ST Aug 24, 2009At one level, it's all simply about the (actual or perceived) inadequacies in the local school system. If the parents are able, they will naturally look for alternatives. After all, parents love their children and want the best for them. Simple as that.
More Malaysians turn to international schools
Demand up despite cost, as middle-class parents give up on local system
By Elizabeth Looi
KUALA LUMPUR: More middle-class Malaysians are enrolling their children in international schools despite long waiting lists, as parents grow increasingly frustrated with the local education system.
Up to 2006, the only Malaysians who could send their children to these schools were those who had lived abroad for at least three years, or had a foreign spouse.
An exception was those with businesses that could attract foreign direct investments for the country. These business owners were wealthy Malaysians.
Thus, there were not many local students enrolled in international schools. But since 2006 - when the rules were relaxed and international schools were allowed to enrol up to 40 per cent Malaysians - middle-class Malaysians have started placing their children in such schools, which have increased in number - from 32 three years ago to 40 now.
The number of Malaysian students has also gone up - from 2,608 among an estimated 10,000 students, or 26 per cent, in 2006, to 5,000 among an estimated 15,000 students, or 33 per cent, in 2009.
At least 20 more international schools are scheduled to open soon, according to school operators.
One reason some parents are transferring their children to international schools is the changes in the curriculum of the national schools.
One example: the decision last month to reverse the policy of teaching maths and science in English, which had been in effect for six years. Another change was when the government decided to limit the number of subjects students are allowed to take for their O-levels, compared with the unlimited number previously.
'The Education Ministry is very fickle-minded, they do not know what to do most of the time with the policies,' said property agent Tan Ching Suan, 49, who is unhappy with the constant changes in the local system.
So, even though the national schools are free of charge, she transferred her daughter to an international school two years ago.
More middle-class Malaysians have, like her, become willing to draw on their savings to send their children to the more expensive international schools. Some of them also work overseas or are highly mobile. Having their children in international schools makes it easier for them when they move from one country to another.
I'm sure that some readers will want to say that Singapore's local school system is much better than Malaysia's. But that's not the point. Both systems have their own problems. One system may be better. But whichever country you happen to find yourself in, you will still want the best available opportunities for your children.
What's "best" also depends on the special circumstances of each child and his or her family. They can vary a lot from family to family. For example, MM Lee's grandson was dyslexic, and at the relevant time, the family decided that the Singapore American School would be the best choice for him. Why? Because the local schools lacked the expertise to help dyslexic students.
Other Singaporean families may be interested in international schools, for other reasons. Some possible & common reasons would be:
(1) they may think poorly of the Cambridge O and A-level syllabus that local schools typically use (in recent years, the reputation of the Cambridge syllabus has suffered badly);In the long run, some of these problems could be fixed by improving the local education system, not necessarily for all local schools, but by having some of these local schools operate on a different model, thereby increasing the range of options available for parents and their children.
(2) their child, if raised in a non-Chinese speaking family environment, may not be able to cope with the Chinese Language at the level which local schools teach it;
(3) they feel that the local school system is unnecessarily stressful and exam-oriented and tends to kill creativity and innovative thinking;
(4) as the world becomes more globalised, they feel that it is better for their child to be educated in an environment where he will interact with classmates of many different nationalities;
(5) the parents have future plans to emigrate or work overseas, so it is better for their child to start getting used to an international school environment;
(6) international schools tend to have a smaller student-to-teacher ratio (local schools are still mostly about 40 students to one teacher) and they feel that their child would benefit more from a smaller ratio.
But if you are a parent and you need to register your child for a school next year, that's not much comfort.