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History & Background

Malaysia is a commendable example of how a country, with definite goals and pointed persistence, can achieve impressive progress in the field of education in a relatively short period. According to one source, its literacy rate of 93 percent at the end of the twentieth century is one of the highest in the world. Malaysia has taken important strides consistently since its independence (Merdeka) in 1957 and even more dramatically since Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad held before the people his "Vision 2020" for all fields of governmental activity, including education. Its goals are to create a corps of educators fully qualified to develop the country into a "regional education hub." The country's mission is to "to create knowledge workers who will become a critical national resource with the capacity not only to absorb and master the new and emerging technologies but also to innovate and manage change." The goal is to put Malaysian students "on par with the top students in some of the world's best universities." The education scene in Malaysia exudes positive, optimistic synergies.

Consisting of the Malay Peninsula or West Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia) in the northwestern coastal area of the island of Borneo, Malaysia covers an area of 127,581 square miles. The two areas are separated by about 400 miles of the South China Sea. West Malaysia covers an area of about 50,806 square miles, or 40 percent of the country. Sabah and Sarawak cover about 60 percent of the total area, though they have only 21 percent of the population. Peninsular Malaya is bounded on the north by Thailand while Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by the South China in the west and by Indonesia's Kalimantan in the east and the south.

Historically, the Malay Peninsula was a sparsely populated area. The land had little possibility of agriculture and its mineral deposits remained largely unexploited. The narrow northern neck of the peninsula was used for trade between the East and the West. The Malay people are of the same racial stock as those of the Indonesian islands but few settled in Malaya, preferring the fertile lands of Jagva. In the process of transmission of Indian culture to Southeast Asia, the people of Malaya absorbed Hinduism and Buddhism. The tradition of a Buddhist monk doubling as a village school teacher began in the early centuries of the Common Era and continues through the centuries.

Unlike neighboring countries Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and Cambodia, no major kingdoms developed or lasted in the Malay Peninsula for lack of economic resources. Not until the fifteenth century did the first major polity encompassing all of Malaya emerge. In 1402, Parameshwara, a prince from Palembang in Sumatra across the Straits, established his kingdom on the Malay Peninsula at Melaka (Malacca). In a bid to attract the East-West trade as well as the regional trade and shipping, he provided excellent facilities for merchants and mariners from India, China, Java, Champa, Pegu (Lower Burma), and Arabia, who needed to spend several months in a year until the monsoons subsided. In the process, he and the dynasty he established created the tradition of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society thriving in an atmosphere of coexistence and cooperation in separate quarters of the city-state.

Islam was spreading fast in the insular region particularly among the trading and shipping communities. In order to spread the religion and create a thalossocracy embracing the entire peninsula, the Malacca sultans (rulers) entered into matrimonial alliances with the ruling chiefs across Malaya. For a century until the Portuguese conquered Melaka in 1510, it remained the center of commerce in Southeast Asia and of Islam in the peninsula. The population of peninsular Malaysia is more multiracial, multi-religious, and multilingual than that of Sabah and Sarawak. Malays and other indigenous people are called bhumiputeras (children of the soil); Chinese and Indians are the two other major communities. Of these, Chinese are about 36 percent in peninsular Malaya and in Sabah and Sarawak. Indians number about 11 percent in peninsular Malaya and in Sabah and Sarawak. These numbers are relevant not only for the country's political balance and racial harmony but also for the formulation of educational policies directed toward national integration.

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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceMalaysia - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education