KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has made significant progress in pre-school education over the past decade, with enrolment rates rising from 67 per cent in 2009 to 84 per cent in 2020.

According to a World Bank report, government spending on pre-school education has more than tripled from RM247 million in 2010 to RM887 million in 2021.

Deputy Education Director-General (Policy and Curriculum Sector) Dr Ahmad Rafee Che Kassim said these positive developments brought the government closer to its target of achieving 91 per cent enrolment by the first half of 2023.

“I am also thrilled to announce the establishment of 88 additional public pre-schools this year,” he said at the report launch today.

AWANI Tonight: Making preschool education equal for all M'sian children

Despite the progress, the World Bank highlighted that Malaysia continues to face challenges concerning access to education and quality of teachers.

While the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2021-2025 aims to achieve universal pre-school enrolment by 2020, Malaysia, along with other developing countries, has yet to achieve this.

The World Bank reported a decline in registration rates among 4 and 5-year-old children during the pandemic, attributed to factors such as limited awareness on pre-school importance, affordability issues and unavailability of pre-school seats, particularly in rural areas.

Meanwhile, half of pre-school teachers lack the minimum qualification of a diploma in early childhood care and education (ECCE).

Inadequate training, low salaries, and unclear career pathways contribute to the country's challenge of low teacher quality.

The report also notes Malaysia's relatively low public funding for pre-primary education compared to other upper-middle-income countries, with only 0.13 per cent of the country's GDP allocated for this purpose in 2019.

In 2021, only two per cent of the Education Ministry’s budget was allocated to pre-school expenditure.

Getting back on track

To ensure equal education opportunities for all children in Malaysia, World Bank Senior Education Specialist Dr Aija Rinkinen said it is crucial to expand access to pre-schools.

She also said that teachers must have the necessary qualifications and expertise to provide young learners with a solid educational foundation.

"They (should) also have opportunities for continuous professional development to keep up with the demands of the changing world and the individual needs of children," she told Astro AWANI.

Governance and funding were also critical factors in ensuring equal access to early childhood education.

“There is a need for good coordination between the different ministries, because pre-school and early childhood education lies under several ministries and organisations in Malaysia.”

In the long-term, Rinkinen recommended streamlining the ECCE licensing and renewal processes especially for private pre-schools.

This could include providing provisional licensing, extending licence validity and setting up more registration and renewal centres in rural areas.