1. National or International School? Key Factors for Malaysian Parents to Consider

National or International School? Key Factors for Malaysian Parents to Consider

Published on 26 Mar 2015
Essential Information

Author: Santhi Latha

National or International School?

In the past, the simple and expected route for the vast majority of Malaysian parents was to enroll their children at the nearest government school and let the natural progression of the Malaysian education system take its course. However, this expectation has changed since the removal of the quota for enrollments of Malaysian students in international schools in 2012 by the Malaysian Ministry of Education. This easing of restrictions has resulted in a surge in enrollments in international schools and an increase of the number of such schools now available to cater to this demand.

Malaysian parents have to now grapple with whether to enroll their children at a local or international school and there are many factors that need to be taken into account in order to make an educated decision.
Before making the pivotal decision to enroll your child in an international school, consider the following seven factors:


National or International School?  
Most international schools allow children to commence the equivalent of Primary 1 in the public school system at the age of 6 instead of 7. This means that in the international school system your child will then complete the equivalent of Form 5 at the age of 16 instead of 17.
If you intend to enroll your child into international school from Year 1, make sure that your child already has exposure to prior learning – meaning he or she is already able to read, write and count. This is to ensure that your child will be able to fit comfortably into an environment where, chances are, all the other children will be equipped with these skills already.  
Also remember that every child is different, and not all children are necessarily ready to commence formal education at the age of 6. You must assess your child individually to determine when he or she is ready to start school at that age.


The Malaysian national schools curriculum utilizes Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction and English language is a compulsory second language subject, while the international schools’ curriculums are primarily conducted in English.

Much has been said about the value of good English language skills in the higher education environment, and in the workplace. If you place great value on this, and expect to send your child abroad to university, then providing them with exposure to a curriculum that is mainly run in English will have long-term benefits.
The additional benefit is that if your child scores well on the English language assessments of the selected international curriculum, there is greater likelihood that he or she will not have to separately sit for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) assessments in order to gain entry into foreign universities.


  National or International School?
Parents are often uncertain about whether to enroll their child in an international school and the primary deterrent is usually the cost of doing so. With the increase in the number of international schools in the Malaysia, however, fees have become more competitive as these institutions vie for increased enrollments.
Before entering your child into an international school, you will need to evaluate how much you can afford to spend on your child’s education per year, and multiply that by the number of years you will expect your child to spend in an international school environment. This will help you decide on which international school will be affordable for you in the long term.


Deciding which international school to place your child into is not just a question of funding, it is also a question of curriculum. Always look for a curriculum that is internationally recognized and check whether the curriculum allows entry into the specific programs that your child may be likely to opt for in the future.


  National or International School?  Generally speaking, the better qualified and trained the teachers are in the delivery of the specific areas of the curriculum, and the more focused and advanced the teaching-learning pedagogy used in the school, the better your child will learn. You will need to take the time to speak to school administrators and teachers in order to determine whether the school environment you are planning to put your child into will fulfill your child’s learning needs.
It is important to appreciate that not all international schools have a large proportion of expatriate teachers from Western countries, and where they do, you may pay a premium for this. Before enrolling your child, look for an international school that has teachers (local or expatriate) who are well educated, and trained to handle the specific subjects they are teaching.


It is common in Malaysia for parents to send their children for additional tuition classes and paid extra-curricular activities outside the formal school environment.

  National or International School?  
Whether these classes are to aid in coping with the school subjects or whether they are additional co-curricular activities such as music, sports, technology or others, these monthly costs add up. If a private or international school environment is able to provide this support as part of its curriculum, then it may be the case that placing your child in such an environment may at the end of the day, be a viable option, and affordable too!
However, there is no guarantee that just because your child is enrolled at an international school, that no tuition will be required. Check whether the school provides support if your child faces difficulties in learning specific subjects or topics, and how.


Children who are not academically inclined may thrive in an environment that balances the academic and non-academic components of learning.

The general perception is that international schools (and even private schools conducting the national curriculum) offer greater options for non-academic learning. This is likely to be the case in some schools, and if this is something that you place great value on, you must look at each school’s facilities and available activities before making a decision.
It is always useful to check which non-academic, extra-curricular activities are available to ensure that your child has a balanced educational platform and different opportunities to excel, both academically or non-academically.
Having taken these seven factors into account, the question is when to transfer your child to an international school.
There are three main windows to do so:
  • Primary 1: this means you will be committed to 11 years of international school education;
  • Form 1 (or Year 7), which allows your child to complete his or her entire secondary school education at an international school; or
  • Form 4 (Year 10), which allows your child to complete the Form 5 equivalent at an international school.
National or International School?
Which of these would be ideal? That depends on you and your child. The last window to transfer your child to an international school environment is when your child goes to Form 4, but in order for your child to be able to cope with this late entry, you must ensure that throughout his or her education, he or she has constant exposure to high levels of English language learning. This is so that he or she can easily adapt to the English language-based learning environment at an international school.
  At the end of the day, we all want the best for our children. Whether you opt to send your child to a public or vernacular school or to a private or international school is a decision that should be based on your financial resources and requirements, and on the aspirations that you have for your child.

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