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Official Country Name: Macau
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 445,594
Language(s): Portuguese, Chinese (Cantonese)
Literacy Rate: 90%

Many of Macau's earliest schools were put in place by the Portuguese government, which gained control of the East Asian territory from China in 1557. When Hong Kong was established in 1842, Macau's port became less valuable to traders, and as its economic benefit to Portugal declined, the territory was left to its own devices. Control of Macau reverted from Portugal back to China in 1999 based on a 1987 agreement between both governments.

As a result, the educational system began a series of revisions in 1991. Along with increasing teacher training, improving the existing infrastructure, and building new schools, the country also worked on expanding tertiary education and consolidating the fragmented public education system that had developed there up until the early 1990s.

Because no centralized educational system had ever been put in place, which was partly due to the minimal resources committed to Macau by its colonial leaders, churches, social service groups, businesses, and individuals had started opening schools of their own. The result was a highly decentralized system of education predominated by private schools. Depending on who ran the schools, either English, Portuguese, or Chinese was the language of instruction.

Rather than attempt to dismantle these schools in an effort to create a centralized public education system, the Chinese government decided to offer funding to private institutions willing to provide free education to students. Preprimary and primary students attending participating private institutions were able to do so for free starting in 1995. By 1998, free education was offered at 80 percent of private schools. That year, roughly 87 percent of all schools in Macau used Chinese as the language of instruction (13 percent of these schools taught the Portuguese language as part of the standard curriculum), over 8 percent of the schools used English as the language of instruction, and approximately 4 percent used Portuguese.

Education levels in Macau remain fairly low with roughly 25 percent of the population holding a secondary certificate and under 5 percent attending college. The academic year in Macau runs from September to June. Students enter primary school at the age of six. After the successful completion of six years of study, students who choose to attend secondary school have two options. Some students enter a five-year secondary program that grants them entrance to the Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1991 in conjunction with the University of Macau to offer training in technology, social work, hospitality management, commerce, and tourism. Other students follow a six-year program that allows graduates who pass an entrance examination to enroll at the University of Macau, which offers bachelor's and master's degrees in various majors. When the university was formally established in 1991, it replaced the University of East Asia, which had been founded a decade earlier by the Macau government to offer classes to overflow Hong Kong students. Other institutions of higher education include the Inter-University Institute of Macau, run by the Portuguese Catholic University and the Macau diocese, and the International Open University of Asia (Macau), which offers distance education.


Borton, James. Macau's Commitment to Education. The Washington Times, 25 October 1999. Available from http://www.washtimes.com/.

International Association of Universities. Country: Macau. 26 May 2001. Available from http://unesco.org/iau/.

Kwok-Chun, Tang, and Mark Bray. Colonial Models and the Evolution of Education Systems: Centralization and Decentralization in Hong Kong and Macau. Worldbank Group, 2000. Available from http://www1.worldbank.org/.

—AnnaMarie L. Sheldon

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