Student Info & Guide

What to Look for in an International School

by on December 18, 2021 | International School Education in Malaysia

What to Look for in an International School -

In today’s competitive world market, one’s education is an increasingly important commodity. In order to excel, a world-class education is an advantage that can help a child start a great career! International schools provide a broad range of subjects that prioritise not only the academics, but also extra-curricular activities that create better-rounded students who are well equipped to deal with a constantly changing job market.

Currently, Malaysia is home to 90 (another 25 have been approved but yet to operate) international schools with more than 38,000 students-parents are spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a school. However, navigating this large pool of schools to make the right choice for their children can be a challenging process for many parents, and in some cases, they may choose a school that may be unsuitable for their child’s needs.

If you are feeling overwhelmed (as many parents might), here are a few useful tips on finding the right school that best fits your child’s needs.

History and ownership

An easy indicator of a school’s quality is its history, as well as the ownership of the school. Parents should look into the following details: Is the school a branch of a foreign school, and set up by academies abroad, or simply the result of the acquisition of a franchise by a local? This matters as parents need to find out if the local operator is as well versed as representatives of the original academy in the operation of the school’s system. It is important that the local operator runs the school as effectively, so that students are provided the most conducive environment for their studies.

Parents should also research the school’s license, as well as whether they are accredited by the various international school bodies. Licensing and registration with an international school body is required by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and can be integral to a child’s ability to apply to universities and colleges abroad in the future. Some of these accreditation bodies are Council of International Schools (CIS), Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and others. Accreditation of the school will also benefit students as they will often be provided world partnership programmes overseas, and students will be invited to participate in annual events abroad.

Exam success rates and teacher quality

Another criterion parents should take into consideration is the school’s exam success rates in international papers—which can easily be obtained through the school—as this may be an indicator of the syllabus’s effectiveness, as well as the quality of teaching in the school. In relation to that, the student-teacher ratio in a classroom would also be an important factor with regards to teacher quality. It is common for a classroom at an international school to have one teacher to 15-25 students, so that a teacher is able to devote more time and attention to each student.

Also, parents may be interested in finding out what the minimum teacher qualifications required by the schools are; and in doing so, parents may be able to assess the teachers’ qualifications and their abilities as educators. Some international schools also offer mock lessons during open days so parents are able to appraise the teacher’s performance and use that experience when making their decision.

Recognised curriculum

A strong point of international schools is their curriculum. International schools provide various curricula that are different from that of the Malaysian national education system. Many international schools provide education from the preparatory stage (3 years old) to pre-tertiary level. These schools also use English as the language medium, even providing English language programmes for students who need the extra help. Thus, the students are steeped in the language from an early age, and are given tools to become world citizens, and act in an international capacity.

Furthermore, international schools offer subjects not commonly found at national schools, such as the performing arts, music, literature, languages, culinary arts, computer sciences, and many more. They place importance on subjects in the humanities and social sciences as complements to STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), which contribute towards a holistic education.

Parents have a variety of curricula to choose from: International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE,UK), International Baccalaureate (IB), and the Australian, American and Canadian programmes. Each programme has a different approach to education: the American, Canadian and Australian programmes, as well as the IB, take a coursework-focused approach, whereas the IGCSE is mainly exam oriented. Parents should consider which programme best fits their children’s skills, abilities and learning styles.

The use of foreign education systems also benefit expatriate families as parents can find schools whose syllabus aligns with their home country’s national education system. This allows the child an easy transition when returning to their home country. In most cases, the international school systems grant its students qualifications that allow them to apply to universities and colleges all over the world.

Extensive extra-curricular programme

Extra-curricular activities play an integral part in building a holistic education system. They are important in building talent, critical thinking and social skills. Parents should take into consideration the schools’ extra-curricular programmes, as well the kind of programmes they offer. Most international schools will have an extensive list of choices, including a range of sports activities, arts programmes, and speech and drama courses.

Government policies

In addition to the school’s academic criteria, the school must be registered and accredited by the Malaysian government. Teachers must be approved and registered by the government in order for international schools in Malaysia to engage with them. Teachers must be registered in order to gain a teaching permit, which is a requirement by law in Malaysia. This rigorous process ensures that only quality teachers are allowed to teach in these schools. Certain international schools import teachers from their home countries to ensure that they have experienced teachers with adequate knowledge and familiarity to teach their curriculum. Expatriate parents should also consider if the school offers services to facilitate the child’s application for a visa, if required, as a school plays an important part in the student’s acquisition of a visa and various other permits.

Facilities, equipment and environment

Every school should be well equipped to assist in a student’s learning. A good international school should, at least, have a well-stocked library, computer and science laboratories, an auditorium, a gymnasium, a sports field and courts, and a swimming pool. These amenities will assist students in honing their skills, or discovering new ones. Parents should also look for a school that offers wireless Internet for students’ use; open Internet for all students will help to foster self-discovery, and allow students to develop the necessary skills needed in the digital age. In the IT age, learning can now transcend the traditional classroom model; the use of smartboards in the classroom allows for interactive learning and helps students’ understand concepts and philosophies better.

Some international schools also provide boarding facilities for foreign students or students who live far away from the school. These facilities make it possible, and convenient, for students to attend school without worrying about transportation. Chaperones or house masters who supervise these residences, also ensure the students’ safety and foster a sense of family and unity. Staying at a boarding house will also teach students independence, discipline, and responsibility. When researching the schools’ boarding facilities, parents should also make sure that the care offered suits the needs of their children.

Location and fees

Finally, parents should also consider the school’s location when making a decision. It makes little sense to send a child to a school two hours away as the transportation would be greatly inconvenient. Though most international schools are placed in accessible areas, parents should still consider the school’s proximity to residential areas and other infrastructure, such as airports, taxi and bus stands, train stops, hospitals, clinics, shopping malls and convenience stores.

Compared to schools in neighbouring countries, sending a child to an international school in Malaysia is far more affordable, as the fees range from RM20,000 to RM40,000 per academic year. For instance, Singapore charges S$30,000 per academic year; Thailand, THB300,000-600,000 per year; and fees in Australia start from around AUD$30,000 a year!

The affordable nature of the fees in Malaysia opens up the opportunity to study at international schools to more students, and provides an alternative choice to expatriate parents. Add to that the low cost of living in Malaysia, international schools have started to attract more and more foreigners to enrol their children to study in this country.

The process of deciding on a good school for one’s child or children is sometimes difficult, and often overwhelming. However, if a parent takes the necessary time and effort to research the various institutions, and assess its compatibility with their children’s needs and abilities, they can be sure they will find the right ‘fit’ and be confident that they have made the best choice for their child’s future.

(Note : Fees are estimated only)

(Note : This article was written based on the talk “What Parents Look for in an International School” presented by Mr Varatha Raju of NAPEI, at the NAPEI’s 32nd Education Fair 2013; and research by the StudyMalaysia Research Team)

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References :

  • Talk presented by Mr Varatha Raju of NAPEI at NAPEI’s 32nd Education Fair 2013. Topic: “What Parents Look for in an International School”
  • StudyMalaysia Research Team

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