Reflections on my First 15 School Visits!
Updated: Jan 16, 2019
In 2018, I had the great pleasure of visiting the following KL international schools (in no particular order!):
Oasis; BSKL; Peninsula; ISP; Taylor’s (KL City campus); GIS; MKIS; ELC; AISM; Nexus; Kingsgate; GEMS; ISKL; St Joseph’s; HELP.
I spent over 30 hours chatting to school leaders, admissions and marketing team members, touring school campuses and asking tons of questions - and at least that much time again in Grab cars (it's been a great way to see the city!)
Here are just a few of my thoughts from this first collection of visits, peppered with some of my favourite photos (mostly of student artwork).
Firstly: It’s about Best Fit, not Best.
I’ve now visited schools in a huge range of price tiers - from Year 1 fees of around 16,000 at ELC up to around 86,000 at M’KIS! - and have found good options (at least in my opinion!) for every budget.
But there is just so much choice. And what’s tricky when surrounded by so much choice is working out what the best fit for your child/ren is going to be.
The goal of all my visits isn’t for me to work out which schools are ‘better’ or ‘worse’. It’s really about me learning as much as possible about each school so that I can support parents in making those fully informed, ‘best fit’ decisions.
Travelling & Traffic
Schools that I thought were miles away - such as Australian International, Kingsgate or Nexus - often took me just as long as schools that seemed much closer to me, like HELP or TIS.
Make sure you use Waze to accurately gauge travel times at different times of day to and from potential schools. This might seem obvious, but often the number of kilometres or distance according to Google Maps is wildly deceptive.
I would also just add: to my mind, it really is worth moving house or spending an extra 10-15minutes on a bus for a great school. I know that’s simplistic, and it’s often just not that easy for parents here, but choosing a school just because it’s closer to you is never a great start.
Parents are often interested in a school’s percentage of local to expat teachers, and schools are often appear to be quite transparent about this.
But be aware: the term ‘expat’ can mean quite different things for different people (or for different marketing purposes…!). Many of the mid-low tier schools tend to not hire Western expat teachers due to their cost. Their ‘expat’ teachers may come from other countries in Asia or Eastern Europe.
Obviously, it should never be about the teachers’ nationalities: it should always be about their experience, qualifications and passion for their profession. I just think parents should have a 100% complete picture and expect total transparency from schools about this.
Less explored is the make-up of a school’s student population. Often schools tell me statistics like ‘We have 70% Malaysian students, 30% foreign students’.
But that ‘foreign’ often means students from other Asian countries (mainly China and Korea) - not, as some parents might think, from Western/English-speaking countries.
The most transparent schools happily gave me percentage breakdowns of the top ten student nationalities in their school. I would recommend asking for this level of detail.
You might be totally happy for your child to be one of the only students from your country/culture in the school - but, as with every factor in a schooling decision, it’s important to make the decision with all of the correct information to hand.
Some international schools here in KL also have ‘caps’ on the number of students they will admit from each nationality, to avoid any nationality/culture becoming too dominant. It’s worth asking prospective schools about this too.
Timetabling: The Details Matter
I always ask about foreign languages in particular. In some KL schools, students study a second language every second day, which can add up to several hours a week. In others, it’s twice a week - sometimes for as little as 20 minutes each time. And the amount of outdoor PE time can vary hugely too! If this matters to you, make sure you ask about it.
Asking to see a sample timetable for your child’s year group can be a great way of seeing, in practical terms, how much time your child would spend on different subjects.
A number of schools (ISP springs to mind) have compulsory instrumental lessons, either individual or group, right up until Year 9. In others, Mandarin is compulsory until the end of Year 9. These differences can make a big ‘day-to-day’ difference to your child and are always worth investigating.
Between 75-85% of a school’s budget is eaten up by teacher salaries and benefit packages. As a general rule of thumb: if a school is cheap, they are paying their teachers less. If a school is expensive, they are hiring very well qualified and experienced teachers and paying them well.
As a result, when parents ask me if they should stretch their schooling budget - I would almost always say yes. You want the best possible teacher in front of your child. Good teachers cost more. Period.
The only exception I’ve seen in KL so far has been Kingsgate - where the school leaders (Greg and Shona Parry) have deliberately made the decision to reduce facilities in their new campus, and instead share sporting facilities with a nearby centre - so that they can put more money into teaching packages. To my mind, that’s really smart. Especially when you consider my next point!
Facilities - For Who?
It’s all very well to have lovely playgrounds, great pools and rock climbing walls. But how often would your child *actually* get to use these? Even when thinking about a playground - how many times a day can they actually play there? The answers might surprise you, particularly if you’ve got younger children. You may find that they hardly have access to the sports facilities at all, for example, or only use the school’s theatre once per year!
In 2019, we are really looking forward to visiting: Sri KDU International; Sunway; Dwi Emas; King Henry VIII; IGBIS; Straits International (Rawang) & Kingsley International - with many more to follow!
Have a great Xmas break & a Happy New Year everyone!
If you'd like to ask me anything about the 15 schools I've visited so far, or indeed about anything else related to international education in KL, get in touch with me here. You might also be interested in listening to my recent radio interview for BFM about choosing a new school, or reading my piece on the same topic for HappyGoKL.