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Demographics of Malaysia

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Title: Demographics of Malaysia  
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Demographics of Malaysia

Demographics of Malaysia
Indicator Rank Measure
GDP (PPP) per capita 58th $15,568
Unemployment rate Unknown 3.0%*
CO2 emissions 51st 7.07t
Electricity consumption 31st 93.80GWh
Economic Freedom 68th 2.98
Human Development Index 62nd 0.773
Political freedom Unknown 4
Corruption (A higher score means less (perceived) corruption.) ↑ 60th 4.3
Press freedom 122nd 56.00
Literacy Rate 39th 92.5%
Number of Internet users 26th 15,635,925 users
E-readiness 38th 5.87±
Ease of Doing Business 6th Unknown
Life Expectancy 65th 74.2
Birth rate 82nd 20.74
Fertility rate 78th 2.64††
Infant mortality 124th 16.39‡‡
Death rate 181st 4.5
HIV/AIDS rate 81st 0.40%
Quality-of-life 36th 6.608±
* including several non-sovereign entities
↓ indicates rank is in reverse order (e.g. 1st is lowest)
per capita
± score out of 10
per 1000 people
†† per woman
‡‡ per 1000 live births

The demographics of Malaysia are represented by the multiple ethnic groups that exist in this country. Malaysia's population, as of July 2010, is estimated to be 28,334,000, which makes it the 41st most populated country in the world.[1] Of these, 5.72 million Malaysians live in East Malaysia and 22.5 million live in Peninsular Malaysia.[2] The Malaysian population continues to grow at a rate of 2.4% per annum. According to latest 2010 census, among the three largest Malaysian groups Malays and Bumiputera fertility rates are at 2.8 children per woman, Chinese 1.8 children per woman, and Indians 2.0 children per woman. Malay fertility rates are 40% higher than Malaysian Indians and 56% higher than Malaysian Chinese. In 2010, the Malays were 60.3%, Chinese 22.9%, and the Indians 7.1% of the total population. The Chinese population has shrunk to half of its peak share from 1957 when it was 45% of Malaysia, although in absolute numbers they have multiplied more than threefold.[3]

The population distribution is uneven, with some 20 million of 28 million citizens concentrated in Peninsular Malaysia, which has an area of 131,598 square kilometres (50,810.27 sq mi).


  • Demographic trends and key rates 1
    • Population distribution by states and territories 1.1
    • Population age distribution trends for 2001–2010 1.2
    • Key demographic rates 1.3
  • Vital statistics 2
  • Ethnicity 3
    • Bumiputras 3.1
      • Malays 3.1.1
      • Other Bumiputras 3.1.2
    • Non-Bumiputras 3.2
      • Chinese 3.2.1
      • Indian 3.2.2
      • Others 3.2.3
  • Languages 4
  • Citizenship 5
  • Religion 6
    • Islam 6.1
  • Education 7
    • Primary education 7.1
    • Secondary education 7.2
    • Tertiary education 7.3
    • International schools 7.4
  • Health 8
  • Major cities 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Demographic trends and key rates

Demographics of Malaysia, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

Censuses were taken in Malaysia in 1970, 1980, 1991, and 2000, with the one in 2000 taking place between 5 and 20 July.[4] The total population is approximately 28 million.[5] The population distribution is highly uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated in Peninsula Malaysia.[6] 70% of the population is urban.[7] Due to the rise in labour-intensive industries,[8] Malaysia is estimated to have over 3 million migrant workers, which is about 10% of the Malaysian population.[9] The exact numbers are unknown: there are a million legal foreign workers and perhaps another million unauthorised foreigners. The state of Sabah alone had nearly 25% of its 2.7 million population listed as illegal foreign workers in the last census. Sabah based NGOs estimate that out of the 3 million population, 2 million are illegal immigrants.[10]

Additionally, according to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Malaysia hosts a population of refugees and asylum seekers numbering approximately 155,700. Of this population, approximately 70,500 refugees and asylum seekers are from the Philippines, 69,700 from Burma, and 21,800 from Indonesia.[11] The USCRI named Malaysia as one of the ten worst places for refugees on account of the country's discriminatory practices toward them. Malaysian officials are reported to have turned deportees directly over to human smugglers in 2007, and Malaysia employs RELA, a volunteer militia, to enforce its immigration law.[11]

Population distribution by states and territories

In 2000

Source: National Census 2000,[12] Department of Statistics Malaysia.

  • Putrajaya data is for 2004.
  • Population estimates are rounded to the nearest hundred.
In 2010

Source: National Census 2010,[14] Department of Statistics Malaysia.

Population age distribution trends for 2001–2010

Malaysian family

Data from July 2010.[15]

Key demographic rates

  • Population growth rate^: 1.542% (2012 data)
  • Age Structure^:
    • 0–14 years: 29.6% (male 4,118,086/female 3,884,403)
    • 15–64 years: 65.4% (male 7,838,166/female 7,785,833)
    • 65 years and over: 5% (male 526,967/female 667,831) (2011 est.)
  • Net migration rate: -0.37 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
    • note: does not reflect net flow of an unknown number of illegal immigrants from other countries in the region
  • Human sex ratio:
    • at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
    • under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
    • 15–64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
    • 65 years and over: 0.89 male(s)/female
    • total population: 1.03 male(s)/female (2012 est.)
  • Infant mortality rate:^ 14.57 deaths/1,000 live births (2012 data)
  • Life expectancy at birth:
    • total population: 74.04 years (at 1:1 male-to-female ratio)
    • male: ^ 71.28 years (2012 data)
    • female: ^ 76.99 years (2012 data)
  • Total fertility rate:
    • 2.64 children born/woman (2012 est.)
In 1987, Malays had a TFR of 4.51, Chinese had TFR of 2.25 and Indians had TFR of 2.77. The corresponding figures in Singapore was 2.16, 1.48 and 1.95.[16]

Data for (^) obtained from Department of Statistics releases. See notes.[17][18] All key rates sampled per 1000 of population.

Ranking Census statistics Malaysia 2010.

Rank State Population 2010
1 Selangor 5,411,324
2 Johor 3,233,434
3 Sabah 3,120,040
4 Sarawak 2,420,009
5 Perak 2,258,428
6 Kedah 1,890,098
7 Kuala Lumpur 1,627,172
8 Penang 1,520,143
9 Kelantan 1,459,994
10 Pahang 1,443,365
11 Terengganu 1,015,776
12 Negeri Sembilan 997,071
13 Malacca 788,706
14 Perlis 227,025
15 Labuan 85,272
16 Putrajaya 67,964

Vital statistics

UN estimates [19]

Period Live births per year Deaths per year Natural change per year CBR1 CDR1 NC1 TFR1 IMR1
1950-1955 280 000 92 000 188 000 42.7 14.0 25.3 6.23 96.4
1955-1960 318 000 89 000 229 000 41.9 11.7 28.9 6.23 79.5
1960-1965 361 000 86 000 275 000 40.8 9.7 29.9 6.23 64.3
1965-1970 351 000 82 000 268 000 34.2 8.0 28.1 5.21 51.0
1970-1975 365 000 82 000 283 000 31.4 7.1 25.9 4.56 40.4
1975-1980 385 000 83 000 302 000 29.4 6.3 21.7 3.93 31.9
1980-1985 436 000 86 000 350 000 29.5 5.8 26.4 3.73 25.3
1985-1990 488 000 91 000 397 000 28.7 5.3 26.9 3.59 19.9
1990-1995 535 000 97 000 438 000 27.5 5.0 22.8 3.42 15.7
1995-2000 559 000 104 000 454 000 25.3 4.7 19.8 3.18 12.4
2000-2005 572 000 114 000 458 000 23.1 4.6 18.2 2.96 9.8
2005-2010 571 000 127 000 443 000 20.9 4.7 14.3 2.72 7.7
1 CBR = crude birth rate (per 1000); CDR = crude death rate (per 1000); NC = natural change (per 1000); TFR = total fertility rate (number of children per woman); IMR = infant mortality rate per 1000 births

Registered births and deaths[20]

Average population Live births Deaths Natural change Crude birth rate (per 1000) Crude death rate (per 1000) Natural change (per 1000) Total fertility rate (TFR)
2010 491 239 130 978 360 261 17.2 4.6 12.6 2,136
2011 511 594 135 463 376 131 17.6 4.7 12.9 2,2
2012 (p) 508 774 136 836 371 938 17.2 4.6 12.6 2,1

Total fertility rate by ethnic group

Malays Chinese Indians Total
2010 2.694 1.517 1.733 2.136
2011 2.8 1.6 1.7 2.2
2012 (p) 2.7 1.7 1.5 2.1


Malaysia's population comprises many ethnic groups. People of Austronesian origin make a majority of the population, and are known as the Bumiputras. Large Chinese and Indian minorities also exist. Malays, as Bumiputra, see Malaysia as their land, and since race riots in 1969 Bumiputra have been especially privileged in Malaysia. However, since then racial stability has prevailed, if not full harmony. Mixed marriages are on the rise.[21] The twenty largest ethnolinguistic groups in Malaysia are as follows:[22]

Distribution of the Bumiputera and Chinese population in Malaysia


Bumiputras are divided into Muslim Malays proper, who make up the majority of the Malaysian population at 50.4%; and other bumiputra, who make up 11% of the Malaysian population, and most of whom belong to various Austronesian Malay ethnic groups related to the Muslim Malays.[7] Bumiputra status is also accorded to certain non-Malay indigenous peoples, including ethnic Thais, Khmers, Chams and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Laws over who gets Bumiputra status vary between states.[24] Some Eurasians can obtain bumiputra privileges, providing they can prove they are of Portuguese descent.[25]


The Malays are an ethnic group predominantly inhabiting the Malay Peninsula and parts of Sumatra and Borneo. They form the largest community in Malaysia and play a dominant role politically. They make up about half of the total population. By constitutional definition, Malays are Muslims who practice Malay customs (adat) and culture. Therefore, technically, a Muslim of any race who practices Malay customs and culture can be considered a Malay and allocated privileged status in the form of the Bumiputra rights stipulated in the constitution.

Their language, Malay (Bahasa Malaysia), is the national language of the country.[26] Citizens of Minangkabau, Bugis or Javanese origins, who can be classified "Malay" under constitutional definitions may also speak their respective ancestral tongues. However, English is also widely spoken in major towns and cities across the country. Malays from different states in Malaysia carry distinct dialects that can sometimes be unintelligible to most of their fellow countrymen. By definition of the Malaysian constitution, all Malays are Muslims.

In the past, Malays wrote in Pallava or using the Sanskrit-based alphabet of Kawi. Arabic traders later introduced Jawi, an Arabic-based script, which became popular after the 15th century. Until then reading and writing were mostly the preserve of scholars and nobility, while most Malay commoners were illiterate. Jawi was taught along with Islam, allowing the script to spread through all social classes. Nevertheless, Kawi remained in use by the upper-class well into the 15th century. The Romanised script was introduced during the colonial period and, over time, it came to replace both Sanskrit and Jawi. This was largely due to the influence of the European education system, wherein children were taught the Latin alphabet.

Malay culture shows strong influences from Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. However, since the Islamisation movement of the 1980s and 90s, these aspects are often neglected or banned altogether. Because any Malay-speaking Muslim is entitled to Bumiputra privileges, many non-Malay Muslims have adopted the Malay language, customs and attire in the last few decades. This is particularly the case with Indian Muslims from the peninsula and the Kadayan of Borneo. The Malay ethnic group is distinct from the concept of a Malay race, which encompasses a wider group of people, including most of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Other Bumiputras

Ethnic groups in Sabah

Malaysia has many other non-Malay indigenous people, who are given Bumiputra status. The indigenous tribes are the oldest inhabitants of Malaysia, and the indigenous groups of Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia are collectively known as the "Orang Asli". They account for about 5 percent of the total population, and represent a majority in East Malaysia of Sabah and Sarawak. In Sarawak, the dominant tribal groups are the Dayak, who are either Iban (also known as Sea Dayak) or Bidayuh (also known as Land Dayak). The Iban form the largest of all indigenous groups, numbering over 600,000 (30% of Sarawak's population), and some of still live in traditional longhouses which can hold up to 200 people.[27] Longhouses are mostly places along the Rajang and Lupar rivers and their tributaries, although many Iban have moved to the cities. The Bidayuhs, numbering around 170,000, are concentrated in the southwestern part of Sarawak. They, together with other indigenous groups in Sarawak make up over half of the states population.[7]

The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan, most of whom are Christians[28] and rice farmers.[29] They live as substinence farmers. Sabah has a large amount of indigenous people, 18% of the population are Kadazan-Dusuns, and 17% are Bajaus).[7]

There also exist aboriginal groups in much smaller numbers on the peninsula, where they are collectively known as Orang Asli (literally meaning "original person").[30] The 140,000 Orang Asli comprise a number of different ethnic communities. Many tribes, both on the peninsula and in Borneo, were traditionally nomadic or semi-nomadic hunter—gatherers, including the Punan, Penan and Senoi. However, their ancestral land and hunting grounds are commonly reclaimed by the state, shifting them to inferior land and sometimes pushing them out of their traditional way of life.[31] The most numerous of the Orang Asli are called Negritos and are related to native Papuans in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and possibly even to aborigines in Australia. Other bumiputra minorities include Malaysian Siamese, Khmers, Chams, and Burmese.


Minorities who lack Bumiputra status have established themselves in Malaysia. Those who are not considered to be Bumiputras make up a considerable portion of the Malaysian population. While some Chinese and Indian families, known as Peranakan ("straits-born"), have resided in Malaysia since as far back as 15th century Malacca, the majority of Malaysia's Chinese and Indian populations are descended from migrants who arrived during the colonial period.


The second largest ethnic group is Chinese who make up 24.6% of the population.[32] They have been dominant in trade and business since the early 20th century. Malaysian Chinese businesses developed as part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Southeast Asia that share common family and cultural ties.[33] Ipoh are Chinese-majority cities,[34] while Penang is the only Non-Bumiputra-majority state in Malaysia. The Chinese have been settling in Malaysia for many centuries, as seen in the emergence of the Peranakan culture, but the exodus peaked during the nineteenth century through trading and tin-mining. When they first arrived, the Chinese often worked the most gruelling jobs like tin mining and railway construction. Later, some of them owned businesses that become large conglomerates in today's Malaysia. Most Chinese are Tao Buddhist and retain strong ties to their ancestral homeland.

The first Chinese to settle in the Straits Settlements, primarily in and around Malacca, gradually adopted elements of Malaysian culture and intermarried with the Malaysian community and with this, a new ethnic group called babas (male) and nyonyas (female) emerged. Babas and nyonyas as a group are known as Peranakan. They produced a syncretic set of practices, beliefs, and arts, combining Malay and Chinese traditions in such a way as to create a new culture.

The Chinese community in Malaysia speak a variety of Chinese dialects including Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, and Teochew. A large majority of Chinese in Malaysia, especially those from the larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Ipoh, Klang, Penang, Johor Bahru and Malacca City speak decent English as well. There has also been an increasing number of the present generation Malaysian Chinese who consider English as their first language.


The Indian community in Malaysia is the smallest of the three main ethnic groups, comprising 7.1% of the population.[7] Tamils make up the largest subgroup,[35] and together with Malayalees and Telugus make up over 85% of the people of Indian origin in the country. The rest of the percentage consist of mostly Sikh Punjabis. Indians began migrating to Malaysia in the early 19th century.[36] They first came to Malaya for barter trade, especially in the former Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. Others came as teachers or skilled workers. A large number were part of the migrations from India forced by the British during colonial times to work in the plantation industry.[37][38]

There is a substantial presence of people of Pakistani origin (estimated to be 200,000, about 1.0%), mainly Punjabis as well as smaller groups of Pashtuns, Sindhis, Urdu-speaking people, Kashmiris and a small number of Afghans and Nepalis. Urdu is widely spoken by these groups. They arrived in Malaysia as British soldiers of the Punjab Rifles Regiment and as businessmen and traders. They were initially listed as others but many have intermarried with local Malay Muslims and most of them list themselves as Malays. People of South Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan Tamil and Nepali origin are often included in the "Indian" category to share the benefits given to the majority South Indians Tamil in Malaysia. Some well known tycoons and bankers are from this category because of the sharing agreed by the majority Indians. The Punjabis (mostly Sikhs) are substantial in number with around 80,000 - 100,000 of them in Malaysia. Punjabis were originally brought in as police, guards, soldiers and also assistance to the british government. Many middle and upper class Punjabis in Malaysia speak English as their first language due to their relationship with the British government before Independence. A Tamil Muslim community of 180,000 - 200,000 also thrives as an independent subcultural group.

During the British colonial rule, Indian labourers who were mostly Tamils were brought to Malaya to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations and later in the rubber and oil palm estates. Some of them were also brought to work on the construction of buildings, railways, roads and bridges. Ceylon Tamils came to Malaya mainly as white-collar workers, holding jobs like clerks, public servants and hospital assistants. As for the Punjabis from Punjab, most of them where enlisted in the army in Malaya while some handled the bullock-cart services in the country.

The Indians who came to Malaysia brought with them the Hindu religion, its unique temples Kovils and Gurdwaras, Indian cuisine and colourful garments. Hindu tradition remains strong until today in the Indian community of Malaysia. There is also the Chitty community in Malacca, similar to the Babas and Nyonyas, who are descendants of much earlier Indian immigrants (period of the Malacca Sultanate) who adopted local culture. Though they remain Hindu, the Chitties speak Bahasa Malaysia and their women dress in sarong kebayas instead of sarees. However, most other Indian Hindus retain their vernacular languages and dialects. The Hindu community celebrates two main festivals — Deepavali and Thaipusam — and many other smaller religious events each year. On the other hand, the Sikhs celebrate Vasakhi, Lodi and Gurpurab. Indians in Malaysia mainly speak Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi and Hindi.


A small minority of Malaysians do not fit into the broader ethnic groups. A small population exists of people of European and Middle Eastern descent. Europeans and Middle Easterners, who first arrived during the colonial period, assimilated through intermarriage into the Christian and Muslim communities. Most Eurasian Malaysians trace their ancestry to British, Dutch and/or Portuguese colonists, and there is a strong Kristang community in Malacca.

The Nepali population numbers little over 600 and lives in Rawang, Selangor. Originally brought by the British as bodyguards and security personnel, they come from the Rana, Chettri, Rai and Gurung clans. Other minorities include Filipinos and Burmese. A small number of ethnic Vietnamese from Cambodia and Vietnam settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees.

There is no general consensus on the ethnic profiling of children of mixed parentage. Some choose to be identified according to paternal ethnicity while others simply think that they fall in the "Others" category. The majority choose to identify as Malay as long as either parent is Malay, mainly due to the legal definition of Bumiputra. Children of Chinese–Indian parentage are known as Chindians. Though this is not an official category in national census data, it is an increasing number especially in urban areas.


Malaysia contains speakers of 137 living languages,[39] 41 of which are found in Peninsula Malaysia.[40] The official language of Malaysia is known as Bahasa Malaysia, a standardised form of the Malay language.[26] English was, for a protracted period, the de facto, administrative language of Malaysia, though its status was later rescinded. Despite that, English remains an active second language in many areas of Malaysian society and is compulsory, serving as the medium of instruction for Maths and Sciences in all public schools per the PPSMI policy (which is pending reversal in 2012).[41][42] Many businesses in Malaysia conduct their transactions in English, and it is sometimes used in official correspondence. Examinations are based on British English, although there has been much American influence through television.

Malaysian English, also known as Malaysian Standard English (MySE), is a form of English derived from British English, although there is little official use of the term, except with relation to education. Malaysian English also sees wide use in business, along with Manglish, which is a colloquial form of English with heavy Malay, Chinese dialect and Tamil influences. Most Malaysians are conversant in English, although some are only fluent in the Manglish form. The Malaysian government officially discourages the use of Manglish.[43]

Malaysian Chinese mostly speak Chinese dialects from the southern provinces of China. The more common dialects in Peninsular Malaysia are Hakka, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, and Hokchiu.[44] In Sarawak, most ethnic Chinese speak either Foochow or Hakka while Hakka predominates in Sabah except in the city of Sandakan where Cantonese is more often spoken despite the Hakka-origins of the Chinese residing there. Hokkien is mostly spoken in Penang and Kedah whereas Cantonese is mostly spoken in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. However, in Malaysia as a whole, the majority of ethnic Chinese speak Mandarin as their first language, while English is the first language for the rest. Some of the less-spoken dialects such as Hainanese are facing extinction. As with Malaysian youths of other races, most Chinese youth are multilingual and can speak up to four languages with at least moderate fluency – their native Chinese dialect, Mandarin, English and Malay.

Tamil is the most common language spoken among Indians in Malaysia,[35] especially in Peninsular Malaysia where they still maintain close cultural ties with their homeland. However, many Indians in East Malaysia, especially the younger generation, do not speak much Tamil and speak either Malay or English as their first language. This is because there are far fewer Indians in East Malaysia than in the Peninsula.

Citizens of Minangkabau, Bugis or Javanese origins, who can be classified "Malay" under constitutional definitions may also speak their respective ancestral tongues. The native tribes of East Malaysia have their own languages which are related to, but easily distinguishable from, Malay. The Iban is the main tribal language in Sarawak while Dusunic languages are spoken by the natives in Sabah.[45] A variant of the Malay language that is spoken in Brunei is also commonly spoken in both states.

Some Malaysians have Caucasian ancestry and speak creole languages, such as the Portuguese-based Malaccan Creoles,[46] and the Spanish based Zamboangueño Chavacano.[47] Thai is also spoken in some areas.[7]


Citizenship is usually granted by lex soli.[48] Citizenship in the states of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo are distinct from citizenship in Peninsular Malaysia for immigration purposes. Every citizen is issued a biometric smart chip identity card, known as MyKad, at the age of 12, and must carry the card at all times.[49]


The wooden Kampung Laut mosque with its minaret and an onion-shaped dome on its tiled roof.
Kampung Laut Mosque in Tumpat is one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia, dating to early 18th century

Islam is the largest and official religion of Malaysia, although Malaysia is a multi-religious society and the Malaysian constitution guarantees religious freedom. Despite the recognition of Islam as the state religion, the first 4 prime ministers have stressed that Malaysia could function as a secular state. According to the Population and Housing Census 2000 figures, approximately 60.4 percent of the population practised Islam; 19.2 percent Buddhism; 9.1 percent Christianity; 6.3 percent Hinduism; and 2.6 percent practise Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions. The remainder was accounted for by other faiths, including animism, folk religion, and Sikhism while 0.9% either reported having no religion or did not provide any information.[4][50]

The majority of Malaysian Indians follow Hinduism (84.5%), with a significant minority identifying as Christians (7.7%), Muslims (3.8%), over 150,000 Sikhs, and 1,000 Jains. Most Malaysian Chinese follow a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor-worship but, when pressed to specify their religion, will identify themselves as Buddhists. Statistics from the 2000 Census indicate that 75.9% of Malaysia's ethnic Chinese identify as Buddhist, with significant numbers of adherents following Taoism (10.6%) and Christianity (9.6%), along with small Hui-Muslim populations in areas like Penang.[50] Christianity constitutes a slim majority of the non-Malay Bumiputra community (50.1%) with an additional 36.3% identifying as Muslims while 7.3% follow folk religion.[50]


Islam is thought to have been brought to Malaysia around the 12th century by Arab traders.[51] Since then the religion has become the predominant religion of the country and is recognised as the state's official religion. All ethnic Malays are considered Muslim by Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia.[52]

Muslims are obliged to follow the decisions of Syariah courts in matters concerning their religion. The Islamic judges are expected to follow the Shafi`i legal school of Islam, which is the main madh'hab of Malaysia.[53] The jurisdiction of Shariah courts is limited only to Muslims in matters such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, apostasy, religious conversion, and custody among others. No other criminal or civil offences are under the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts, which have a similar hierarchy to the Civil Courts. Despite being the supreme courts of the land, the Civil Courts (including the Federal Court) do not hear matters related to Islamic practices,[54] as ratified by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the late 1980s. Regulation of sexual activities among the Muslim population is strict; with laws prohibiting unmarried couples from occupying a secluded area or a confined space to prevent suspicion of acts forbidden in Islam.[55]


Literacy rates (percentage of people over 15 who can read and write) are high in Malaysia, with an overall Literacy rate of 88.7%.[56] Literacy rates are higher among males (92%) than females (85.4%)

Education in Malaysia is monitored by the federal government Ministry of Education.[57] The education system features a non-compulsory kindergarten education followed by six years of compulsory primary education,[5] and five years of optional secondary education. Most Malaysian children start schooling between the ages of three to six, in kindergarten.

Primary education

Children begin primary schooling at the age of seven for a period of six years. Primary schools are divided into two categories, national primary schools and vernacular school.[58] Vernacular schools (Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan) use either Chinese or Tamil as the medium of instruction, whereas national primary schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan) uses Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction for subjects except English, Science and Mathematics.

Part of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar buildings with its football field in the foreground.
Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) is one of the earliest boarding schools established in British Malaya.

Before progressing to the secondary level of education, pupils in Year 6 are required to sit the Primary School Achievement Test (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah, UPSR).[59] A programme called First Level Assessment (Penilaian Tahap Satu, PTS) taken during Primary Year 3 was abolished in 2001.

Secondary education

Secondary education in Malaysia is conducted in secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan) for five years. National secondary schools use Malay as the main language of instruction. The only exceptions are Mathematics and Science and languages other than Malay, however this was only implemented in 2003, prior to which all non-language subjects were taught in Malay. At the end of Form Three, which is the third year, students are evaluated in the Form Three Assessment ("Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga", PT3). Secondary students no longer sit for PMR in Form Three that has been abolished in 2014. In the final year of secondary education (Form Five), students sit the Malaysian Certificate of Education (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, SPM) examination, which is equivalent to the former British Ordinary or 'O' Levels. The government has decided to abandon the use of English in teaching maths and science and revert to Bahasa Malaysia, starting in 2012.[60]

Malaysian national secondary schools are sub-divided into several types: National Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan), Religious Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Agama), National-Type Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan) (also referred to as Mission Schools), Technical Schools (Sekolah Menengah Teknik), Residential Schools and MARA Junior Science College (Maktab Rendah Sains MARA).

There are also 60 Chinese Independent High Schools in Malaysia, where most subjects are taught in Chinese. Chinese Independent High Schools are monitored and standardised by the United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia (UCSCAM). However, unlike government schools, independent schools are autonomous. It takes six years to complete secondary education in Chinese independent schools. Students will sit a standardised test conducted by UCSCAM, which is known as the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) in Junior Middle 3 (equivalent to PMR) and Senior Middle 3 (equivalent to A level). A number of independent schools conduct classes in Malay and English in addition to Chinese, enabling the students to sit the PMR and SPM additionally.

Tertiary education

An aerial view of Multimedia University's Cyberjaya campus' garden and covered walkway.
An aerial view of Multimedia University's Cyberjaya campus. Multimedia University is Malaysia's first private university.

Before the introduction of the matriculation system, students aiming to enter public universities had to complete an additional 18 months of secondary schooling in Form Six and sit the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia, STPM); equivalent to the British Advanced or 'A' levels.[61] Since the introduction of the matriculation programme as an alternative to STPM in 1999, students who completed the 12-month programme in matriculation colleges (kolej matrikulasi in Malay) can enrol in local universities. However, in the matriculation system, only 10 per cent of the places are open to non-Bumiputra students.[62]

There are a number of public universities established in Malaysia. Private universities are also gaining a reputation for international quality education and students from all over the world attend these universities. In addition, four reputable international universities have set up their branch campuses in Malaysia since 1998. A branch campus can be seen as an ‘offshore campus’ of the foreign university, which offers the same courses and awards as the main campus. Both local and international students can acquire these identical foreign qualifications in Malaysia at a lower fee. The foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia are: Monash University Malaysia Campus, Curtin University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus and University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

Students also have the option of enrolling in private tertiary institutions after secondary studies. Most institutions have educational links with overseas universities especially in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, allowing students to spend a portion of their course duration abroad as well as getting overseas qualifications. One such example is SEGi University which partnered with University of Abertay Dundee.[63]

International schools

In addition to the Malaysian National Curriculum, Malaysia has many international schools such as Rafflesia International Schools, Nobel International School, The International School Kuala Lumpur, Alice Smith School, Gardens International School, Cempaka Schools Malaysia...etc. These schools cater to the growing expatriate population in the country and the Malaysians as well.


The Malaysian government places importance on the expansion and development of health care, putting 5% of the government social sector development budget into public health care[64]—an increase of more than 47% over the previous figure. This has meant an overall increase of more than RM 2 billion. With a rising and ageing population, the Government wishes to improve in many areas including the refurbishment of existing hospitals, building and equipping new hospitals, expansion of the number of polyclinics, and improvements in training and expansion of telehealth. A major problem with the health care sector is the lack of medical centres for rural areas, which the government is trying to counter through the development of and expansion of a system called "tele-primary care".[65] Another issue is the overperscription of drugs, though this has decreased in recent years.[66] Since 2009 the Malaysian Health Ministry has increased its efforts to overhaul the system and attract more foreign investment.[64]

The country generally has an efficient and widespread system of health care. It implements a universal healthcare system, which co-exists with the private healthcare system.[65] Infant mortality rate in 2009 was 6 deaths per 1000 births, and life expectancy at birth in 2009 was 75 years.[67] Malaysia has the highest levels of obesity among ASEAN countries.[68][69]

The Malaysian health care system requires doctors to perform a compulsory three years service with public hospitals to ensure that the manpower in these hospitals is maintained.[65] Recently foreign doctors have also been encouraged to take up employment in Malaysia. There is still, however, a significant shortage in the medical workforce, especially of highly trained specialists; thus, certain medical care and treatment are available only in large cities. Recent efforts to bring many facilities to other towns have been hampered by lack of expertise to run the available equipment.

The majority of private hospitals are in urban areas and, unlike many of the public hospitals, are equipped with the latest diagnostic and imaging facilities. Private hospitals have not generally been seen as an ideal investment—it has often taken up to ten years before companies have seen any profits. However, the situation has now changed and companies are now exploring this area again, corresponding with the increased number of foreigners entering Malaysia for medical care and the recent government focus on developing the health tourism industry.[70] The Government has also been trying to promote Malaysia as a health care destination, regionally and internationally.[64]

Major cities

Kuala Lumpur is the capital and largest city of Malaysia. Although many executive and judicial branches of the federal government have moved to Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur is the seat of the Parliament of Malaysia, making it the country's legislative capital. It is also the economic and business centre of the country, and is a primate city. Kuala Lumpur is also rated as a global city, and is the only global city in Malaysia. Along with Subang Jaya, Klang, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Kajang-Sungai Chua, Ampang Jaya and Selayang it forms the country's largest and most important urban area, the Klang Valley.

Penang is the second largest city and second largest urban area in Malaysia. It used to be Malaysia's largest city until the 1970s when Kuala Lumpur became the capital. Today, the city remains a major hub in Malaysia, serving the northern region.

Johor Bahru is the third largest urban area in the country. It is close to Singapore, and receives more than 60% of the country's annual 16 million foreign tourists. The city is also an important industrial, tourism and commercial hub for southern Malaysia.

Other major cities in Malaysia include Ipoh, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.
Largest cities of Malaysia (2010)[71]

Kuala Lumpur

Johor Bahru
Rank City State Population


Shah Alam

1 Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory 1,475,337
2 Johor Bahru  Johor 916,409
3 Ipoh  Perak 704,572
4 Shah Alam  Selangor 671,282
5 Petaling Jaya  Selangor 638,516
6 Kuching  Sarawak 617,887
7 Kota Kinabalu  Sabah 462,963
8 Kuala Terengganu  Terengganu 343,284
9 Malacca City  Malacca 331,790
10 Alor Setar  Kedah 295,624
11 Miri  Sarawak 280,518
12 George Town  Penang 227,972


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External links

  • Department of Statistics, Malaysia
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