*This article was first published in the January/February issue of 2019.
Malaysia provides an interesting mish-mash of private international schools, ranging from the long-established ‘grande dames’ to the newer ‘franchise’ players in the market. At the heart of a good school is the community, great kids supported by involved teachers and parents.
ALICE SMITH SCHOOL
Location: Seri Kembangan, Selangor
Curriculum: IGCSE and A-Levels
Results: 75% of 80 A-Level students achieved A*-B, 71% of 107 Year 11 students achieved A*-A grades
Fees: RM27,400 – RM30,900 per term
Founded by Harvard graduate Alice Fairfield Smith in 1946, this well-established British curriculum school has great community spirit. Parents and children love the annual summer fete and the traditional Christmas fair with carols and mince pies. The secondary school opened an expansive campus in Equine Park in 1997.
The upside of the remote location is a green, spacious environment with a relaxed atmosphere. This non-selective, not-for-profit school delivers solid results as well as shiny, airy, purpose-built facilities. Fabulous sports amenities include a world-class 8-lane athletic running track and an Olympic-size pool. However, parents gripe about an exclusive climate which leaves many eager children feeling ‘left out’ of sporting opportunities to play in teams.
Art and DT are stellar with vibrant work spaces and galleries of talent on display. Parental intel informs us there is an increasing drift at sixth form which leaves a dwindling graduation class of around 80 students. The benefits are small class sizes and dedicated focus from the teachers, 86% of whom are British. Sixth formers are getting into good UK universities; there’s a steady stream of Oxbridge candidates most years. Alice Smith is still the first choice for the local British community.
GARDEN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Location: Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur
Curriculum: IGCSE and A-Levels
Results: A-Levels: 62% A*/A, 85% A*-B, 96% A*-C, IGCSE: 69% A*/A, 87% A*-B, 96% A*-C
Fees: RM28,610 – RM32,990 per term
Garden International School (established in 1951) is one of the most distinguished schools in KL. It is owned by the profitable Taylor’s Schools group and achieves consistently strong results and is a launch pad to leading universities of the world.
The 2,200 student body comprises 70 nationalities of whom 65% are expatriates, including large numbers of Japanese and South Koreans. The remaining 35% constitute the children of elite Malaysian families, whose patronage of Garden School remains loyal.
GIS offers an international approach with British foundations, aiming to push boundaries, motivating pupils academically, personally and culturally. Over 200 extracurricular activities are on offer. Our insider reports there is a culture of extensive extra tuition which produces high-calibre geeks at this academically ambitious school. However, perhaps pushy tiger mothers are more to blame rather than the school itself.
Again and again, we hear of Malaysian parents who regret sending their children off to UK boarding schools and wish they’d just sent them to GIS instead. It has a distinctly urban feel as it is surrounded by buildings and high-rise condos in an area which has seen nonstop development for the last 10 years. Heavy traffic can make the school run a headache. A thorough revamp and refurb gives a modern swish look to the school entrance and the all-weather pitches are always bustling with energy.
EPSOM COLLEGE IN MALAYSIA
Location: Bandar Enstek, Negeri Sembilan
Curriculum: IGCSEs and A-Levels
Results: IGCSE A* 29%, A*/A 51%, A*-C 76% A-Levels: A*/A 50%, A*-C 88%
Fees: Senior school: RM29,045 – RM31,345 per term plus RM16,800 termly boarding fees
With great fanfare, Epsom College extended to Malaysia, opening its doors in September 2014. Aviation tycoon and Epsom old boy Tan Sri Tony Fernandes sits as Chairman of the Board of Governors and has every intention to see this school succeed.
Just 15 minutes from KLIA and sitting on 50 acres of land out in the sticks of Bandar Enstek, the college mirrors the best of British Epsom ethos – academic excellence in a full boarding environment. The boarding houses are ‘nice’, the teachers are caring, engaged and accessible.
It has seen a promising start with stately visitors Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, stopping by to open the self-named theatre and Boris Johnson popping in to make a speech. Examination results are pretty good, and facilities are abundant, including a state-of-the-art auditorium, yet there seems to be something missing. The college has not grown according to expectation giving an ‘empty feel’, our mole reports.
Scholarships and bursaries are bountiful in a drive to attract new talented students. High demand from Japan, South Korea and mainland China sees the appointment of a native Japanese housemistress. It’s just the beginning for this relative newcomer and we like their core values of good manners, selflessness, hard work, care for the environment and humility.
INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF KUALA LUMPUR
Location: Ampang Hilir, Kuala Lumpur
Curriculum: IB and American
Results: IBDP 36.4 points average, 29% 40 points and above, 20% achieving full Bilingual Diploma. American High School Diploma AP – 73% achieving GPA 4-5 across subjects
Fees: RM102,590 per annum
ISKL, established in 1965, is another big player in the KL school landscape. ISKL is a private and non-profit, parent-governed school. August 2018 saw the opening of the new mega campus. The gobsmacking 27 acres are located in the heart of Ampang, a real estate goldmine.
At this bang up-to-date campus, “learning is stimulated, curiosity is sparked, vision is cultivated, and action is inspired.” Priority is given to US curriculum based pupils and the American community, being the only school in our list offering the American High School Diploma AP. But it is truly international and visionary for being the first school in Malaysia to offer the increasingly popular IB, receiving its accreditation way back in 1992.
A globally connected, innovative mood prevails at this high-tech education hub that is both culturally sensitive and rooted. It’s cool to be smart at ISKL which has among the best IB results in Malaysia. University places offered to students range from US-based Ivy League colleges, liberal arts schools, Oxbridge, the Russell Group, to universities in Canada, Holland and beyond.
Outreach and enrichment are a big thing and it is compulsory for all high school students to exwplore and support their “Asian Neighbourhood” though the Global Action Programme (GAP). Sports is amazing at ISKL and all teams foster a policy of inclusivity.
KOLEJ TUANKU JA’AFAR
Location: Mantin, Negeri Sembilan
Curriculum: IGCSE and the Malaysian national syllabus, followed by A-Levels
Results: 99% pass rate for A-Levels, 89% A*-B grades
Fees: RM18,200 day students; RM26,600 – RM27,300 boarding secondary students per term
Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar is the brainchild of three members of the Negeri Sembilan royal family. It was opened in 1990 by the then Education Minister Anwar Ibrahim and visiting dignitary Denis Thatcher (husband of the formidable Margaret Thatcher) thereby sealing a historical hindsight home run.
A 60km drive south of KL, KTJ occupies 80 acres of beautiful landscape. The campus is impressively built in the neoclassical style with palatial entrance halls. The long, white original buildings, lined with palms, have generous verandas shaded from the sun and outdoor corridors lend a scholastic air.
July 2018 saw the opening of a new 20,000 sq ft building, The Waterfront, dedicated to music, art, and specialist technology subjects. The majority of the student body is made up of Malaysians, Indonesians and South Koreans.
Forty percent of teachers are from the UK with most local staff boasting degrees from overseas. Visitors to the school report top billing for manners. Students are friendly and sport their crimson blazers with pride, despite the 35 degrees outside the classroom. There’s no shying away from the fact that this is a high-achieving place – last year’s A-Level results were a magnificent 89% A*–B grades and the junior school is growing. The majority of KTJ students move on to universities in the UK, US, Australia and Ireland.
SRI KDU INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Location: Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Curriculum: IGCSE and IBDP
Results: IGCSE – 62% A*/A, 81% A*-B, 93% A-C, Top in the World for Mathematics, Top in Malaysia for Art. 36 points average IBDP, 70% achieving over 35 points
Fees: RM53,490 – RM57,690 per annum
Although following a predominantly British curriculum with the faculty being 60% British nationals and another 30% of expatriate staff, SKIS is realistic about its target market. The KDU campus motto is “Malaysian Hearts, Global Minds”. SKIS offers high quality British education, blending Malaysian flavour with a broader perspective of the global arena, and encouraging students to make a difference in the world.
SKIS is backed by Paramount Education’s strong reputation for academic excellence, personal development and focus on pastoral care. Our morning coffee insider reports of enthusiastic parents who are pleased that they are getting bang for their buck with dedicated British expatriate teachers, sound pastoral support, fabulous facilities, a bonanza of co-curricular activities, and most importantly the golden chalice which is solid good grades for international university entrance.
THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF PENANG (UPLANDS)
Location: Batu Ferringhi, Penang
Curriculum: IGCSE and IBDP
Results: IGCSE – 89% A-C
Fees: RM53,000 – RM54,250 per annum plus boarding fees
Penang has been enjoying a renaissance these past 10 years. An influx of investments, both local and international, has brought fresh impetus and cool, artistic people flooding in.
The International School of Penang (Uplands) dates back to the 1950s. Located at its present permanent address since 2006, four acres are arranged around a garden courtyard with modern buildings and facilities. This intimate and multicultural school has an approachable feel underpinned by its motto “Respect for self, respect for others.”
For a relatively small school, it packs some examination punch with 89% A-C results at IGCSE. The IB results are more impressive with a very solid 35.5 points average at IBDP with 22% of school leavers achieving 40 points or more.
Home away from home boarding is offered in a secure gated community within walking distance from the school. Boarders are supported and supervised by a matron 24 hours a day. Uplands has a flexible approach towards boarding, allowing for students to board whilst parents are away or travelling, during examination periods to promote uninterrupted studying time, and even occasional sleepovers. All in all, a happy school.
MARLBOROUGH COLLEGE MALAYSIA
Location: Iskandar Puteri, Johor
Curriculum: IGCSE and IBDP
Results: IGCSE results 58% A*/A and 95% A*-C, Top in the World and Top in Asia awards achieved. IBDP, no average given
Fees: Secondary RM36,575 – RM39,450 per term. Boarding RM59,875 – RM62,700 per term
There are really good vibes at Marlborough College Malaysia (MCM). The college calls itself a “natural extension” of its famous sister school in Wiltshire and brings with it much of the latter’s ethos and core values.
It is situated on 90 rolling acres just 20km from the Singapore border and 3.5 hours’ drive from KL. Guided by the principles of compassion, companionship and conversation, the Marlborough tradition has been successfully transplanted to the tropics with a strong house system.
The entire campus is buzzing with activity from dawn to lights-out. IGCSE results are strong, but IBDP results seem a little patchy. There have been some outstanding results reported with 17% of the graduating cohort scoring 39 points and above, but no average IB score is available. The Careers and UCAS departments are to be commended; students get good university offers and places both in the UK and the US. A special shout-out goes to Claire Bridgman, Head of Sixth Form, for being quite simply “amazing and indispensable”.
The cricket ground, sports fields, two swimming pools, boarding houses with their own tennis courts and fabulous facilities are beautifully laid out. Year 9 student Jasmin Surif scooped the runners up prize – selected from more than 6,700 international entries – in the prestigious poetry competition, Never Such Innocence. Show cabinets are stuffed with gleaming sports trophies alongside cups and medals for outstanding musicians and performing artists. MCM has certainly made a very promising start in the Malaysian-Singaporean school scene.
THE BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF KUALA LUMPUR
Location: Bandar Utama, Selangor
Curriculum: IGCSE and A-Levels
Results: IGCSE – 75% A*/A, 90% A*-C. A-Levels 75% A*-B, 90% A*-C
Fees: Secondary school, RM28,020 – RM34,990 per term
The British International School of KL is one of 56 international schools in 27 countries owned by the Nord Anglia Education Group. BSKL is a relative newcomer, opening its doors in 2009. Its popularity speaks for itself with the quick growth to over a thousand students.
The secondary school, linked on the same site, was completed in 2016 and the entire campus is architecturally pleasing, offering a modern, bright, spacious feel which integrates an Olympic-size swimming pool at its core. The classrooms, science labs, ‘creative break out spaces’, music rooms and 650-seater black box auditorium are impressive. Janet Brock is making her mark – in 2016 the Independent Schools Inspectorate rated the school ‘excellent’ across the board, a result that is comparable to that of many top UK independent schools and is unprecedented in Malaysia.
And, bam, there are the results to celebrate. Teachers must be giddy with joy with the 2018 outstanding academic results. Last year’s school leavers had plenty to celebrate with a staggering 50% achieving A*/As and 87% getting into top ranking universities worldwide. Parent insiders love the growing community feel of BSKL. The annual winter and summer fairs are not to be missed and Christmas gift-giving and charity drives are enthusiastically supported. Gotta love those bright yellow striped ties.
MONT’KIARA INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Location: Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur
Curriculum: American Curriculum and IBDP
Results: 95.5% pass rate IBDP – 33 average points (up from 29.95 in 2017)
Fees: RM53,800.00 per semester (2 terms)
Opened in 1994, MKIS is an American International school conveniently located in a 6-acre campus in the expatriate-dense and highly desirable neighbourhood of Mont Kiara. MKIS is surprisingly small with only 650 students across all year groups, 19% of whom are American students who comprise the largest nationality group.
Eighty percent of MKIS kids live within walking distance of the school which has helped to secure a steady student body, but dwindling numbers suggest students are slipping away to the competition. It is baffling why MKIS has the highest fees of any school in the Klang Valley but the inside scoop is there is discontent in the way this privately owned school is run.
Investigations show although there is an active parents association there does not appear to be a very transparent approach to governance, nor does there seem to be a board of governors. MKIS is struggling to stay within the top billing of Malaysia’s private international schools and let’s hope the Laboski can turn things around and lure back students.
On a positive note, 2018 saw the average IB score pumped up from the previous year of 29.85 to a much more solid 33 points. Present students love school life at MKIS. There is a plethora of clubs, including an active Model United Nations society. The school has a 25-metre pool, abundant sports facilities, gyms and
a brand spanking new climbing wall and courtyard which is proving to be very popular. University destinations: United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, Malaysia, South Korea, Canada.