Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Much Ado About International Schools

Well, the wishes of some parents seem to have come true - Malaysians are now able to send their children to private international schools, should they choose to do so. I've been asked, will I send my daughter to an international school?

As reported in the New Straits Times (NST) on 23rd May:
The Education Ministry announced on Wednesday that Malaysian students will soon be allowed to attend international schools, doing away with the former stringent enrolment criteria.

For a start, more Malaysian students will be able to attend international schools: They could constitute up to 40 per cent of the enrolment of each school. At present, only 0.05 per cent of Malaysian students receive their education in the 32 international schools in the country.
In a separate article, the NST went so far as to claim that the change in policy is a "seismic shift". The rationale for the liberalisation of the international school policy appears to be to:
1. Stopping the brain drain of the country's best and brightest.

Several thousand young Malaysians leave the country every year for primary and secondary education in Singapore, Australia and Britain. A number opted for foreign education after having their requests to attend international schools locally turned down.

2. Promoting Malaysia as a regional education hub.

In the past, many brand-name international schools were not keen to set up branches or campuses in Malaysia because of strict enrolment criteria for Malaysians. They feared that they may not be able to obtain the volume of students needed. A more liberal policy may encourage top foreign schools to consider Malaysia a lucrative location.
Frankly speaking, I do not think that the rationale hold up too much water. The impact on both reversing brain drain as well as promoting Malaysia as a regional education hub is likely to be very minimal, hardly justifying the prominence in which NST gave the Minister of Education in its coverage.

However, I do think that the liberalisation of enrolment into international schools is not a bad thing. Different parents will have different priorities for their children and hence, all parents should have the right to pick their choice of school(s). As it is, we already have the Chinese and Indian vernacular schools, the Islamic religious schools, the government funded national schools as well as the few private schools based on the national curriculum. Adding international schools to the mix will just enhance the choices available for the Malaysian parents.

While there may be arguments that international schools may further jeopardise the atractiveness of national schools and aggravating the segregation of the rich and the poor, I believe that the actual and tangible impact on the above concerns are minimal.

The attractiveness of national schools is challenged mostly by the vernacular and religious schools. It can only be resolved if the national schools are able to deliver education at an acceptable quality. Furthermore the number of students expected to attend the international schools are likely to be very small. These students may be sent overseas anyway, if they fail to secure a place at a local international school. In addition, the wealthy should not be penalised from their choice of education, just because they are rich.

Parents were also interviewed with regards to their decision to send their children to these schools.
Eileen, a product of Assunta Secondary School in Petaling Jaya, said she wanted Lawrence [her son] to be exposed to international culture from a young age. "We wanted to groom him properly from young to learn about international relations and not to have a culture shock later in life," she said
The Star also carried an article on Sunday on a couple who sent their 2 sons to an international school in order to better "adapt" to an overseas education at a later stage.

So how much does an education at an international school cost? It cost Eileen an estimated RM10,000 to RM12,000 per child, per year at the school. Well, what Eileen is paying for her children's education appears comparatively cheap other international schools. Alice Smith International School charges "a cool RM40,000 per annum per child".
And that is not all. Besides tuition, there is an initial outlay of about RM20,000 which includes registration fees, miscellaneous payments and a refundable deposit. This is the equivalent of the cost of a Master's degree programme in local universities, with registration fees included.
The principal of Alice Smith, Nik Bishop justifies the fees with "top class facilities and excellent teachers... Such quality comes with a premium".

So back to the question, will I send my own daughter, Xin Ying to an international school (assuming I can afford it!)?

The answer is simply, no, for 2 reasons:

  1. As a Malaysian, and fully expecting Xin Ying to remain one (until such a time she can make up her own mind :)), I'd like her to receive at the very least a Malaysian primary education. She needs to spend time mixing with Malaysians first, instead of with foreigners of a different culture. She can do her own "mixing" with foreigners at a later age should she get herself a scholarship to pursue her studies overseas. :)

  2. While the international schools may indeed have better facilities, the student population is defined not so much by ability, but by wealth. I'd much rather Xin Ying attends a local top primary or secondary school than an international school. And given that many of the Malaysians who have qualified (and graduated) from some of the top colleges in the world originated from the local education system, I'm confident that if she is able get into these top colleges, she'll get there whether through the local or international schools.
So, there you go. My 2 pence on international schools. :) For those interested, you can read my undecided take on whether to send her to a National or a Chinese school.


Anonymous said...

I agree very much with your 2nd point. While it is true that international schools provide much better facilities, and perhaps better teachers, these do not at all justify the exorbitant costs.

In my opinion, although students from international schools can adapt to foreign cultures more easily in their University years, the advantage is negligible. It doesn't take light years for national school students to acclimatise (for e.g., me :D), so this purported advantage of international schools have been overdramatised.

Another aspect of international schools is its segregation of the wealthy (not the brainy) from the poor. Even if I were to become rich in the future, I would want my kids to mix with people from poorer backgrounds so that they learn to be humble.

Just my 2 cents...

Anonymous said...

forgetting the exorbitant fees and superior facilities for just a second here - believe it, or not, some international schools can be EXTREMELY competitive. this competitiveness is fostered by intellectually segregating students in subjects (english, math and other subjects which have a huge student pool) into smaller groups whereby you are placed amongst students of similar intellectual capabilities as you are. of course this is harsh, to the point of lowering self-esteem, but you get results. a number of the best IGCSE ("o" levels) results in the world, can be traced back to international schools in malaysia as a matter of fact.

the perpetuation of these international schools by the wealthy actually help foster this extremely competitive environment. the wealthy that send their children to international schools tend to extol perfectionist/perasaan-esque virtues and their children are expected to as well - A-grades and nothing less! sometimes to facilitate this, their children are sent to the best after-school tuition classes - some costing up to 60-100 RM an hour. just because they're wealthy, does not necessarily mean that they take life easily. they have the money to send their children to the elite universities and they expect their children to be able to attend these universities, ergo they groom their children in such a manner of intellectual superiority and competitiveness to be able to enter said universities.

by sending your child to an international school, you will be placing her under the hammer of cultural imperialism. international schools, suffice to say, have a large body of expatriate teachers, hence they will be impinging their western values on your child as they teach her. your child will also likely have expats or the wealthy for classmates/friends - whom, in most cases, are the living breathing epitomes of westernization. and of course materialism is very prevalent in international schools, much evident in the parking lot with the presence of benzes, bmws, jags and the plethora of bodyguards/maids. one must take a pinch of salt with this though - not ALL international schools are like this.

so really, it's just a case of what's best for your child. despite the many factors that may impede the values that you wish your child may hold, international schools provide the critical thinking that somehow seems to be lacking in the local schools. class discussions are encouraged, questions are expected to be asked etc. etc. one thing that may be a problem, well in garden international school at least, is that malay is taught as a foreign language. which is the reason why my malay sucks, go figure - all you will be expected to be able to do is hold a normal conversation and write a basic karangan.

all the best in your choices for your child. despite having some deep misgivings against my alma mater, i would still recommend an international school in a heartbeat. i went to Garden my entire life, and i don't have any major regrets. the only one regret i have is that i will never know what the local system of education is like. not all international schools are the same though, some truly are just a playground for the rich (like alice smith, in my opinion) but nevertheless, sending your child to an international school will have her being exposed to the finest and the best experience that education can offer in malaysia.

finally, once again, all the best =)

Anonymous said...

..i know that kids can be taught..matter of patience and manner. Children in general, work towards what are expected of them. Show them kindness, mutual respect, guidance and constructive criticisms, no matter which schools, they can learn. and be responsible adults.

i think same can be said of working people..Management concern and constructive feedback and timely appreciation can do wonders to help achieve the vision and mission of any firm.-.good strategic management practice to be used..

Anonymous said...

i forgot to add further..

..but most management ( the little napoleans in the organisation )are so personal..and jealous of others at the same work place..that they are a danger to corporate objectives and mission

Anonymous said...


We are products of our local education systems, yet we did well and were even able to secure the ASEAN Scholarship in Singapore.

I am sure you might have problem adapting to Singapore initially, but I'm also very sure, both you and I did adapt very well. Else, you won't be where you are now, right?

The point is that even with our local education system, we were able to achieve considerable "success", so, IMHO, it's more of an attitude rather than the systems.

Personally, I think international schools tend to be unrealistically segregated from the real society. Children of international schools may have problem when they come out and work later in their lives.

Mark Eleven

Anonymous said...

You are right, Mark Eleven. I concur with you that eventually this policy will give rise to new soceital gap for children whom are educated in int'l schools.

These children wont appreciate our surroundings. Cause they cannot connect when they learn in school with the surrounding they are living in.

Most possibly these kids will grow up and end up with one goal. Going and living in overseas eventually.

Hey guys, what do we expect when the future cohorts of our national service scheme, there would be a split between local ed and int'l school ed trainees.

It must be interesting though!

Again, say hey to our ad-hoism national leadership style!

We deeply and dearly need foresighted leaders that think and act strategically for our beloved Malaysia!

Just ask this question. Are Korean Kids, Japanese and Swedish kids educated in Int'l school?

But yet they have LG, Toyota and Nokia, the home-grown companies that made it to Int'l market!

They may not speak fluently in queen english, they can amaze you with their understandings in technical concepts, and in return, new products are made and marketed.

Come on! Mother tongue education with solid basics in maths and science! And tougher standards for university entrance!

Anonymous said...

Money aside, some parents choose international schools because of English curriculum. The parents may not be proficient in Bahasa themselves and find difficulty in helping/communicating with their kids. Also, they fear that their children may end up without proficiency in either Bahasa or English and this may prove to be a problem later when they go for further studies. Opinions such as social gaps, inability to fit-in etc are merely that. Unproven, and tend to come from those who never had their children in international schools in the first place!

Anonymous said...

i agree with anonymous above. int'l schools are more or less obscure to the general public and all we have are generalizations/hearsay to base our opinions on. so i suggest we should listen to people who have actually been to int'l schools instead of making our own high-handed judgements.


Anonymous said...

Yes, attitude, that is the most important. Even if you graduate from Harvard, without the right attitude, you'll never make it in life. The system gives you a slight advantage, your attitude decides the outcome. Doesn't mean an international school student will turn out to be less successful than local ones. Doesn't mean a scholar will turn out to be more successful than a normal student.

Anonymous said...

Ministers will send their children to international schools while telling at the same time other people to go to local schools..

Anonymous said...

Between making my child take the SPM/STPM in BM/English & exposing them to the whims of future education minister's mad cap policies & spending a bit more money to give them an English language education culminating in an international standard IB school cert, I know where I'll be putting my money.

The socialisation aspects of Int Schools are important, especially the risk of bringing up snob kids, but thats something for parents to manage.

Anonymous said...

Don't send your kids to international schools you are just wasting your money as follows:

1) You are paying for the high wages and allowances that are accorded to Western and expat teachers. Thus giving them a good living when most of the Malaysian teachers are unemployed not because they are no good but because the system discriminates them.

2) The examination papers of sum of the O and A Levels are set by Malaysian teachers inotherwords the UK outsources them to developing countries which goes to explain the falling standards.

3) The child is unable to cope with local job demands because the international school is a cocoon and gives them an air of superiority but also helplessness.

4) The high fees are for subsidising the inept attitude of local schools and who manages them.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Firstly, thank you for the good work on this blog. I am also from good old Batu Pahat and I am glad one of us is doing a great thing. On international schools, I have never understood why they prevented locals from studying there in the first place. The abject lack of self-confidence in our political leadership is again revealed in their need to "justify" their every move. Why can they not just say that they were correcting a wrong decision made earlier, or that they decided to give Malaysians more choices? What's wrong in saying just that, rather than to aggrandize the decision. The 2 "justifications" are totally incomprehensible. Giving students a choice of enrolling in international schools actually accelerates brain drain (assuming some of the rich also got brains) as those students would almost always then move on to foreign universities. And just how do you create a "hub", unless you then expect say, Singaporeans, to choose to come over to good international schools in Malaysia rather than straight to those in Australia, England, etc.. Is that a reasonable and significant expectation? I am also curious over the comment made that enrolling them in international schools at this young age helps them to adapt to overseas education later. If by "education" is meant "classrooms", maybe so, but those 2 sons will go overseas thinking that all foreigners lived in their own country in the same way as their classmates lived in Malaysia, as rich expatriates' kids. Surely that would be more of a culture shock to learn of the real societies in the western world. To my mind, to be able to adapt, one needs to be confident of one's roots, and that means, including for your daughter, living and growing up with your fellow locals. As you said, at least up to primary level. You cannot adapt to any new society, western or otherwise, without first having a good idea of what you are and of where you come from.

Anonymous said...

"..To my mind, to be able to adapt, one needs to be confident of one's roots, and that means, including for your daughter, living and growing up with your fellow locals.....You cannot adapt to any new society, western or otherwise, without first having a good idea of what you are and of where you come from..."

Precisely what I mean. Thanks to the anon @06:58PM.

I have lived for some years in overseas, and have seen in one particular tv program, the broadcaster interviewed a Korean kid (around 8 yrs old) whom can answer the questions posed confidently, of course in his mother tongue.

Eventually as parents we must foresee where these kids are going to end up.

If we cut off their affinity to this country by subjecting them to int'l education at such a young age, I afraid they would grow up without root or sense of identity.

Anonymous said...

Imagine being in a classroom filled with datuk-datuk's kids...peer pressure will inevitably cause kids to compare not academic results but who's got the latest mobile phone or who's dad has got the most mercedez! Of course, I'm just generalising, but it does happen often. :)

Anonymous said...

"Imagine being in a classroom filled with datuk-datuk's kids...peer pressure will inevitably cause kids to compare not academic results but who's got the latest mobile phone or who's dad has got the most mercedez! Of course, I'm just generalising, but it does happen often. :)"

I think a lot of the people who commented here are a bit biased and view international school students as rich brats. Some international schools are actually very very competitive (Garden, ISKL, Alice Smith). Material comparison doesnt really happen much actually.

Also, education at international schools is better than the conventional malaysian education system in a sense that it is more holistic and well rounded. A simple look at the GCSE Modern History will prove that.

Anonymous said...

To this day, my friend, who sent his son to the KL International School, is still disturbed by the way his son talked to him before going to the USA. He is a conservative person, but at one stage, his son called him by his Christian name. It took him several warnings to stop the son from doing what some of his American classmates did with their fathers.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but chuckle when juxtaposing the comments of anon (Thu Jun 01, 03:14:09 AM) with "We wanted ... [him] not to have a culture shock later in life". The kid mentioned by anon certainly assimilated well and would have no problem with culture shock upon arrival at the US! Then again, not all americans are that rude either. Some of my american classmates would never dream of calling their dads by their first names...

Anonymous said...

what an interesting debate this has turned out to. i see both camps, pro- and anti-, have their valid reasons. but imo, i feel the benefits of having such exposure at an international school outweighs the "loosing out of asian values" debate. especially so in this day where globalization is in full swing. it'll only be time when there are no cultural indifferences in the future. it's a revolution i tell u. the wall that seperates east and west has fallen. only those choose to live in those era will refuse to change.

Anonymous said...

"...it'll only be time when there are no cultural indifferences in the future.."

Hey, my friend, you are so optimistic that there is no more cultural indifferences, may be what you mean is universal values.

But I foresee these cultural differences will remain forever.

Do refer to Philosophy of Social Sciences 101, we are nothing but the product of "social enculturation".

We will repeat or reconstruct the reality (albeit with modification) what our earlier generation has taught/shown us.

To give one example, one economist did predict that eventually the growth in developing countries will match developed countries in long period of time.

However, after 40 years, this convergence of economic growth never takes place.

Similarly, I doubt the convengence of cultures will ever take place.

An academic

Anonymous said...

What is an international anyway?

These students sit for GCE O level.

It seems like our old days in Convent Girl School. Yes, our headmistress came back from Kirby.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Omission.

What is an international "school" anyway?

Anonymous said...

there's too much generalizing going on here. eventhough i went to an int'l school, i'm probably as pompous/ostentatious as your average local school kid. there is this prejudice against int'l school kids because they are stereotyped as being 'snooty, bratty etc. etc.' - so much so to the point that i have friends who do not tell their locally-schooled college mates which highschool they were from. of COURSE there are schools which have daddy's lil princesses and trust fund boys running around, but not ALL int'l schools are like that.

also a point i'd like to mention - int'l schools encourages students to think and question. the teacher is never always right. does that happen generally in the malaysian system of education?

(ps. to anon. at Wed May 31, 05:45:28 PM - examinations are NOT set by malaysian teachers. not a single one. the cambridge IGCSE board of examinations flies them straight from the U.K and it is returned there for grading.)

Anonymous said...

I only go to Sekolah Atap at my kampung...wat can I say?

Anonymous said...

I have cases of international schools students returning back to join our government schools! So it could be a two way affair

Anonymous said...

could there perhaps be some confusion between "international" school and "private" school?

perhaps that rich brat stereotype may not even arise from actual contact with 'international schooled' kids if the quota was only 0.05% previously ... there can't be that many around?

mebbe people are thinking of privately schooled acquaintances ...


i think it's great that there is an option now ... that's always a good thing to have

personally, i think that for primary school education, malaysian parents should consider sending their kids to a national/public school first - unless you feel that your child has special requirements ...

afterall, if someone's good - it doesn't really matter what school they attend ... success is as much about attitude and the most important life lessons are learnt at home ... i doubt that a child will be stunted in his/her education by missing out on an 'international' school education during those years ...

and you can use the money saved to supplement their education by travel ...

i'm still unsure about my position with regards to secondary education ... i think that this stage in a person's education is more critical, with many more factors other than social development coming into play ...

facilities and well trained teachers really do give one that extra boost or leg up ... although i have seen many many former school mates succeed via the malaysian secondary school system of my time

that being said, i am really really glad i went to s'pore under the ASEAN scholarship for abit of exposure to very well funded schools. and in some ways, the schools i attended during my stint in s'pore were 'international' ... with students from china, india, indonesia, philipines and HK ... and expatriate teachers

international, national, government or private ... let's just try to be the best we can be. the world is getting smaller.

we may want/need to expand 'international' to include asian(?) school systems. anyone know of malaysians attending the japanese school in mont kiara? (i heard that there is one - not sure if they accept locals) :D

Anonymous said...

Ah, anon (Fri Jun 02, 01:17:21 PM) brought up a good point we've neglected. He wrote "parents should consider sending their kids to a national/public school first - unless you feel that your child has special requirements..." I can see the international schools having an advantage in this respect, either for super-talented kids who would be bored to death in public schools, or for kids with learning disability (e.g., dyslexic) whose needs won't be catered to in public schools.

Readers of this blog are probably self-selecting enough to be able to identify with the former group. Perhaps Tony can devote a blog entry or two to address issues related to the latter.

Anonymous said...

abundance of opinions but no one seems to have in tention of clarify what is international school! as i poorly known,international school is a school apply foreign school's teaching method and syllabus. they even bring in the foreign teachers! that's all i know! But i wish someone could give me more imformation about this,ultimate detail to its root. is there any links to refer? thanks for helping me because i can't search it all by myself,time is running out!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just write to the various international schools inMalaysia and ask them for the definations of international school
Asking the bloggers here is a waste of time! Thet are only bloggers and not teachers or owners of International Schools

Anonymous said...


its really a difficult decision. I went to assunta secondary school up to form 4 and then went to boarding school in australia. Both gave me different experiences. Assunta had dedicated teachers and a wonderful atmosphere. Most importantly though Assunta had people from different backgrounds, some very rich and some not all. You learnt that if you wanted a clean classroom you had better clean it yourself. In australia, it was a good education system compounded by wonderful facilities. Lovely people as well, but essentially all from the same background albeit different cultures. I think an economist pointed out that the upperclass all over the world are essentially the same. I suppose what i am saying is that if you really want to learn about the reality of the world a government school is a good place to be. Also, once you have experience this, the international school will seem like a gift-and that it is!

Anonymous said...

My son is turning 5 this september and i have not decided which education system is best now. We are going back and forth with using english to to teach science and maths and back to latter and i need help and still going back and forth either international or private school