From Colonialism to Ultranationalism: History and Development of Career Counseling in Malaysia

By Pope, Mark; Musa, Muhaini et al. | Career Development Quarterly, March 2002 | Go to article overview

From Colonialism to Ultranationalism: History and Development of Career Counseling in Malaysia


Pope, Mark, Musa, Muhaini, Singagavelu, Hemla, Bringaze, Tammy, Russell, Martha, Career Development Quarterly


This article documents the development of career counseling in Malaysia from 1957-- when the British colonizers departed-to 2000. Although counseling, psychology, and psychiatry had their roots in mental health and medical environments, career counseling had its origins in the system of schooling and has now spread widely to business and industry. This article presents information on the historic and economic context of the development of career counseling, an exploration of the educational system from which career counseling was born, the cultural elements that have formed career counseling in the Malaysian context, and the application of M. Pope's (1995, 2000) stage development model to the development of career counseling in the Malaysian context.

The history of counseling in Malaysia has been previously documented (Halim, 1984; Lloyd, 1987; Scorzelli, 1987) along with the history of psychology (Othman & Rahman, 1991; Ward, 1983) and psychiatry (Buhrich, 1980). Each of these authors looked at one mental health profession in the context of Malaysian society. No one has, however, specifically reported on the history and development of career counseling in Malaysia.

Although counseling, psychology, and psychiatry had their roots in mental health and medical environments, career counseling had its origins in the system of schooling that has now spread in Malaysia to broadly incorporate business and industry. This article is organized around the historic and economic context, an exploration of the educational system from which career counseling was born, the cultural elements that have formed career counseling in the Malaysia context, and the stages through which the culture has gone in the development of career counseling.

Historic and Economic Context

To understand what a nation is now and may be in the future, it is important to have knowledge of its past and how it developed. Malaysia is geographically positioned at the crossroads of economic trading between the East and the West. Occupying a peninsula jutting down from Thailand, it was perfectly positioned for sailing ships in the 1500s to 1800s to follow its coastline as they searched for an entry point for trade with Asia. To reach China, traders had to pass through the Straits of Malacca, a narrow band of ocean with Malaysia on the east and the Indonesian island of Sumatra on the west.

Economic Crossroads

As trade between Asia and Europe became increasingly important to both continents (e.g., tea, tin, pepper, other spices, silks), European nations competed for control of these straits because control of the shipping lanes in the Straits of Malacca was critical to such trade (Wallace, 1869; Winstedt, 1981). The middle section of the Straits of Malacca (headquartered at Malacca itself) was controlled by first the Indians (400 B.C.E.-539 A.D.), then the native Malays (1445-1511), next the Portuguese (15 11-1647), and then the Dutch (1647-1824); all the while, the Chinese kept political and economic relationships with each new ruler (Winstedt, 1981). None of these nations desired to colonize the whole of the area but only to control this important shipping port. The British gained a toehold in Malaysia in 1786 when they developed a settlement on Penang Island (at the northern beginning of the Straits of Malacca) and then in 1819 when they developed a settlement at Singapore (on the most southern tip of the Malayan Peninsula, at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca).

Malaysia was a series of independent states before the British took control, each ruled by a king or sultan. According to Tregonning (1966), nearly all of the native Malay community, however, accepted the British rule, as "the British worked with them, respecting their faith, their social structure, and their rulers" (p. 18). This was the strength of the British and led to their successful rule. The British mined the tin, gathered the rubber and tea, developed a transportation infrastructure (highways and railways) to get the goods to seaports for shipping to Great Britain, and developed governmental and educational systems that were based on their own models. …

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