The Social Sciences

Year: 2009
Volume: 4
Issue: 6
Page No. 604 - 609

A Study on Malaysia Primary School Science Education: Foundation for Environmental Knowledge

Authors : Sharifah Zarina Syed Zakaria and Lilia Halim

Abstract: As a developing nation, Malaysia needs citizens who can contribute to the scientific and technological developments in order to compete and be at par with other developed nations and to be able to achieve this goal by year 2020. Malaysia must not only have a scientifically and technologically literate citizens, but citizens who know and aware of how to sustain the development. This can be accomplish if the children in schools today are prepared and geared towards an education that taught and shaped their thinking and behavior towards the importance of a sustainable development. Thus, the knowledge of science must not only produce good inventors, or creative innovators in the future, but citizens who can, besides contributing to the development of science and technology, must also be aware and conscious of their actions that might give bad or negative influence to the environment. Thus, the objective of this study is to find out what are the elements of environmentally-related subject that is taught in science classes in Malaysian primary schools and to relate its part as a foundation and contribution for sustainable development.

How to cite this article:

Sharifah Zarina Syed Zakaria and Lilia Halim, 2009. A Study on Malaysia Primary School Science Education: Foundation for Environmental Knowledge. The Social Sciences, 4: 604-609.


Interest in science must be instilled and nurtured since, the early education stage in order to inculcate an interest in science and technology subjects that will be introduced in the later stages of learning experience. A science literate society is a society where to talk about science is as natural as talking about football (Nisbet, 2003). Thus, science literacy is when one knows about science and learns to be appreciative about it. But, do knowing and appreciating science alone are sufficient in assuring that the fruits of the development will not jeopardize the human life and its environment. It has come to the period where, globalization challenges, modernization needs, economic developments and other crucial aspects are demanding more and more than the mother earth can provide.

Malaysia is aiming to become a developed nation by the year 2020. Now that we are competing in the world of Science and Technology with other nations, the government has realized that science subjects and science related subjects are crucial and students at early age must be exposed or made familiar with it so as to prepare them for a more advance study in the future. As a developing country, Malaysia needs to produce graduates who possess relevant skills to participate in the science and technology development in the country. At the same time, it is crucial to realize that the effort to produce more science and technology experts must be accompanied with the nurturing and increasing of environmental awareness. We hope the knowledge that is being taught in schools and learning institutions today will shape the thinking and behavior of the world tomorrow. Thus, instilling environmental awareness at the learning age is the best way, in due course, to protect the environment. Yet, how do we instill this awareness? Do schools have to teach an extra subject purposely to convey this knowledge and awareness? Does the system have to add another extra subject to the now pact curriculum? At present, Malaysia is aware about the issues concerning the environment and necessary steps and measures are taken to educate the learning generations about the environment. For example in the curriculum contents of the school syllabus, knowledge and awareness about the environment are instilled across the curriculum’ It is not being taught as a subject but as aims or objectives of certain subjects.

Knowledge about the environment: Why does knowledge about the environment or environmental awareness need to be spread? How important and crucial is it to the society and its development? Thus, let us look at the world and environment we are living now. Malaysia is taking the appropriate step to be a developed nation and it still has a long way to go. However, contrary to the success of rapid economic development, the active pursuit of industrialization and the effort to excel in the S and T arena, the country’s limited resources and fragile ecosystems are being threatened (Ngai, 1998). The environment is being damaged progressively in the name of modernization and development. Deforestation is happening under the reason that trees are natural resources to accommodate humans’ demanding lifestyle. Large areas of trees are cut and these cleared lands are then used as human settlement. Flood and landslide are two other natural disasters that can be connected due to rapid and unsustainable development.

These damages and destructions are happening with extreme speed and are affecting the cycles of all major components of life. How can we not understand that all these development to guarantee humans a comfortable lifestyle will eventually do serious harm to the earth in the near future?

What we want to emulate from the developed country are their skills and knowledge for a better world not the skills and knowledge in destroying the world. Thus, we must equipped the learning generations, those in schools today the importance of a sustainable development, which not only can guarantee a safe, healthy and comfortable life for today but will continue for generations to come.

We are hoping that when students have knowledge about the environment they will also, gained awareness about the environment and this will lead to an environmentally significant behavior. According to Stern (2000), there are many types of environmentally-significant behavior.

Environmental activism-active involvement in environmental organizations and demonstrations

Non-activist behaviors in the public sphere-petitioning on environmental issues, joining and contributing to environmental organizations, stated approval of environmental regulations, willingness to pay higher taxes for environmental protection
Private-Sphere environmentalism-purchasing practices that consider the environmental impact of production processes; purchasing, using and disposal of personal and household products that have environmental impact
Other environmentally significant behaviors-Individuals may significantly affect the environment through other behaviors, such as influencing the actions of organizations to which they belong

For the other environmentally significant behaviors, Stern (2000) gave these examples, engineers may design manufactured products in more or less environmentally benign ways, bankers and developers may use or ignore environmental criteria in their decisions and maintenance workers’ actions may reduce or increase the pollution produced by manufacturing plants or commercial buildings. Thus, if science education in schools today can create at least the 4th element (other environmentally significant behaviors) among our future society, the objective of environmental awareness across curriculum that is being implemented in Malaysian school science syllabus has functionally done its job.

Environmental awareness across the curriculum: Science subjects are taught in Malaysian education system. Teaching of science in the primary school is compulsory according to the Schools’ Regulations 1967 (Sharifah and Lewin, 1993). Thus in the 60 and 70's science subject was introduced since Year 1 in the primary level. However, in the 80's science subject was not taught as a core subject but students still learn science in subjects like man and environment where science, along with geography and history were one of the integrated elements. Recently, science education has again become one of the core subjects in Malaysia primary schools and since 2003, it has been taught to students as early as year 1 (7 years old).

The contents of science syllabus in the primary schools, consists the knowledge and facts of environmental education-related factors. Every subject especially, science subject must stress the environmental awareness factors in its curriculum contents (Sharifah and Lilia, 2007). Thus, the objective of this study is to find out and to identify what are the elements of environmentally-related subject in the science syllabus that is taught in the primary school in Malaysia.

To analyze the content of the environmentally-related factors, this research follows the curriculum of a Malaysian primary school science syllabus. The syllabus contents are able to give a significant insight of what and to what extend science education prepared children and taught them about environmental issues. Primary school education does not offer environmental education as a subject but the contents of environmental education-related knowledge and facts can be found throughout its syllabus. Thus, teaching environmental issues through scientific literacy is crucial in contributing the environmental awareness because science courses epitomize the scientific and technological issues surrounding the environmental problems (Gill and Burke, 1999).

In Malaysia, environmental education is not taught as a single subject, but it cuts across the curriculum. In the science syllabus of primary schools, objectives of science education are related to the nurturing of environmental awareness among students. These include:

Create an awareness on the need to love and care for the environment

Stimulate pupils’ curiosity and develop their interest about the world around them

Inculcate scientific attitudes and positive values (Lee et al., 2004)

To stress these objectives, the syllabus also states the scientific attitudes and noble values that must be acquired by students at the end of each lesson. These attitudes and values were also listed in the syllabus. They include:

Having an interest and curiosity towards the environment

Being responsible about the safety of oneself, others and the environment

Realizing that science is a means to understand nature

Appreciating and practicing clean and healthy living

Appreciating the balance of nature (Lee et al., 2004)

The learning of science is not limited to classroom teaching only. The syllabus also specifies outdoors activities that could be carried out to make the lessons more interesting and realistic. Outdoor activities are not restricted in the vicinity of the school compound. Field trips to zoo, museums, science centers, research institutes, mangrove swamps and factories are also recommended. Through this real life experience, students are brought into contact with nature and apply the knowledge they learn. This is a good way for students to learn about nature and the environment by placing themselves in the real condition. Through these activities, students became more alert to their environmental surroundings.


A document analysis of Malaysian primary science education syllabus was done. Primary school education does not offer environmental education as a subject but the contents of environmental education-related knowledge and facts can be found throughout its syllabus.

Twenty scientific attitudes and noble values are also listed in the syllabus and only five are related to the environment as stated:

Having an interest and curiosity towards the environment

Being responsible about the safety of oneself, others and the environment

Realizing that science is a means to understand nature

Appreciating and practicing clean and healthy living

Appreciating the balance of nature

The Malaysian science curriculum for primary schools is developed with eight objectives to achieve:

Stimulate pupils’ curiosity and develop their interest about the world around them

Provide pupils with the opportunities to develop science process skills and thinking skills

Develop pupils’ creativity

Provide pupils with basic science knowledge and concepts

To provide learning opportunities for pupils to apply knowledge and skills in a creative and critical manner for problem solving and decision-making

Inculcate scientific attitudes and positive values

Foster the appreciation on the contributions of science and technology towards national development and well-being of mankind

Be aware the need to love and care for the environment (Lee et al., 2004)

The 8th objective directly refers to the environment, with the aim to inculcate the love and care for the environment. This signify that the government is showing concern about what is happening to the environment and is hoping that present generation in school will acquire more knowledge about the environment and will than interact positively with the knowledge. The content of the science syllabus for primary schools is organized around themes. Positive attitudes towards the environment are listed as noble values to be achieved as a science learning experiences along with the scientific values (Hassan, 2009).


When the content of the science syllabus are analyzed, as shown from the Table 1 and 2, the subjects related to environment can only be traced in the themes, which included the topic of living things. In level 1 (year 1-3) two themes are introduced, but as shown in Table 2, only the 1st theme-learning about living Things, contains the environmentally-related knowledge. In the level 2 (year 4-6), the syllabus contents are organized around five themes and only three of the themes do contain the environmentally-related knowledge.

Table 1:

Themes content in the science syllabus

Table 2:

Themes related to environmental knowledge

Lee et al. (2004)

In the syllabus, learning objectives are also stated clearly as the objective to be achieved for every topic learned. Furthermore, suggested learning activities and learning outcomes are also part of the list in the syllabus.

For the purpose of this study, the analysis was only based on the learning objectives because it encompasses the learning activities and learning outcomes. As mentioned before, each syllabus consists various themes, however, only a few of these themes consists the environmentally-related subject as shown in Table 3-8.

Table 3:

Learning objectives of environmentally-related topic-year 1

Table 4:

Learning objectives of environmentally-related topic-year 2

Table 5:

Learning objectives of environmentally-related topic-year 3

Lee et al. (2004)

Table 6:

Learning objectives of environmentally-related topic-year 4

Table 7:

Learning objectives of environmentally-related topic year 5

Table 8:

Learning objectives of environmentally-related topic year 6

Lee et al. (2004)


The above analyzed syllabus was a proof that primary school science syllabus in Malaysia do encompass the knowledge about the environment. Still, whether this is enough to ensure that a positive behavior towards the environment is taking place is up to the teachers own effort, since there is no formal evaluation of assessing whether the students practice and apply what they learn in school to their daily routine life. Science should be taught not only for the sake of passing exams or memorizing facts, but also must include the process of science, which effects the environment directly or indirectly. Base on the brief analysis, Malaysian primary school science syllabus do contains knowledge about the environment. The syllabus in upper classes, year 4-6, (age 10-12) contains a specific topic in environment, investigating the living things/environment. But, it is still not enough to ensure the environmental knowledge can contribute to the desired environmental awareness, which support the sustainable development. Nevertheless, at the early stage it did introduce the elements of knowledge and good values towards the environment.

Maybe the syllabus should also add some more themes and good values that can really make the student link their daily life with the environmental knowledge they acquire in science education. It should exceed the across curriculum aims and goals and should be introduced as a chapter by itself, if not as a single different subject as a whole. So, a syllabus that not only can produce scientifically literate citizens but also environmentally friendly citizens should be the main focus when undertaking policy reform. If the students do not have the proper knowledge and understanding of causes and effects of environmental issues, they will not be able to produce correct decisions in the future when confronted with dilemma occurred because of environmental problems.


This study was conducted by using research grant from UKM-GUP-JKKBG-08-02-005.

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