Written by William Citrin
With nearly 90 international schools in Malaysia, parents looking to enroll their child in at an international educational institution are spoilt for choice.
Faced with such a wide range of options, parents considering sending their child to one of these institutions or to a private school here often feel overwhelmed – unable to distinguish between schools and determine which is the most suitable school for their child.
Add to this confusion the fact that, for parents, choosing a school for their child is a high-stakes decision – one that will have a profound and long-lasting impact on their child’s development. School is the environment where children spend the majority of each day, and plays an important role in shaping who they are and what they will become.
By following a simple yet effective process, you as a parent can and will find the right school for your child. Choosing a school is a journey that begins by reflecting on your priorities and your child’s needs and determining which international and private schools fulfill your requirements; continues with researching and learning more about these schools; and ultimately ends with the selection of, application to, and enrollment in your school of choice. In this article, we take you step by step through this journey.
Step 1 – Reflect on your child’s educational needs and your priorities as a parent
Ask yourself these three fundamental questions:
1) Who is my child as a learner?
• Would he or she thrive in a traditional, teacher-centered structure or a more enquiry-based learning environment?
• Which curriculum would best suit him or her?
• Does he or she have special needs as a learner and require individualized attention and support?
• Does he or she have special talents or interests inside or beyond the classroom?
2) What are my long-term educational plans and goals for my child?
• What are the essential skills and abilities – specific languages, academic subjects, extra-curricular pursuits such as a sport or performing art, etc. – that you want your child to acquire?
• Where will your child ultimately attend college or university?
3) What are my requirements and needs as a parent?
• Which factors – cost, location, school size, curriculum, facilities, etc. – are most important to you?
Step 2 – identify the factors that matter to you most
Carefully consider each of the various factors below and then make a list of the factors that matter most to you and your child, in order of their importance. Consider each factor carefully, and jot down any thoughts you have about it. Once you do this, you will be able to define and visualize which type of school would be right for your child.
Commuting in Malaysia can be a time-consuming affair, especially in congested urban areas such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. As a parent, you would probably prefer to send your child to a school that is near or easily accessible from where you are living or working - thereby cutting down the travel time to and from school each day. Many international and private schools, however, offer transportation services such as buses, and this arrangement may make commuting to school less of a hassle – at least for parents!
Overall school size and average class size
International schools in Malaysia vary widely in terms of size from less than 100 students to over 2,000 students. Some children prefer smaller schools, which typically offer greater intimacy and familiarity among students and more individualized instruction from teachers. Other children favor larger schools, which often provide more diversity in terms of the composition of the student population and variety in the courses and activities they offer.
When it comes to size, it is also important to look at the average class size and the corresponding ratio of teachers to students. If your child has special needs in the classroom or requires individualized attention, then a school with a small class size is probably a better fit for him or her.
Levels of education offered
Of course, you will want to make sure that the school you ultimately select offers classes for children of your child’s age and level. Don’t take this for granted, as some schools only offer certain grade or year levels. If you are a local or a long-term expatriate, you may wish to choose a school that is able to accommodate your child throughout his or her primary and secondary education.
Also be aware that some schools may not allow students to enroll during the last two years of their secondary education, in the midst of intensive, multi-year programs such as A Levels or the International Baccalaureate Diploma. If your child is in this stage of his or her education, check with your school of choice to make sure it accepts students at this level before applying.
History and accreditation
Some international and private schools in Malaysia have been established for over fifty years, while many others have sprouted up in the last several years. You may wish to send your child to one of the older international and private schools, which often practice time-honored educational traditions, or to one of the newer schools. Whichever you choose, please check to ensure that the school is properly registered by the Malaysian Ministry of Education (MOE) and accredited by an internationally recognized body such as the Council of International Schools (CIS) or the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
You may also want to find out about the credentials of the teachers – whether they have the proper certification and training in particular programs (such as the International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement programs) or areas (such as ESL or special needs), or possess any advanced degrees.
Another factor to consider is whether the school has a high teacher turnover rate or is able to retain its staff for a significant length of time – as this is typically a mark of quality.
Lastly, depending on your preferences, you may wish to send your child to a school with a majority of local teachers or expatriate teachers or a mixture of both.
Curricula and programs offered
In terms of curriculum, the private and international schools in Malaysia offer either national curricula (such as the National Curriculum of England or the Malaysian Curriculum) or international curricula (such as the International Baccalaureate or International Primary Curriculum).
Parents may wish to send their children to a school that offers the curriculum of their home country, or the curriculum of the country they ultimately envision their child going to for tertiary education.
It is also necessary to consider which qualification you would like your child to possess upon graduating from secondary school, and ensure that this diploma is recognized internationally or at least in the country where she or she plans on pursuing tertiary studies.
You undoubtedly want to research each school you are considering to ensure that the core curriculum, other course offerings, teaching methodology, foreign language instruction, ESL programs, standardized tests and student support services it offers will meet the needs of your child.
There’s more to school life than just classroom learning. Each school offers a different set of extra-curricular activities such as sports, games, music, drama, dance, journalism…. the list is seemingly endless. If your child has particular interests or talents you will probably want to check to make sure the school you select offers those activities.
Many schools also provide opportunities for pupils to become involved in charitable or community activities, which can provide meaningful learning experiences.
Annual tuition fees at international and private schools in Malaysia vary widely, ranging from less than RM5,000 to over RM100,000. Depending on your budget and situation (some expatriates have their school fees paid for fully or in part by their employers), cost may be a major factor in your choice of school.
Facilities and security
By and large, international and private schools in Malaysia boast fantastic facilities that will enhance your child’s educational experience. But each school, of course, has a different physical environment and offers different facilities.
You should think about what kinds of amenities (library, cafeteria, swimming pool, basketball court, performing arts studios, etc.) you would like your child’s school to have. You also probably want to ensure that the school you choose for your child provides suitable IT infrastructure (such as a wireless network and ICT resource center) and access to modern technology (such as laptops, tablets and interactive whiteboards).
Another critical consideration is security, and many parents may require their child’s school to have in place security measures such as guards and security cameras.
If you are looking to send your child to boarding school, then you should focus your search on those institutions that offer boarding facilities. It is important to consider which type of arrangement – full, weekly or flexi-boarding – is most suitable for you and find out which schools offer such an arrangement.
Step 3 – Research and learn about schools. Identify those that meet your criteria
Once you have determined which of the above factors are the most important to you and your child and defined what type of school you are looking for, you can start researching the various international and private schools.
This website contains a comprehensive international school directory. This is an excellent place to begin learning about what various schools have to offer.
As you start to narrow down your options, you will also want to visit the schools’ websites to learn more. You can also try to seek out parents of students in the schools you are considering – possibly in online forums or chat groups or through community connections – to hear their experiences and get their opinions. Ultimately, you should make a shortlist of five to ten schools that meet your requirements.
Step 4 – Visit each of the schools on your shortlist
It is imperative that you and your child take the time to visit each and every school on your shortlist, to get an up close and personal look at what those schools have to offer. Contact the schools you’re interested in and make an appointment to visit during regular school hours. Only by actually going to a school – speaking with the principal and teachers about the school’s core values and learning methodology, observing the students in action in the classrooms, getting a guided tour of the facilities – can you get a real feel for the school’s “personality”. Visiting a school is the best way to learn about it and to decide if it is the right fit for your child.
Step 5 – Choose a school
Now that you and your child have had the chance to visit and experience all of the schools on your shortlist, it’s time to make a decision.
Speak in depth with your child and get his or her input about the various schools you are considering.
Ultimately the school must meet most, if not all, of your needs and requirements and “feel” right – especially for your child.
Choosing a school for your child is a critically important decision, one that will impact the rest of his or her life. Invest the time and energy necessary to ensure that you make the best decision possible for your child and his or her future.