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Some Malaysian tuition centres are actually illegal! But how do you tell?

about 4 years ago JS Lim





This article is for general informational purposes only and is not meant to be used or construed as legal advice in any manner whatsoever. All articles have been scrutinized by a practicing lawyer to ensure accuracy.




What kind of school did you go to? Was it a Sekolah Kebangsaan (national school), or did you go to an international school? Maybe you were homeschooled, or even privately tutored. Whether you hate or love your schooling years, the last thing on your mind is whether or not your school or teacher had a proper license.

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You need a license to run a business, a license to run a gun shop, and yes, even a license to teach. Lately, it might become a concern for both students and their parents because some private learning centres in Malaysia operate without any license. The Ministry of Education has stated that they will not endorse certificates from unlicensed centres - a requirement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry for students who wish to further their studies overseas.

But what kind of license do these learning centres need to get, and how do you tell if they are properly licensed?


Schools and learning centres must be licensed under the Education Act

Under Section 79 of the Education Act 1996, all educational institutions need to be registered with the Registrar General (of the Ministry of Education). Under Section 2, an “educational institution” means:

“a school or any other place where, in the carrying on of the work of an organization or institution, persons are habitually taught, whether in one or more classes, and includes a kindergarten and a distance education centre”

Yes, this includes the national schools that the Ministry sets up as well, but excludes places dedicated to the teaching of any religion. Educational institutions will need to obtain a certificate of registration under Section 82, which must be put on display and be clearly visible on the education premises. You can see an example of such a certificate below.

An example of a temporary license.

We actually managed to find a Powerpoint detailing all the legal requirements to open an international school by the way. If you’re interested, you can find it here for your general knowledge.

The Registrar General will consider the following criteria under Section 84 before granting a license to educational institutions:

  1. The premises must meet the prescribed standards of health and safety

  2. The institution must not be used “for a purpose detrimental to the interests of Malaysia, the public or the pupils”

  3. The name of the institution is not improper or undesirable

  4. The area where the institution wants to open has too many schools and/or centres already

  5. The registration contained a false or misleading fact

  6. The person applying for the license fails or refuses to comply with set conditions

  7. The person appointed to be the chairman of the board of governors or head teacher is not suitable for the position

But it’s not just the institution itself that needs a license, even the employees need to be registered as well! So if the educational institution is not properly licensed…


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Even the teachers and support staff can get in trouble

One of the least fun things in the world: getting into trouble for something that’s not your fault. Anyone who acting as a governor or employee of an educational institution needs to be registered with the Ministry of Education as well. This is required by Section 88 of the Education Act.

While the school operators can get into trouble for not having the proper registrations, lying to the authorities, or refusing to cooperate with them, Section 132 also provides that even the employees can get into trouble for not being registered with the Ministry of Education, or for working at an illegal educational institution.

All the above offences carry a potential penalty of up to RM30,000, and/or up to 2 years of prison. So the staff of private learning centres may want to double check both the legal status of the place the work at, and their own registration as an employee.


Some learning centres are licensed, but wrongly

There are 18 types of educational institutions recognized in the Education Act, which include tuition centres, language centres, and international schools. The Ministry has said that for institutions that want to run an international curriculum like the IGCSE, they need to register as an international school.

There are a lot of licensed private learning centres, but they might also hold the wrong type for their kind of operations because “private learning centre” is not one of the recognized categories...

“There are some cases where these centres have a tuition centre licence but operate like a school. We are looking seriously at their existence and the issues involving these centres as it is against the provision of compulsory education set out in the Education Act.” - The Ministry of Education as quoted by The Star


Parents may need to make sure their children aren’t attending an illegal school

Primary schooling is compulsory by law in Section 29A(2), stating that all Malaysian children who have reached at least 6 years of age on 1st January must start attending primary school, and complete it. There are actually consequences for parents if they don’t send their children for primary school (though if you’re sending your 12+ year old child to an illegal centre by mistake, you’re in the clear!):-

“A parent who contravenes subsection (2) shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both.”

For parents who have special needs children or wish to send their children for alternative schooling, an application can be made to the Ministry of Education to exempt them from having to attend a primary school [Section 29A(3)]. Homeschooling in particular is a common and legal alternative, but parents may still have to obtain approval from the Ministry

While it’s a good thing for parents to have schooling options to suit their child, the rise of dodgy learning centres may make it necessary to check that the centres are legit, otherwise their certificate might not be recognized later on.

It’s not to say that private learning centres are out there to cheat you or anything,  in fact some learning centres are not very pleased about their non-educator competitors prioritizing profits over proper education. These centres have welcomed the Ministry of Education to start regulating the industry and set up a new license category for them.

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private learning centers
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JS Lim

Jie Sheng knows a little bit about a lot, and a lot about a little bit. He swings between making bad puns and looking overly serious at screens. People call him "ginseng" because he's healthy and bitter, not because they can't say his name properly.





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