) was officially established; just after Malacca was made an English colony on March 17, 1824, when the Dutch ceded Malacca to the English after the Bencoolen Treaty in 1824. Malacca High School is the oldest government English school in Malaysia.

The establishment of the school was initiated by Mr. Thomas H. Moor who came to Malacca in 1825 on orders by Milne who was one of the educators at the Anglo Chinese College. In his letter dated 4th. January 1825, he stated his wishes to Arundel in London to establish a school. The establishment of the school was also supported by some influential people including James Humphrey, a Superintendent in the London Society’s Mission. The startup of Malacca High School was directly related to the closing of the Dutch-Malay school which was established in January 1819 by Christian missionary during the Dutch reign. The school was closed when Malacca was handed over to the English by the Dutch.


Singapore Free School 1834



Known for his excellent administrative acumen, Raffles opened the first school, the Singapore Free School, in 1823, with its goal being to train clerks for the commercial houses of Singapore. The liberal Raffles wanted the school to admit students from the different ethnic communities on a basis of equality. The opening of the Free School was, however, delayed until 1834, because Raffles was recalled to England. When it opened, the school fulfilled Raffles' dream of providing education to everyone, without regard to religion or ethnic origins. However, the Chinese community stayed away from it, preferring to educate their children in the Chinese-language schools funded and managed by Chinese philanthropists. Such schools were patterned on the traditional schools in China, where the curriculum included the writing of Chinese characters, the use of the abacus in mathematics, and the study of Confucian literature. In 1840, the Singapore Free School was renamed the Singapore Institution Free School. In the year following its takeover by the Colonial Office in 1868, it was renamed the Raffles Institution.

Read more:  Singapore - History Background - Education, Chinese, Malay, Free, Port, and Government 



Other English schools


Bukit Bintang Girls Schools and St Mary (by Anglican missionaries)

Anglo-Tamil School (1897)  in Kuala Lumpur changed to Methodist Boys School

Anglo-Chinese School (by Methodist missionaries) in Ipoh , Kampar, Teluk Intan, Sitiawan, Klang and Seremban.

Convent schools for girls and “St.” schools for boys were founded by Roma Catholic missionaries e.g. St John Institution Kuala Lumpur, St Michael Institution in Ipoh, St Xavier Institution in Penang, St Paul Institution in Melaka, and etc.


Characteristics of English School


-         located in town area with sparce Malay

-         compulsory for non-Muslim to study Religious Knowledge

-         use English language as medium of instruction

-         received financial aid  and assistance from British Colonial government


Teachers Training


Problem before World War Two

-         low wages forcing many teachers to resign

-         only small number of ladies teachers interested

-         lacked of trained teachers in Malay schools


Why, because the British brought teachers from England to be teachers in Malaya. To overcome shortage and training, the British set-up Teacher Training Colleges in:


-         1878 Singapore Teluk Belanga Teacher Training College

-         1878 Perak Taiping Teacher Training College

-         1900 Melaka TTC

-         1913 Perak Matang TTC

-         1922 Perak SITC

-         1928 Singapore Raffles College

-         1935 Melaka Malay Girls TTC (only for females)


Due to lacking of writing and reading materials Translation Bureau at SITC (1942) was set-up.


Vocational and Technical Education


1900 Malay handicraft of weaving, embroidery and carving were introduced

1905 Teacher Technical College to train technical assistants in Public Works Department and Malayan Railway

1918 Formation of Technical and Industrial Education Committee

1923 Setting-up of Agricultural Training Center

1926 Technical school established and later changed to Technical Teachers Training College (1941) and UTM (1972)

1931 Agricultural School in Serdang to train officers

1946 Agricultural School elevated to Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (1972) then to University Putra Malaysia


Tertiary Education


1905 Establishment of King Edward VII Medical school in Singapore later become King Edward VII Medical College

1929 Establishment of Raffles College

1938 Merging of King Edward Medical college and Raffles college to be University

1941 University Malaya of Singapore established


Education System in Sabah


Similar to Malaya, the Christian Missionaries play big part in developing the education system; Malays with the reciting of Quran and Jawi scripts and the ethnics education traditional descendants.


With North Borneo Smelting company plus the Roman Catholic missionaries , schools were built in Papar (1881) and Sandakan (St Mary Primary (1883); St Michael (1883) and Covent Girl school (1891). Language used English, Chinese and Dusun.


By 1930, 49 mission schools were built and in 1941 number totaled 52. First government aided school was established in Kota Belud (1920).  And Malay language was used; 1930 number totaled to 21 plus another seven by 1941.


In Jesselton, a Chinese national type was established and goes to 79 private schools; in Tawau, Ladang Getah (Japanese school) was established.


Education System In Sarawak


Ruled by Brook family, people of Sarawak mostly Iban, Kelabit and Melanau were only given vocational education such as farming, hunting, handicraft and the like. The Malays were given religious education.


Education in Sarawak were established by Christian missionaries, Brooke government and Chinese community. 1938 Roman Catholics run schools in Kuching and Kanowit; Anglican missionaries in Sibu and Kuching and used English.


1917 Melanau school was built

1924 Brooke set-up Education Department as follow-up from Hammond Report

1940 Ethic-based school established

1941 Malay Teacher Training College


Stage Two – After the Second World War  (1946-1956)


Primary and Secondary Education


Due to the Japanese Occupation registrations for schoolings and quality of teaching decline, why? But then after 1946, the two medical institutions reopened and the British had to spent a lot of money to restore education.


Restructuring plan by Cheeseman 1946 recommended:


i)                    free education for basic primary education for all

ii)                  the use of all medium of instructions at secondary level

iii)                English language becomes a compulsory subject in all vernacular schools


Cheeseman failed to address the issue of integration and collapsed with Malayan Union issues.


Barnes Report 1951

Chaired by LJ Barnes from Oxford University they failed because of the radical recommendation i.e abolishing all vernacular schools using the mother tongue language.


-         establishment of bilingual schools where Malay and English language as medium of instruction

-         progressive conversion of Malay, Chinese and Tamil schools to national-type

-         replacement of Jawi script with Islamic religious studies to reduce burden of sending children to afternoon religious classes


Fenn-Wu Report 1952


Fenn-Wu focused on Chinese schools plus the use of Malay, Mandarin and English language as medium of instruction in all vernacular schools


Education Ordinance 1952


Recommendations were;


-         implemenatation of national school education system through progressive introduction of English language in all Malay schools

-         enforcement of Malay and English language in all Chinese and Tamil schools

-         retainment of English national-type schools

-         teaching of Islamic education during school hours

-         development of vocational schools


Razak Report 1956


Released on May 6, 1956 by recommending:


-         Malay language as national language and main medium of instruction

-         Environment-oriented curriculum with local flavour

-         Common syllabus for all schools

-         Two types of school be made available for all races; fully aided and private schools

-         Secondary schools education to consist the lower secondary, upper secondary and pre-U

-         Central examination system

-         Qualified and fully trained teachers

-         Placement of all teachers under common professional service

-         Establishment of the Federal School Inspectorate


With the implementation of the national education system in 1956; three elite schools were established namely Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman (STAR) Ipoh, Sekolah Dato Abdul Razak (SDAR) Seremban and Sekolah Tun Fatimah in Johor Bharu (girls).


Teacher Training


In response to the lack of trained and qualified teachers, two teacher training colleges were set-up in England plus in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bharu.


Kirby Teachers Training College




Memories of Kirby Teacher Training College


Set-up in 1952 in Liverpool, England as Malaya at the time was in Emergency declaration and after World War II. By January 1952, 149 young men and women went for two year training; the second intake 150 more were sent with only grade I and II in Cambridge School Certificate with credit in English language were selected. The curriculum were English language, Malay language, geography, literature, mathematics, handicraft, child development, psychology and other related subject. R Williams was the principal till 1954, followed by GJ Gurney until place was closed in 1962 as Malaya had many teacher colleges built.


Brinsford Lodge


1955 in Wolverhampton  by British Colonial government. Trained lower secondary school teachers and potential lecturers for training colleges.  



Brinsford Lodge in Wolverhampton








Created on Nov 12, 2010 and edited last 08 January, 2011 by Pengendali@2006