Going international at home
PARENTS find that investing in an international education paves a future for their children that is open to a multitude of opportunities.
The child is developed in terms of education and school experience (content), the people they study and interact with (context), and character.
“I would say that international schools are by their nature different from local public schools. International schools are steeped in the development of the whole student and a holistic education,” says Ivan McLean, head of Middle and Senior Schools of the Australian International School Malaysia.
“The teaching style at international schools can also be very different to local schools. Rather than a didactic approach, the lessons will generally be more cooperative and enquiry-based, with a focus on independence, creativity and a global outlook.
“Additionally, class sizes are usually much smaller and, therefore, the students are attended to more individually with lower teacher-to-student ratios.”
International schools generally adopt and teach syllabi based on the country they are affiliated to, such as the German and American curricula, International Baccalaureate (IB), Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations.
Rajan Kaloo, director of services of elc International School, says, “An international school education does not automatically equate to a better education. In a Malaysian context, however, it usually means better access to English.
“We live in a world that is diverse and whose boundaries are being eroded into what can be described as a global village. Workforces are highly mobile and some of them are very hungry for success. The English language is increasingly seen as the language of commerce, technology and science.”
Leverage and safety
Many schools boast state-of-theart infrastructure that incorporates technology and lifestyle within the campus. International schools are well equipped with facilities that help aid learning experiences in and out of the classroom.
With smaller and more learning-friendly spaces, international school students can explore subjects and knowledge beyond the confinements of their desks.
A study conducted in 2002 in Washington showed that environmental conditions such as spatial configurations, noise, temperature and comfort impact students’ performance in school.
Extracurricular facilities such as swimming pools, fields, gyms, theatres and music rooms are an integral part of the teaching process to develop more wellrounded individuals. They are also equipped with safety measures.
These help students engage outside classroom settings and brush up on skills other than those required in the academics.
“Participation in extracurricular activities helps them make new friends with common interests, challenges them to work effectively as a team and pushes them to think critically about how to best achieve a common goal, not to mention conflict management and problem-solving.
“These are the skills we want our children to have as they move to a successful university experience and beyond,” says Bill Ironside, principal of Sunway International School.
Oftentimes, facilities within a school become the benchmark as to how “good” the school is and parents use that asa yard stick to justify the cost of sending their child to an international school. The notion that better facilities mean better education is still a general perception among many parents.
“Effective learning can take place in any school regardless of facilities. Valuable extracurricular activities may not need specialist equipment or facilities.
“Many schools are now experimenting with open environments and unstructured spaces. However, talented educators can make learning happen anywhere,” says Dr Nicola Brown, assistant principal of St Joseph’s Institution International School Malaysia.
Dr Brown stresses that it is more important for a school to have the right kind of educators who will be able to make good use of the facilities provided in conducting a platform that is conducive to effective learning.
The latest learning facilities and technology always help in a school and the cost of a school often directly correlates to them, but they do not amount to much if the school does not recruit good teachers,” she adds.
Educators are what makes a school what it is as the heart of the classroom lies with teachers. Hence, international schools take great pride in ensuring that they not only get individuals who are great educators but also nurturers who can help develop and shape students to reach their highest potential.
“Good schools have dedicated teachers. The best teachers work hard to improve their ability to teach. They read and explore the techniques used by others in a never-ending effort to better themselves as professionals.
“Effective teaching demands that teachers be knowledgeable in their subject area. They must have a detailed understanding of and passion for what they are teaching,” says Mark Ford, principal of Garden International School.
Unlike public schools where teachers are civil servants governed by the Education Ministry, international school teachers are hired and screened by the school itself, the Association of International Malaysian Schools and, in some cases, regulatory bodies in their home country.
It is also mandatory for foreign teachers in Malaysia to undergo background checks prior to assuming their duties as educators at their respective schools.
For his school, McLean says, “All our teaching staff must have a teaching registration in their home country.
“In Australia, this also includes the need to have a Working With Children Check, which is a stricter check than straightforward National Police Checks. When working overseas, it is also mandatory to have police clearance from the country of residence.”
He adds that child protection is the direct responsibility of the principal and significant penalties will be applied if the strictest of protocols are not followed during the employment of staff.
The safety of children also includes threats and risks beyond educators. Safety in this sense includes both physical and health security. Many international schools pay utmost attention to ensure students' well-being.
Ironside uses his school as an example to explain the commitment international schools have in ensuring student safety.
“We have a comprehensive supervision schedule where the expectation is that our teachers are 100% present in our classrooms. This includes study hall supervision, lunch supervision and the required supervision at all extracurricular clubs, societies and sports,” he says.
“Sunway International School itself is a gated school community with security personnel that monitor all traffic in and out of the school property. They also monitor our cameras that are strategically placed throughout the school.”
“We have a Safety & Health Committee that meets regularly to review concerns that may arise and this informed group makes recommendations to the school’s management. In this way, our school is responding to the growing demands of student safety.”
A good mix
International schools have a diverse group of children from different countries. In the past, this mix between local and foreign children was not encouraged among Malaysians, fearing that local students would become too “westernised” and contribute to the erosion of their own heritage and culture.
However, parents now understand the importance of children sharing experiences and knowledge with each other based on their different backgrounds, which in turn boosts the popularity of international schools.
“In the classroom, the opportunities for intercultural learning increase tenfold as classmates from around the world share their perspective on issues and subject matter in a safe and tolerant environment that is guided by the teacher. The result of this is that we are graduating globally minded students,” says Ironside.
An education experience at an international school is worth the investment you intend to give your child.
Dr Brown described an international school learning experience, saying, “The word often used to describe the education in international schools is holistic. Basically, this means that the education of a whole person is not achievable without activities to develop character and empathy in addition to academic pursuits.”
“The way children relate to each other and the wider community will indicate how holistic their experiences have been.
“To be truly holistic, education must be based on a common set of values that are woven throughout the curriculum. A holistic education cannot be measured by tests and assessments, it is much less tangible than that.”
It is important for parents to bring their child along and have a look at the schools before making any decision.
Many international school experts advise parents to take their time in finding the right school for their child as it not only has to meet their standards but needs to be a perfect fit for their child in terms of a suitable curriculum, campus environment and culture.
“Parents have a choice to educate their children in many different educational systems and this is ultimately a personal decision for each family, based on what is best suited to each individual child,” says R.B. Pick, Master of Malborough College Malaysia.
It is also a great idea to visit international school conventions and exhibitions to get a taste of a variety of schools and listen to talks by education specialists in aiding your decision-making process. It is all about giving your child the best education experience that nurtures her growth and realises her potential.
In a nutshell, as Pick puts it: “Key areas for a successful school are diversity, a pupil-centred vision and ethos, proactive pupils both past and present, a creative environment, and a thriving atmosphere.
“These are all aspects that should be considered, coupled with the more obvious precedents such as academic standing, sporting results, creative enrichment and reputation.”
Cutting-edge facilities and globally experienced teachers are some of the factors why international schools are increasing in popularity.
International schools create opportunities for intercultural learning among students of different backgrounds.