Malaysia is a multiethnic country located in Southeast Asia with a population of 29 million, comprising Malays (62%), Chinese (23%), Indians (7%), and Others (8%). Historically, the Malay language and a number of Malayo-Polynesian dialects characterized the indigenous lingua franca. With the arrival of the Portuguese (1400–1500s), the Dutch (1600s), and later the British, Chinese, and Indians, the demographic and linguistic profile of the region changed irrevocably. This entry describes how such sociohistoric factors have contributed to a complex education system based on linguistic and cultural diversity.

Awong Bin Alok (second from left), on elder member of one of the Orang Asli ethnic groups, tells traditional folktales to children in Tasik Cini Village, Pahang State. To encourage literacy among Orang Asli children, UNICEF and the Ministry ...

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