Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) in Malaysia at a Glance (for newborns to 6-year-olds)

Every child is precious and children are assets to our society. They are the most valuable resource of the nation. I believe that developing a nation and its people begins with early childhood education. While it is the duty of parents to ensure a child has the opportunities to develop, it is also the government's responsibility to help parents bring the potential to fruition. In developing a child's potential, we are in reality developing the human capital of the child and of the nation. In carrying out this task, we are enabling the child to grow holistically so that the child is equipped with abilities, knowledge and skills to become a productive member of the nation.

Economists have long believed that investment in early education is a good strategy in developing human capital which in turn, is an important source for economic growth. Cognitive and non-cognitive abilities are important for a productive work force. It is said that key workforce skills such as motivation, persistence and self-control are developed early. Children are the future generations who have the potential to drive the economy of the country as leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and economists.

Quotation from Prime Minister YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak at the opening address of the Malaysian International ECEC Conference themed "DEVELOPING HUMAN CAPITAL BEGINS WITH CHILDREN on 14 April 2009.


Early childhood care and education (ECCE) in Malaysia is divided into two age groups, which is 0-4 years and 4-6 years old.

The first group (0-4 years), comes under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) which coordinates national programmes on the growth and development of children. Through its Department of Social Welfare, MWFCD keeps a register of all childcare centres (also known as taska) in the country.

Pre-school education for the second group (4-6 years) comes under three ministries/agencies, i.e. the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development, and the National Unity Department.

The Malaysian government places a strong emphasis on ECCE and has formulated the National Policy for Early Childhood Education. Under this policy, programmes have been introduced to meet the diverse needs of the crucial early years of newborns till the age of six. These programmes provide a solid foundation for healthy growth and development which expose them to activities in nation building and enhance their readiness for primary school education. The government's involvement in ECCE is evident from its numerous initiatives to make early childhood programmes more accessible especially for less fortunate children and those in rural areas. A significant amount of funds is also allocated for ECCE every year.

Types of ECCE Institutions

ECCE programmes in Malaysia are offered by two types of institutions, namely:

  • Childcare centres or nurseries or taska
  • Preschools or kindergartens or tadika

(A) Childcare Centres or Nurseries (Taska)

In 1982, a study was jointly conducted by the Ministry of Social Welfare and UNICEF (The United Nation Children's Fund) which indicated the need to enhance the quality of childcare among childcare providers especially in the areas of food, environment, mental development and training for child minders. As a result, the Childcare Centre Act 1984 was passed to maintain the required minimum standards of childcare centres in the country. Besides its aim of providing care and education to preschool children, the Act included issues on registration; monitoring and inspection of the childcare centres; and protecting the interests and safety of the children against any form of abuse or neglect.

Since then, the Childcare Centre Act 1984 has been reviewed and passed by the Parliament giving rise to the Childcare Centres (Amendment) Act 2007. Government-supported community childcare centres, subsidised workplace childcare centres and Quality Improvement Accreditation System (QIAS) have also being implemented.

In Malaysia, a legislative-approved childcare centre is defined as a premise at which four or more children under the age of four years from more than one household are received to be looked after for reward.

Childcare centres in Malaysia fall into four categories:

  • Government-owned childcare centres (Taska dalam komuniti since 2006)
  • Workplace childcare centres
  • Institution-based childcare centres with 10 children or more
  • Home-based childcare centres with fewer than 10 children

Under the law, all childcare centres need to be registered with the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) or more popularly known as Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Malaysia (JKM) under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD). MWFCD is responsible for the approval and establishment of childcare centres in the country whilst JKM serves as the main regulator and coordinator of ECCE programmes.

In the plantation sector, childcare centres are provided free under the Standard Act, Minimum Housing and Workers Facilitation 1990 and monitored by the Ministry of Human Resources.

Categories of Childcare Centres

  • Workplace Childcare Centres
    With more and more women are engaged in active employment, MWFCD has been promoting the setting up of childcare at the workplace. For example, the government provides incentives in the form of a RM80,000 grant for the renovation and furnishing of childcare centres set up within government offices. Also, to encourage working mothers to utilise these centres, a subsidy of RM180 per month is given to government servants with monthly salaries below RM2000 who send their children to these centres.

    MWFCD also encourages the private sector to provide childcare facilities at the workplace for their employees. Incentives include 10% tax exemption on the cost of building the childcare centres for a period of 10 years.

  • Community Childcare Centres
    MWFCD has been setting up community childcare centres in urban and rural areas with the objective of providing quality childcare services that is more accessible and affordable to the local community. It aims to set up 10 new community childcare centres throughout the country every year. The centres use a curriculum set by MWFCD and is based on the active participation of the local community, parents, children, governmental agencies as well as private organisations. MWFCD has also proposed that every parliamentary area set up a community childcare centre.

    Families who send their children to community childcare centres would receive a monthly subsidy of RM180 per child if the family's income is below RM2000 or RM1200 in urban and rural areas respectively. A grant of RM55,000 will also be given to those interested in setting up a community childcare centre.

  • Permata Negara Early Childhood Education and Care Centres
    The Permata Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) programme was initiated by YABhg. Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor and was introduced after it was approved by the Cabinet on 21 June 2006 with a grant of RM20 million. Themed 'Every Child a Jewel' (Setiap Anak Permata), the Permata Negara pilot project was launched at 14 locations in 2006 íV at least one in each state- with the curriculum and teacher training spearheaded by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris.

    The founding principles of Permata ECEC Centres are:
    • Every child is a jewel for the country
    • Every child is precious
    • Every child is a part of the human capital of the country
    • Every child needs the best education
    • Education must start from young/birth
    • The first three years is crucial for development of the child

    The aim of Permata ECEC Centres is to provide integrated quality care and early education services based on the needs of the local community to children below five years old. It adopts the community-based integrated approach practised by Pen Green Corby, United Kingdom under the SureStart Programme. Under this approach, the centres offer childcare services, outreach programmes, parenting courses, counselling, and healthcare services to help the local community develop a healthy lifestyle. Facilities include a community resource centre and library; and some may offer the services of a speech therapist and nutritionist.

    The assessment on Permata ECEC Centres has been encouraging and the government has allocated an additional RM150 million to implement the Permata project to childcare centres of government and statutory bodies. This includes the childcare centers of the Community Development Department of the Ministry of Rural Development all over the country, childcare centers of the National Unity Department and some institutions which are community-based childcare centres. The government aims to upgrade more than 300 of these childhood education facilities to Permata centres.

(B) Pre-schools or Kindergartens (Tadika) for children aged 4 to 6

Early childhood education for children aged 4-6 years comes under three ministries, i.e. the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development; and the Department of National Unity. The pioneer in the setting up of preschools is the Ministry of Rural Development which began in the early 1970's. There are currently 8307 preschools set up by this ministry which are commonly known as the KEMAS preschool. KEMAS preschools are located in rural or suburban areas and are set up based on requests by local authorities.

Under the Department of National Unity, PERPADUAN preschools were established in urban areas where 'Rukun Tetangga' (a friendly neighbourhood scheme) existed. At present, there are 1496 PERPADUAN preschools. In 1992, the Ministry of Education (MOE) started setting up preschools as an annex to existing primary schools through a pilot project. This was extended to the entire nation in 1993 and currently, there are about 5905 of such preschools. Other providers of preschool education include also the State Religious Department and ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia).

In 2003, MOE set the National Preschool Curriculum which all preschools, public and private are required to follow. The National Preschool Curriculum is based on the principles of Rukun Negara and the National Philosophy of Education; and aims to develop the following skills in children:

  • Social skills
  • Intellectual skills
  • Physical skills
  • Spiritual skills
  • Aesthetic values (Creativity and Appreciation)

Table 1.1 : The Three Main Types of Public Preschools in Malaysia (as at 2007)
Types of preschool KEMAS preschools MOE preschools PERPADUAN preschools
Number of classes 8307 classes 5905 classes 1496 classes
Percentage (by class) 52.9% 37.9% 9.5%
Enrolment 198,275 147,625 38,952

Categories of Preschool Providers

  • Ministry of Education Preschools
    Preschools are set up by MOE to increase accessibility to preschool education for families with very low income in sub-urban, rural and remote areas. Eighty per cent of such preschools are built in rural areas as an annex to existing public primary schools and caters to children from the age of 5 years. MOE also provides the following subsidies:
    • A daily allocation of RM1.50 every school day per child for food prepared by the school.
    • An annual allocation of RM100.00 per child for learning materials. As each preschool class can receive up to 25 children, that means the school can receive up to RM2,500 per year for the purchase of teaching and learning materials.
    Through the National Education Act 1996 (Akta Pendidikan Kebangsaan 1996 - Akta 550, 2005) preschool education was officially declared part of the school system. All public and private preschools/kindergartens are required to implement the National Preschool Curriculum formulated through the Curriculum Development Centre, Ministry of Education (effective January 2003).

    The implementation of any additional curriculum by private preschools requires permission from the Head of Registrar, MOE. There is no restriction on the medium of instruction used at any registered preschool but the national language must be taught as a subject. Public preschools require a minimum of 10 children aged 4-6 years to start a class. MOE aims to set up a preschool at every national primary school in the future.

  • KEMAS Preschools
    KEMAS preschools are set up by the Department of Community Development (Jabatan Kemajuan Masyarakat) of the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development to provide preschool education to children aged 4- 6 years, particularly those from families with very low income. Classes are conducted at the community halls (rented or provided free), housing estates, private property, shophouses (rented) or at premises built by the Ministry.

    Each enrolment requires a minimum of 10 children per class and a maximum of 30 is allowed. The operation of KEMAS preschools is funded by the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development. Every child receives RM1.50 per day for food and RM100 per year for learning materials. An additional food allowance of RM150.00 per year is given to very poor families.

    KEMAS preschools have been using the National Preschool Curriculum since 2003 and emphasises on reading, writing and arithmetic, developing individual potential, instilling moral values, building character and self awareness; and developing physical, health, cleanliness and safety skills.

  • PERPADUAN Preschools
    PERPADUAN preschools are set up by the Department of National Unity and Integration. They were first set up in 1976 beginning with 25 classes in urban and suburban areas, specifically in areas with 'Skim Rukun Tetangga' - a 'friendly neighbour' scheme.

    Each preschool class has a Preschool Coordinating Committee made up of members of the local community who provide advice on the operation of the preschool and organise various activities for parents.

    PERPADUAN preschools are established with the objective of nurturing unity values at an early stage so that children will love their country and adapt themselves to live harmoniously in a multi-racial community. PERPADUAN preschools have been using the National Preschool Curriculum since 2003.

    The aims of PERPADUAN preschools are:
    • To nurture and foster the spirit of harmony, neighbourliness, unity and nationality among children of different races
    • To inculcate positive spiritual and moral values in the children's everyday lives thus creating perfect personalities and characters to become good and valuable family members
    • To encourage a comprehensive, integrated and balanced development in children aged 5 and 6 years via informal learning processes - "learning through play"
    • To strengthen relations and cultivate unity among parents and the community through the PERPADUAN Preschool Coordinating Committee and co-curricular activities.

    Classes are conducted at community halls (rented or free of charge), housing estates, private property, shophouses (rented) or built by the Ministry. Each enrolment requires a minimum of 20 children and a maximum of 35 children is allowed. The classes are funded by the Department of National Unity and Integration which also provides a daily allocation of RM1.50 per child for food and RM100.00 yearly for learning materials.

  • Preschool Education for Children with Special Needs
    Preschool education for children with special needs come under the Ministry of Education which is in charge of programmes for special schools and special integrated primary schools for children; and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development which is responsible for implementing other special programmes.

    In 2000, existing special schools started an early intervention programme on their own initiative for children aged 4-6 years. In 2003, MOE approved the conversion of these early intervention programmes at 28 special schools to preschool programmes for children with special needs. The 28 programmes consist of 22 for the hearing impaired, 5 for the visually impaired and 1 for those with learning disabilities.

    The Department of Social Welfare of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development run programmes for severely disabled children with the aim of enhancing their quality of life in line with the National Welfare Policy and National Social Policy. Special grants are also given to NGOs that help run these special programmes for children below 4 years old.

  • Preschools Operated by Private Sectors and NGOs
    Preschools operated by the private sector complement the government's efforts in providing quality education to children aged 4-6 years. These preschools are required to adopt the National Preschool Curriculum as stipulated in the National Education Act 1996.

    The medium of instruction at these preschools ranges from Bahasa Malaysia to Chinese, Tamil or English. The curriculum emphasises on communication and social skills that prepare the children for primary (formal) education. Additional programmes offered must be approved by MOE. The fees for a private preschool ranges from RM20 to RM1000 per month.

How to Choose a Childcare Centre

All Childcare Centres or Taska are required to register with the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM). When choosing a childcare centre, it is useful to use the following guidelines stipulated by JKM:

  • The number of children at the premise must not exceed the stipulated available space. The floor space required per child is 3.5 square meters. This does not include the kitchen, storeroom, toilet, office, and corridor space.
  • The ratio between child minder and children should be:

    AgeChildren Child Minder
    Below 3 years51
    Between 3-4 years101
    (Note: A supervisor is not considered a child minder in this ratio)

  • All child minders must have qualifications and training. According to the Childcare Centre (Institution Based) Regulation 1985 (Amendment 1993), a child minder should be at least 18 years of age and must have attended the basic child care course approved by the Department of Social Welfare within one year of being employed at the childcare centre.
  • An appropriate menu and daily activity plan according to the different age groups must be provided. These schedules should be visible to all on the childcare centre's notice board. The certificate of registration for operation should also be displayed.
  • Appropriate facilities for the children must be provided. There should be one toilet for every 10 children at the premise specifically for their use.
  • There should be proper and appropriate equipment that is safe and wellmaintained.
  • There must be activities with parental involvement.
  • The premise of the childcare centre must fulfill the requirements of the local authorities, observe the health guidelines as set out by the Health Department and fire safety rules as stipulated by the Fire and Rescue Department.
  • Every licensed childcare centre must have a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and an evacuation plan in case of fire. Fire and evacuation drills are to be carried out once every three months.

In addition, parents may want to consider the following factors:

  • The kindergarten is professionally managed as a learning centre and a place for baby-sitting.
  • The personnel are warm, caring and qualified.
  • The kindergarten has a warm, loving and caring environment.
  • The place is clean and spacious.
  • There are outdoor and indoor play facilities for children.
  • The ideal class-size is between 12 to 15 children with one teacher and one assistant. Open communication is important in the process of learning.
  • Small-sized classes will allow more communication between teacher and children and more opportunities for children to speak.
  • The curricular activities adopted by the kindergarten allow the children's multiple intelligences to grow at different rates.
  • The kindergarten should be transparent and practise open communication with the parents to share with them their child's progress.

It is my heartfelt view that education is the right of every child regardless of whatever background they may come from. The future of our respective countries, and indeed that of humanity as a whole can be altered for the better, if we start on the right footing; if we begin by instilling in our children the right values and traits and if we nurture the young with an abundance of love affection and care. We can build a better tomorrow by laying the right foundation today.

Quotation from YABhg Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor at the official opening of the Malaysian International ECEC Conference themed "DEVELOPING HUMAN CAPITAL BEGINS WITH CHILDREN" on 14 April 2009.

Source: Schools of Malaysia Directory 3rd Ed.