Making Sense of Our Primary Education & How to Tackle It

Making Sense of Our Primary Education & How to Tackle It

As we move into the last quarter of the year, many parents with preschool aged children will find themselves having to decide on school enrolments for next year. More often than not, you will have to decide on the stream of primary education first so that the preschool of your choice will be able to prepare your child adequately for a smooth and seamless transition. 

“Will my child be ready for Primary 1?”
“Will my child be able to cope with the schoolwork?”

I am frequently asked these questions, especially by parents planning to send their children to Chinese vernacular schools. 

If your child is enrolled in Baby Atelier’s award-winning programmes, my answer would be a definite “Yes!”. 

However, ensuring your child’s success is not just the responsibility of your child’s school or teachers. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. As parents, who our children become is in our hands. 

Hence, my question to you parents would be,

“Do you really know what is best for your child?”

With China rising as an economic giant, being proficient in the Mandarin language is becoming increasingly important in any corporate or business relationship.

Similarly, we have also noted a 95% majority (including non-Chinese & expatriates) in the enrolment of Baby Atelier’s students into Chinese primary schools in recent years.

However, little is known about our national curriculum and what it entails besides the fact that their syllabus is outrageously difficult, and there is a lot of homework to be done.

In this article, we will look at the options available for primary education in Malaysia, with a focus on the national curriculum; and what you can do, to ensure that your child not only transitions smoothly, but continue to excel academically in the years ahead!


Overview of the Malaysian Primary Education Landscape

The public schools in Malaysia are categorised in Kebangsaan or national-type schools and vernacular schools.

National schools are all government funded while most vernacular schools are government aided with funding from the local communities.

Kebangsaan schools use Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction while the vernacular schools use either Mandarin or Tamil as the main language for all the subjects except English and Bahasa Melayu.

The private schools, international schools, home-schools and learning centres are mostly owned by large corporations and funded privately.

They often adopt an international curriculum, from either America, British, Australia or Canadian, using the English language as the language of instruction and communication.

Diagram 1: Overview of Malaysian Primary Schools


Government-owned/aided vs. Privately-run schools

The tabulation below identifies the key considerations when choosing the right primary school for your child:





  • Free for all Malaysians (including textbooks & workbooks)
  • Tuition & daycare fees are usually required 
  • Ranges from RM12,000 to RM75,000 per year with annual inflationary adjustments besides increased fees at each level
  • Admin fees, registration fees, deposits, technology fees, building fees etc.
  • Annual trips & excursions (overseas)
Class size
  • Generally 35-40 students
  • Approximately 20-25 students
Quality of educators
  • Unpredictable, depends on luck
  • Prestigious schools tend to have better quality educators
  • Seem to offer more attractive salary packages due to higher fees, some have expatriate educators
  • Educators’ qualification and training is not under purview of Ministry of Education
Educator to student ratio
  • High; one educator/class
  • Lower; one educator & one assistant /class
Curriculum standards
  • National curriculum has higher standards in Maths & Science
  • Used to have only written assessments, now ongoing classroom assessments
  • Conventional teaching methods & “spoon-feeding” still persists
  • Depends – mostly IGCSE, Australian or American syllabus
  • More hands-on, experiential learning
  • Less focused on written exams
  • Teaching & learning tends to be more creative & fun
  • Better emphasis on co-curricular activities 
Tri-lingual proficiency
  • Yes, for Vernacular Schools
  • No
Mandarin proficiency
  • The most conducive environment to master the Mandarin language
  • Limited exposure only
English proficiency
  • Relatively simple compared to Mandarin and B. Melayu standards
  • Extra classes may be required to align English proficiency with international standards e.g. Cambridge/IELTS etc.
  • English is the medium of instruction
  • Emphasizes a high level of English proficiency
National integration
  • Opportunity for social interaction and integration in a multi-racial society
  • Learn about other cultures and religion
  • Promotes acceptance, tolerance and patriotism
  • Opportunity to socialise with students from other countries
  • Appreciate cultural diversity
  • Preserve Chinese/Asian cultures of respect and conservatism
  • Instils a high level of self-discipline and diligence
  • Adopts a more Western culture that may contradict with Asian values
  • Encourages creativity and freedom of rights


Recent changes in the National Curriculum

The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 launched by the Ministry of Education seeks to transform the entire education landscape in the next one and half decades. The blueprint aims to reduce the emphasis on examinations and rote-learning, shifting the focus towards continuous assessments and independent learning. Ultimately, the goal is to promote active learning through more varied and creative channels, leading to holistic and all-rounded achievers.


Effective from 1st January, 2019, Continuous Classroom Assessments (Pentaksiran Bilik Darjah or PBD) has replaced written examinations in primary schools for Standard 1, 2 and 3. Instead of grading the children by scores or marks, the students are now being assessed by competency levels (Tahap Penguasaan or TP) for all the core subjects, Art and Physical Education. 


The PBD will assess a child’s language proficiency based on his or her reading, writing, speaking and comprehension skills. For Mathematics and Science, the PBD observes a child’s knowledge, comprehension and application of the concepts learnt with a specific focus on high-order thinking skills (HOTS).


In a fun and socially inclusive environment, the PBD utilizes a variety of methods like games & quizzes, storytelling, role play and group/project work to assess a child’s competency level for each of the subjects. 


The change in assessment method has taken away much of the stress that comes with the periodic written examinations. As a matter of fact, educators and parents have also become less anxious nowadays. The result is a bunch of kids who are really enjoying the journey in their educational pursuits.


So, does it mean we can relax? Not really. There are still a few things that we need to do to ensure that our child’s transition to primary school will be a walk in the park.

Inspiring Love for the Mandarin Language

If you are planning to send your child to a Chinese primary school, the first six years of formal education will be conducted in the Mandarin language. This would also mean the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills learnt would require a certain level of Mandarin language proficiency and fluency. 


A child is required to know and recognise at least 500 Chinese characters before entering Primary 1 for him or her to function effectively in a Mandarin-speaking & learning environment. At Baby Atelier, the learning of the first 500 words is carefully planned and executed via our daily lessons over the course of three years (aged 4-6). Learning 3-4 new Chinese characters every week is very achievable for our young ones. 


Besides reading and words recognition, the Mandarin Enrichment programme at Baby Atelier also aims at cultivating an appreciation for the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. In this programme, children will be exposed to poems, tongue twisters, and HanYu PinYin (汉语拼音). They will also learn about the history of China, origin of Chinese culture and festivals, as well as practice Chinese calligraphy too!


Using the CPA Approach for Acing Numeracy

The Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract (CPA) approach used at Baby Atelier is one of the most highly effective approach to teaching that develops a deep and sustainable understanding of Mathematics. The CPA approach builds on children’s existing knowledge by introducing abstract concepts in a concrete and tangible way. It involves moving from concrete materials, to pictorial representations, to abstract symbols and problems.

Based on my experience, the CPA approach is particularly effective in the teaching and learning of mathematical operations and abstract concepts like fractions in young children. The examples below illustrate the learning of mathematical concepts as the children progress from concrete through to abstract phases. 

By systematically varying the apparatus and methods used to solve a problem, children can craft powerful mental connections between the concrete, pictorial, and abstract phases. It is important to acknowledge that learning mathematics using the CPA model is a progression. However, the ability to visualise the connections between each representation will propel your child in leaps and bounds throughout his or her education years. 

Experiential Learning for Mastering Fundamental Scientific Concepts

The award-winning Multi-Sensory Curriculum* at Baby Atelier is an essential prelude to the introduction of scientific principles and concepts as a child moves into his or her kindergarten years. The children at Baby Atelier are encouraged to observe and explore the world around them using their five senses from a very young age. The hands-on experiments carried out every week are intended at developing logical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Through experiential learning, they will learn the basic scientific principles of observing, predicting, and measuring. It is also through these activities that children will learn about the physical, earth, and life sciences. Learning to communicate findings and observations is also an important scientific skill because it strengthens understanding of the concept learnt and boosts self-confidence too. Basic inferencing and predicting skills will develop naturally as the children learn to make calculated guesses or estimations based on the knowledge gained previously.


If you would like to send your child to a public school (be it national or vernacular), do ensure that the preschool or kindergarten of your choice closely maps itself to the national curriculum. I hope this article has provided useful information about the Malaysian education system and insights about how to prepare your child on this journey of educational pursuits. 


Baby Atelier has a proven track record for transitioning all our graduates seamlessly into reputable, high-performance Chinese primary schools. I wish the same for your child, all the best! 


*Read more about Baby Atelier’s Best Multi-sensory Curriculum in the August edition of The Parenthood Magazine


Faye Tan is the founder and CEO of a multiple award-winning nursery & preschool. A financial controller turned educator, Faye endeavours to make quality early education & care available and accessible through her schools. Faye will be sharing her insights about the challenges of 21st century parenting in this column. Faye would be happy to hear from you at

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