Is It Worth It To Send Your Child To An International School?

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A national school education did not stop our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak from becoming the nation’s leader. A primary Tamil education did not hinder top businessman Ananda Krishnan from becoming the country’s second richest individual. If national school education has previously produced the cream of the crop, then why are Malaysian parents increasingly turning to international schools, even if it means squeezing their finances to afford one? Could it be because Malaysians feel the national education system has declined in the past few generations?

Through the years, we can see that the national education system has moved from English to Malay medium with its syllabus revamped accordingly. Then, we see the national school system flip-flop in deciding whether Science and Mathematics should be taught in English. This has caused difficulty for the students as they find it tough to adapt with the sudden changes, causing parents to scramble for other alternatives.

In recent times, we also have recruitment agencies, MyStarJob and JobStreet revealing that Malaysian graduates are finding it difficult to secure a job, due to the lack of English language skills and independent-creative thinking. This could have led parents to believe that national school-educated children today may not be well equipped enough to have a bright career. Parents always want their children to get the best education and opportunities possible to guarantee their successful future.

There are two main internationally recognised assessments for quality among primary and secondary school students – Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme For International Student Assessment (PISA). And here is how Malaysians score in both standards:

TIMSSWith what’s been going on recently, more Malaysians are sending their children to international schools which offer English-medium education. According to the statistics provided by the Ministry of Education, 20,000 students were enrolled in international schools in 2013, compared to 15,000 the year before.

We’re here to answer the biggest question in all of this: How much does sending your children to an international school instead of a national or vernacular school cost?


Since the school fees for national schools were abolished in 2011, the one thing that you may end up spending a large amount on is the private tuition fees. As many parents are not happy with the large classrooms of 40 students and as a result, their children receiving less attention from teachers in national schools, they tend to send their children for private tuitions and other enrichment classes to supplement what they think their child may lack from the national school.

national schoolThis certainly adds to the cost of education. While here we have calculated RM50 per subject at a tuition centre for secondary level, it could cost up to RM150 per subject if it is private home tuition by an experienced teacher. Some parents also send their children for enrichment classes (RM60 per subject) when they sit for public exams such as UPSR, PMR and SPM.

In terms of vernacular schools, the cost for secondary level is higher as the school functions like a private school. When you sign-up your child for the Chinese secondary school, you will need to pay a one-time fee of RM100 for registration and placement examination fee purposes.

int school table 2

However, at an international school, it does not stop at school fees. There are other added costs that need to be taken into account. For example: Parents may have to pay building fees when the school undergoes a renovation. Also, excursions and school trips organised by international schools are more expensive. School uniforms are specially designed and can only be purchased with the school. However, some schools offer discounted rate on tuition fees (or school fees) when you sign up your second or third child.

Their one-time fee for all levels includes:

int school 1While, their annual fee includes:

int school 2From the examples above, the cost of sending one child to an international school translates to 3,150% extra in a year, compared to a primary national school! That’s a shocking difference.

With such large costs, is it worth it to send your child to an international school? Perhaps it still is. Here are some of the compelling reasons that parents see as making it worth the cash:

1. Command of the English language

Malaysian parents may be inclined to send their children to international school, hoping that with an English-medium education, they will be better  prepared when furthering their tertiary education, especially overseas.

English language will be an important aspect of their life as they enter tertiary education and venture into their careers. Having a good command of the English language and acquiring knowledge of international syllabus will allow the students to better understand the syllabus and have greater opportunities in foreign universities, in English-speaking countries like Australia, US and UK.

They will also be exposed to various diversified world cultures as their schoolmates would mostly be children of expats working here in Malaysia. This would eliminate the risk of culture shock when they eventually further their studies overseas.

2. Low student to teacher ratio

At an international school, the class size is smaller comprising up to 20 students only, therefore the teacher can give each student the individual attention they deserve. Because the class is small, your children cannot hide at the back of the class.

If your child does not understand something, the teacher will probably discover that pretty quickly. The teacher can then address that learning issue on the spot. With a smaller group of students in each class, the children have a lot more opportunities to speak up in the class. This is important in instilling self-confidence and building character.

3. Independent thinking

International schools do not have to teach explicitly for a test. The school uses a teacher guided approach to learning so that students discover that learning is exciting and full of possibilities. Thus, they focus more on teaching your children how to think, as opposed to teaching them what to think. This will shape the children to have independent thoughts and learn to think creatively and critically. For example, international schools offer Brain Gym, where the students play games that induce their thinking capability.

4. High parental involvement

International schools generally encourage parents to be actively involved in their children’s education. Teachers usually communicate the progress of the children to parents through the student’s diary. Parents can also approach the teachers to check on the progress of their children and be involved in school activities such as organising school concerts or volunteer to help out in school-trips.

5. A balanced education programme

In international schools, the co-curriculum is more structured. They offer a wholesome education that is more focused and organised. Students are allowed to take a combination of science and arts subjects, based on their needs.

The school always strives to achieve a balance between academics, sports and extracurricular activities. As extra curriculum is an integral part of the syllabus, every child is required to participate in some athletic activity. Sports and extracurricular activities are supervised by an experienced coach.

Most international schools in Malaysia offer swimming class, music class, foreign language class (e.g. French), robotic games, drama, scuba diving field trip or overseas trip, which you cannot find in other schools. As such, international schools offer top-notch facilities, with specialised courts, swimming pool, art room, computer lab and many more.

Before you decide which school education is the best for your children, consider all your points carefully as it would not be healthy for your children to move from one system to another if one system is found to be unsuitable. As Nelson Mandela says “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

In an age where a basic degree has become a prerequisite for better career, having enough to see your children through university has become one of the most important responsibilities parents will face. Find how much you will need and how can you save for them!

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