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My Six-year old: Public School OR International School?

by on 07/09/2015 31032

This article is updated on 27 October 2020.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" – Nelson Mandela

Today, many parents in Malaysia start scratching their heads when their child approaches one of the most important crossroads of his or her life – the year the child starts school. For me, the aspiring Ultimate Parent, the question started running through my mind as soon as my child turned two. Will I enrol her at the nearest “Sekolah Kebangsaan” (national school) or “Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan” (national-type school, i.e. vernacular school) - the public schools where the majority of Malaysian children go to - or at an international school?

Like I did years ago, many parents today are looking beyond the traditional route where children automatically enter public schools the year after they turn six. Besides a parent's natural desire to give his child the best, another reason for this relatively new trend is the Malaysian education system. The education system in this country has taken so many twists and turns that parents are seriously re-thinking the options -- do we continue to trust the Education Ministry, or do we now turn to the private educators?

Here are some of the pros and cons I listed when I had to make a decision on my daughter’s education. However, after weighing all these points, you may still have to decide based on your gut feelings as to what is the best option for you and your child.

1. Cost

The biggest deciding factor is of course the dollars and cents. Education in a public school costs next to nothing, i.e. your child will attend school for a good 11 years almost free. Later on, as a student in a national school, it may also be easier for your child to obtain a government loan for his/her tertiary education.

If you opt for education in an international or private school, you will be forking out a lot more in fees over the next ten years. Annual tuition fees for Year One can start from RM8,000 to as high as RM60,000. Besides that, there will be application fees, registration fees, and deposits (some refundable, some not). When my daughter's school underwent major renovation and expansion, I even had to pay building fees for five years! You must remember that the annual tuition fees will increase with each level. At current prices, the annual tuition fees for Year 12 may range from RM20,000 to RM110,000.

Besides all those fees, the excursions and school trips organised by international schools are far more expensive than those in government schools. As your child enters upper primary school, non-compulsory overseas trips are also part of the annual class activities, and they do not come cheap. All in all, you may end up spending almost as much on your child's school fees as you will on his or her university fees later on.

On the other hand, if your child attends a public school in Malaysia with its overcrowded classrooms and sometimes inconsistent teaching, you may have to factor in the cost of additional tuition to their cost of education. However, this cost will certainly not be as enormous as the annual tuition fees in international schools.

2. Class Size

Government schools have a higher student-teacher ratio than international schools. You will find at least 40 students in a class compared with no more than 25 per class in international schools. With a limited time frame and a set of the syllabus to cover, the teacher does not have enough time to provide personal attention to each and every child, and ultimately, the ones to suffer will be the students who require extra help and support for learning.

Many international schools have a teaching assistant in every class, especially the classes in the lower grades. With two teachers to 20 students, the teacher is more able to focus on every student in the class, while parents can expect a healthy communication with the teacher through a student diary.

3. Students

In a government school where all students are Malaysians, your child will have the opportunity to experience and enjoy our country's own rich and varied cultures first hand and form friendships that last a lifetime. Your child will also grow up not too far off from the social and cultural beliefs you grew up with - a good mix of conservativeness with a dash of modernisation. As for international schools, some have prom parties for children as young as 12, with a lot of healthy boy-girl interaction, something that may be lacking in our government schools, which are usually same-sex schools.

In an international school environment, which can have up to 40 nationalities, your child will be encouraged to learn about different cultures and take part in events that appreciate this diversity. He/she will have friends from all over the world and have the chance to learn so much more about other people. The only disadvantage would be that the friends may be from diplomat families who move every few years. However, the situation has changed since the government removed the limits on the intake of Malaysian students. Today, almost half the students in international schools are Malaysians.

4. Teachers

It is common nowadays to hear complaints about the quality of education in public schools. To be fair to the teachers, it is not easy to teach effectively or continue to be passionate about teaching when one faces overcrowded classrooms every day of one’s life. As such, parents who want their child to have a more conducive environment for learning may opt for an international school education where there is a lower student-teacher ratio. International schools also have the advantage of being able to lure qualified and experienced teachers from overseas with their relatively more attractive salary packages.

The lower student-teacher ratio in international schools also allows teachers to use more creative methods of expression in their lesson plans and their teaching. For example, in history lessons about King Henry VIII, the teacher may come in dressed as the king himself, and use equipment such as the interactive whiteboard and overhead projector to make lessons more interesting. Methods of teaching like these are rarely seen in public schools as the large classes do not give much room for teachers to create these situations for learning.

Another major complaint by parents today is the deteriorating standard of English being taught in our public schools. English has not been used as the language of education in Malaysia for the last couple of generations, therefore, today's teachers who have not learnt English as a first language do not compare well with teachers of previous generations. As teachers employed in international schools usually have a higher level of English proficiency than teachers in public schools, this factor has become one of the main reasons for parents wanting to register their children in international schools.

5. Curriculum

The curriculum in both public schools and international schools in Malaysia are commendable. In fact, the Science and Mathematics curriculum of public schools currently surpasses that of international school standards. On the other hand, the curriculum of International schools is always being updated and improved.

The execution of the curriculum is also important and this depends largely on the creativity and passion of the teacher. To help students learn and remember facts, teachers need to create lessons that grab a child’s attention and elicit answers from the child rather than merely giving out the answers.

However, teachers in public schools have to focus on covering the whole year’s curriculum and, at the same time, struggle with overcrowded classes. They do not have the luxury of time to stage that kind of interaction between teacher and students and therefore end up “spoonfeeding” the child by just providing answers from textbooks.

In a Nutshell

The above are some of the major factors you would need to consider when you decide on the type of school for your child. It is indeed an important decision and all points need to be thought out carefully to see what is best for you and your child.

Although many parents feel that children who have been in an international school have better exposure and therefore well-developed personalities, we also have to acknowledge that a child’s personality develops not only because of his or her school environment. Other factors such as friends, the home environment, parents and siblings have as great an impact, if not greater.

Looking for a list of all SK / SJK(C) primary schools in Klang Valley? Click here. For the list international schools with in-depth info, please click here.

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lydia rates this article with

Hi thank you so much you article enlighted me in deed... i am one of those parents who you have mentioned... i underatand u ask us to choose the best school from your review however just wanna get ur point of view... which school system do u think is the best and what do u think about home scholling in malaysia..

03/12/2014 - 06:28 am

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