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March 9, 2011

Interest in Homeschooling Grows in Malaysia

By David Tan

In recent years, Malaysians have become more and more vocal regarding the government they want and the kind of education they believe they deserve. Others who have given up waiting for change have chosen to vote with their feet. According to parliamentary reports, 140,000 left Malaysia for greener pastures in 2007, while double the number did the same between March 2008 and August 2009. That education is often cited as the primary motivation is telling. The issues are complex, and a resolution seems remote. Sadly, the combustible mix of race, religion, and language complicates public discourse.

Concerns have been raised about the marginalization of minorities (who comprise 30% of the Malaysian population) and their contribution to nation building. Ethno-nationalism and Islam permeates government and schools, with some politicians in the ruling coalition insisting that Malaysia is an Islamic nation (contrary to its Constitution). History textbooks blatantly promote an Islamic perspective to a point that academicians decry it as a deliberate attempt at Islamization. The government is unapologetic and has instead announced that a passing mark in history will soon be compulsory in secondary school.

If that’s not enough, flip-flop policies regarding the medium of instruction for math and science (previously taught in English, then in the national language Malay, then in English, and now back to Malay—all in a period of 40 years) have raised the ire of parents on both sides of the debate. Meanwhile, academic excellence continues to slide, reflected in Malaysia’s fall in international ranking. All these have resulted in minorities leaving the national schools in droves in favour of private and international schools.

In response, Christians in particular have set up church-affiliated learning centres (often erroneously touted as homeschool centres) to circumvent the system. Several dozen have sprouted in the last five years, causing not a little confusion about home education among the public. But for those who have more libertarian inclinations, homeschooling is the method of choice. More recently Christians, who used to make up the largest number of homeschoolers, have found that people of other faith communities (Hindus, Buddhists) and the non-religious have come on board, giving Malaysian home education a timely boost of support. Among the more visible are a growing number of young Muslim homeschoolers whose presence has brought much needed diversity to the movement. There is an encouraging sense of camaraderie, and many homeschooling families interact across ethnic or religious lines.

A fledgling network of co-ops has been initiated by homeschooling parents of preschoolers and children below 12 years of age. Another co-op provides alternative education for homeschooled teens and defectors from traditional schools who wish to sit for the British IGCSE and O Levels examinations (approved college entrance exams). Initiatives to set up learning communities and libraries are in the works, and it is independent efforts like this that are pushing the envelope of alternative education in the country.

Nevertheless, home education is not officially recognized and schooling is mandatory for all children between ages 7 and 12. This might well explain why the number of homeschoolers is merely in the hundreds. While the authorities have not commented on the growing grassroots phenomenon (other than reiterating the need to apply for official exemption), there is nevertheless some concern that with visibility—the buzz online, blogs, tweets, social media, appearances in the media, meet-ups, etc-comes scrutiny.

No one is sure how things will pan out if the Education Ministry decides that homeschooling is an obstacle to their political agenda. If this should happen, it is our prayer that the movement will be cohesive enough to take a stand collectively in defense of our right and in the interest of our families.

David Tan and his family have been homeschool pioneers in Malaysia for more than a decade. He runs the website Homefrontier that helps to support and connect homeschoolers in Malaysia.

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Malaysia page.