International Schools: Why their numbers are growing


MORE Malaysians are enrolling in international schools and this has led to an increase in their number from 66 schools in 2010 to 126 this year.

Out of the total of 61,156 students, 39,161 are Malaysians and 21,995 foreigners.

The Education Ministry’s private education unit director, Ahmad Sabirin Abd Ghani, said enrolment in international schools had increased consistently in the last five years following several initiatives by the government.

“Ramping up international schools and increasing the enrolment of students were some of the objectives of the 2010 National Key Economic Area (NKEA), which were announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.”

The NKEA, an initiative under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), comprises 12 sectors of economic opportunity for the private sector that will drive Malaysia towards high-income nation status and global competitiveness.

“The main targets of this initiative were the development of Greater Kuala Lumpur and the returning diasporas,” he told the New Sunday Times.

“The government made a bold move by bringing world-renowned schools to set up their brands in Malaysia.”

The schools, he said, were Marlborough College, Epsom College and Raffles American International School, among others.

Ahmad Sabirin said the removal of the 40 per cent quota on local students in international schools in 2012 also contributed to the increase in students’ enrolment.

“In March 2012, the government allowed 100 per cent foreign equity for the establishment of international schools.”

He said the initial number of private and international schools in Malaysia during the launch of NKEA was 66. However, their number increased by 75 per cent to 126 last year.

According to the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), this total surpassed the government’s initial target of 87 schools by 2020.

Also, according to Pemandu, “Scaling Up of International School” was identified to boost student enrolment at international schools under ETP’s Entry Point Programmes (EPPs).

“EPP aims to position Malaysia as a destination of choice for parents seeking foreign education for their children. At the same time, it allows Malaysia to benefit from the foreign exchange earned from international school students’ spending,” its 2014 report said.

Efforts to promote Malaysia as an educational hub were carried out by the National Association of Private Educational Institutions (NAPEI) and the Education Ministry’s private education unit, where marketing and promotional activities were carried out in countries in the region.

The results have been positive. The recent March report by ISC Research (ISC) named Malaysia as the leading country in Southeast Asia with the highest number of enrolment in international schools.

On the increase of Malaysian students in international schools, Ahmad Sabirin said it was due to the dynamics of the education world.

“The government has opened up choices and alternatives for Malaysians. 

“This is in line with the democratisation of education and the opening up of access to education for all.”

In terms of international schools’ fee structure, he said it differed with individual institutions as they had the autonomy to determine their own fees.

“The fees of international schools range from the high-end to the most affordable, normally depending on infrastructure, facilities and activities offered by the school.

“The schools are given the right to stipulate their own fee structure, subject to approval by the ministry.”

On why more Malaysians were sending their children to international schools, Ahmad Sabirin said apart from being regarded as a sign of prestige for those with the economic means, it was to expose them to the international environment.

“Parents nowadays look forward to sending their children abroad for their tertiary education. Therefore, giving them an early exposure to the international environment will be an advantage.”

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said while a large number of Malaysians were enrolled in international schools, they represented a small population — one per cent for primary and four per cent for secondary schools.

She said one of the factors that contributed to a higher enrolment in international schools was the removal of the 40 per cent quota on local students in 2010.

“The overall affluence of Malaysian families and the removal of the 40 per cent quota have contributed to the higher enrolment in international schools.

“On the other hand, there is a perception that teaching standards have declined in national schools.

“The inconsistency in education policies such as the ending of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English in 2012 is another reason why international schools are popular.”

Adding to the appeal of international schools, she said, was the opportunity for students to gain a year or two ahead of their peers (depending on their performance) to be allowed to begin their tertiary education at an earlier age.

“Generally, students who attend national schools and proceed to universities abroad tend to be older.” Noor Azimah said private and international schools were no different than some of the country’s public schools, with many students who had completed national school education securing places at prestigious universities abroad.

“I believe the Dual Language programme that had been implemented in selected schools since last year (Year One and Year Four pupils have the option to study Maths and Science in English or Bahasa Malaysia) would open doors for academic excellence in national schools.”

Malaysia International Schools Parents Support Group founder Elizabeth Wong said parents should first find out if the education system of the international school system was the best for their children, before making any decision.

“Some parents want their children to be educated in English and acquire skills such as critical-thinking and problem-solving, while others want their children to enjoy learning through a holistic approach.”

Wong said more parents wanted better-run schools with smaller classes and better teaching quality that were able to accommodate different learning styles.

“Some parents feel that international schools can offer these to their children.

“There are also those who have observed their children struggling to cope with the national school syllabus, or meet the demands of vernacular school curriculum.”

Before deciding on which international school was suitable for their children, Wong said, parents should factor in the annual increase of an average of 10 per cent in international schools fees, as well as the budget for their children’s tertiary education.

Datin Noor Azimah agreed.

“For now, there is no limit to the number of international schools being set up.

“Therefore, their fees can be competitive. Scholarships for overseas tertiary education are nearly impossible to obtain and a major portion of expenditure will be at tertiary level.”

Additional reporting by Audrey Vijaindren