Children generally begin their education at four or five years of age. Kindergarten is optional. There are almost twice as many private kindergartens as public kindergartens. Children enter primary school at six. Malaysia provides 11 years of free public schooling: six years of primary school, three years of junior high school and two years of senior high school.

There is a strong emphasis on literacy skills, mathematics and basic sciences. Students are evaluated by examinations after three years and again after six years in school. Many Malay children also go to Islamic religious schools after their regular school hours.Instruction in public schools is in the language called Bahasa Malaysia. English classes are compulsory. Classes in Mandarin, Tamil or indigenous languages are optional. There are also private schools that offer instruction in Mandarin or Tamil, with Bahasa Malaysia as a compulsory subject.

Secondary school offers a wide range of subjects. After the first three years, students take the Lower Secondary Assessment examination before they progress to more specialized subjects in senior high school. After another two years, they take the Malaysian Certificate of Education examination. There is a further examination, the Malaysian Higher School Certificate, that students must pass to get into university, college or teacher training.
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To accommodate a large number of students, teaching in public schools is conducted in two shifts. The first shift runs from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and the second shift from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Malaysia has 10 national universities and four private universities. The largest are Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The universities offer academic subjects and provide training in work-related areas through community and corporate learning centres and distance learning institutes. Malaysia also has an International Islamic University, which attracts Muslim students from other countries. Malaysia has established four special universities to train knowledge workers for the information economy.

Malaysia's literacy rate is high (93%) and the school dropout rate is low. Education is considered very important in finding employment. High school education is required for blue-collar jobs and at least some college education for white-collar jobs. There is a comprehensive plan to teach workers to use information technology and high-tech equipment.