Parent stories: Malaysia
In this interview Mei describes how she came to choose an international school for her daughter in Malaysia...
How long have you lived in Malaysia?
My husband and I grew up in Malaysia, spent 10 years in London, four back in Malaysia during which my daughter was born, five in Jakarta and we have been back in Malaysia for coming on five years now.
How old was your daughter when you moved back to Malaysia, and did you start looking for schools before you moved?
My daughter was eight when we moved back from Jakarta. We did a lot of googling, looking at reviews in the weeks prior to coming back for our school search trip.
How did you find out about the schools? What different sources of information did you use?
Being Malaysian, we had a rough idea of what was available. We both grew up in didactic teaching environments so we knew we needed to look at something a little different because our daughter would not have fitted in well in that sort of learning environment. To find out more information we googled and asked local friends mainly.
What were the most important criteria for you when you were looking for a school? Was there anything you were especially concerned about?
We were looking at a school that would offer a differentiated curriculum as much as was possible. We were also looking for a school that would prioritise the skill of learning and exploration rather than the sole objective of facts for exams. We wanted a school that would actually help our daughter develop life skills as opposed to exam skills that would be forgotten once the exam was over. Having said that, exams are a necessary fact of life and so we needed a school that had high enough standards that our daughter would be academically competitive leading up to her undergraduate selection of university.
"We wanted a school that would actually help our daughter develop life skills..."
Was there anything else that was important?
Teachers that valued communicating with parents. We wanted a school where the staff approached educating the child as a partnership rather than an antagonistic relationship. We wanted to be able to work toward a common goal of educating our daughter so that she would maximise her potential rather than one party dictating and the other feeling resentment.
How many schools did you have to choose from?
We narrowed it down to two, for the academics as well as proximity.
Did you visit the schools and if so what was most useful on the visits?
We did visit the two schools we had narrowed it down to, the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) and one other. AISM came out stronger in terms of being able to accommodate our needs. Many schools consider differentiation to be pulling out at the end of the day for extra work. We didn't feel that punishing a child for being high achieving was a productive way of teaching a love of learning. AISM practices in-class differentiation as much as possible and this is vital especially in the junior years where the kids tend to stay in one place all day.
The other thing we noticed that we really liked was the balance of informality and discipline between the teachers and students. We were taken on a tour by the then Junior Head of School and the kids all knew him and he them. They would very happily engage with him and show him their work. It felt like a community.
"I would say to not be afraid of asking anything. It's your child's future..."
Are there any questions that you would recommend parents to ask when they go on a visit?
It really depends on the individual needs of the family. I would say to not be afraid of asking anything. It's your child's future so I think it's vitally important to not hide anything and be honest. AISM are very open to advising parents even if the child has not yet joined the school. Even before we committed to joining the school, once we told them what we were looking for, we were given meetings with the Head of School and Head of Curriculum, so that we could see if AISM could fulfil our needs.
How has the school worked out for your child? What challenges have you experienced?
It's worked out better than we could have imagined. Our daughter is very shy and her defence mechanism in her previous school when encountering an uncomfortable problem was to hide under the table. In the last five years she has learned to give public presentations and pitch a mobile app that the school gave her the opportunity to create.
How did she settle into her new school? What has she liked best about school life in Malaysia?
She settled well but it took a few months to find a little group. Now she has some very supportive friends and it's lovely to see them develop. They are each other's best supporters and most honest critics. I truly believe this is a by-product of the way the teachers foster academic and sporting competition by focusing on an individual's achievement rather than it being about 'beating' the opponent.
What things have surprised you about your new life in Malaysia? How is it different?
We moved from an international school, so the school environment feels very familiar. I volunteer at a refugee school so that's something I hadn't done previously even though I had been involved in an orphanage in Jakarta. So lots of opportunities for volunteer work in Malaysia.
Do you have any other advice for parents moving to Malaysia?
It's very humid. Kuala Lumpur is not really a pedestrian city so don't expect to be able to walk around the city. It's very cheap to buy food, particularly from NSK (food wholesaler).
Many thanks, Mei, for sharing your experiences with Winter's.
All images: Australian International School Malaysia