The Malaysian dilemma of education

Guys, I’m angry.

I’m mad because I don’t know where to send my kids when it’s time for them to enter formal education.

A couple of weeks ago I went with a mom friend to visit a private elementary school for Fighter.

I know! I know! Fighter is only two and a half and I don’t know how much more kiasu I can get.  But the truth is, it was the other moms in Fighter’s class who were talking about school visits and school fees and I got pressured and my kiasu level shot through the roof wtf.

Fatty and I have been talking about this for ages — even before we had kids — and we never got anywhere.

I’m mad that because we don’t have decent public education, parents of our generation are forced to consider alternative options — private school, international school, or even home schooling.

A friend met the principal of one of the international schools in Malaysia who said she felt sorry for us. “Decent education should be a right,” she said. “I feel sorry for you that you have to pay so much for it.”

And we do, that’s why I’m so angry!

I didn’t want to believe it because I’m a product of Malaysian government schools and I turned out just fine, as did most people I know.  Sure, I faced some difficulties speaking up in class when I went to a US college.  I had to learn how to think critically – which was never taught – instead of memorizing facts, but thanks to being a huge bookworm, I had no problems with language or articulating myself.

But everyone says that the standard of public education in Malaysia has plummeted until it’s now notorious.  Horror stories and photos of wrong facts taught to students circulate on social media.  Friends in Teach for Malaysia who have actual experience with teachers and students today say they’re disillusioned with the ministry and how things are run.  That schools today are nothing like they were “back in our day”.  That if they had the money, they’d opt for private education.

This is not merely hearsay.  We’re not imagining things.  Take these actual pages from an English textbook. Or these results from a PISA education ranking.  Malaysia scores dismally (near the bottom in fact) for not only creative problem solving, but also math, science and reading. -_-

Which is why, guys, I’m angry.

I’m angry that our government has let our education standard slide until if we want something better for our kids, we have to resort to paying much more (for something which in my opinion should be a given right as taxpayers), or opt for less than ideal education plans.

Right now we have two options, government school not being one of them.  One is Chinese vernacular school (whether government or independent), the other is international school.

Chinese education is thought of to churn out hardworking, disciplined students, who will confirm be very good at Mandarin, it being the medium of instruction.

But the downside is

  • lots of homework (until no time to do anything else but homework),
  • a kid who may not be encouraged to be different or think out of the box,
  • extra classes to develop creativity, other skills, English, etc that Chinese school may not focus on — meaning kids may be deprived of a childhood in which they play rather than going to classes all the damn time

International school is attractive cos the syllabus is thought to be generally superior to the Malaysian one.  It will hopefully facilitate learning as something fun rather than something compulsory, creative and critical thinking, and develop our kids as well rounded individuals over kids who spout facts from memory.

The cons are

  • supercalifragilisticexpialidociously expensive (like can be up to RM1 mil per child, and that’s not even inclusive of university)
  • kids may turn out snobs and subject to peer pressure cos with the prices, students will probably be all from rich families
  • Pay so much, the school may not be good also.  The certifiably good and established ones are also the most expensive.

Private education I’m not sure if it’s an option for us because while cheaper than international schools, private schools offer the local syllabus.  Thus we’d be paying quite a lot more for our kids to follow a syllabus I don’t consider that good either.

Other people have also talked about home schooling, but I don’t know; I want our kids to have a proper school experience, not go to school in some office unit.

The irony is, maybe if we had less money, this would not be a dilemma, to put it bluntly.  Private education would not be an option at all and we would make do with what we are given.

But because we may have the ability to provide better for our kids (the keyword is “may” ok, cos really dunno if we can afford it for their whole school lives) we debate and deliberate over whether this money is worth spending.  Whether we should settle for a lower standard of living to give our kids a “better” education.  Whether that education is worth that huge sum of money, whether they will turn out to be greater, cleverer people because of that, or whether they will be spoilt, ungrateful brats.

Or if we opt for Chinese school, whether we are depriving our children of real childhoods, where they learn and socialize through play.  Whether a bubbly personality like Fighter’s will be stifled.  Whether a child’s natural wonder at the world will be buried under a mountain of homework.  Whether instead of a love of learning and reading, my children will instead learn to hate school.

Which is why I’m angry.


  • Natalie

    Maybe you have another choice to send them to the government (chinese) school in Penang, we still have few better ones. Well, I am not too sure what is going to happen 4.5 years later though.

  • ChenYee

    This is a tough one. I got a local education, and like you, I also feel I turned out alright. However, the boyfriend is educated in the USA, and even there, his parents paid through the nose to provide private education for both him and his sister (from kindergarten all the way to high school). He enjoyed his time there, and he experienced a lot of things which I didn’t get to experience. However, his parents now sometimes jest, and say things like they didn’t really invest in anything, except the children’s education. As a parent you always want to provide the best. And decisions are going to be so hard… If I can afford it, I’d also want to send my children to international / private schools, and hope they will be able to flourish

  • maple shuh hong

    Perhaps senting him for Chinese Vernacular School? (ALL of OPINION ) First, I think that the level in Urban City wouldn’t be that lousy. Second, he wont lose his childhood coz fighter’s parents are bubbly in shape, and tilt towards Western way of thinking, who I believe will affect Fighter too. Third, Couldn’t thinking out of Box is so true in Chinese Vernacular School, but the problems has been so much better nowadays as the teacher nowadays are quite young (meaning teacher are more open minded, but knowledgable. ) Forth, Fighter has been speaking English all these while, it would be added advantage if he learns to speak Chinese. Fifth, as long as you dont sent him to too many subject tuition, but let himself to choose, I don’t think he will lose his childhood.

    I myself came out from Chinese Vernacular school too, but I don’t think I didn’t enjoy my childhood or what. My mum also asking me to join some other social activities, like badminton, student reporter, student exchange programme, and any other non-acedemic events too. And she never compare me with other kids, and nver mention that I should have achieve anything, as long as I like. =D

  • Iz

    Perhaps you may consider sending your children to schools in Singapore? It may be as expensive or slightly cheaper than an international school, but the quality of education is definitely better. Your children can also excel in both English and Chinese Language, and even take on Malay Language as a third language for Olevels if they want to. it may cause some difficulties and troubles for your family to relocate to Singapore, but for the sake of a top-quality education, it is worth the sacrifice. In fact, many Malaysians are coming to Singapore to study for a better education, and taking on high-paying jobs in Singapore as well!

  • Emiiichan

    I have no idea if this is even an option in Malaysia (so obviously this is kind of stupid to be sharing, sorry), but is it possible to do a combo of different kinds of schools as your children age/change?
    I went to a public school for elementary school (grades K – 5). It was near our home and I was able to make a lot of friends in my local community. I didn’t have to work very hard to do well, and I never remember being stressed. Since I didn’t have much of a commute, it was easy for me to do neighborhood sports like swimming, soccer, judo etc.
    My parents didn’t want to send me to the public middle school (grades 6 – 8) because it was overcrowded and apparently I showed some promise academically, so they applied me to a well-known private school and (after I was accepted) that’s where I went for the rest of my schooling. It was challenging in a number of different ways, especially academically, and I was no longer able to just cruise through classes which is likely a good thing. (I do think it helped financially that my parents didn’t have to pay for all 13 years of private school education but I was still graduating from a good school.)
    It’s different for every person, but I actually found this to be a great balance in a way. I found the relationships I had with students in my local community and people of different backgrounds (and from families of different income levels) very important to contrast with the rich, often spoiled and, in other ways, sheltered students from my private school. I also had to learn to commute over an hour each way and adjust by managing my time to accommodate waking up early and dealing with the homework load and more vigorous and challenging curriculum etc.
    I could probably talk about the pros and cons about this for a long time, but I know I’m wasting my time if this isn’t even a feasible option in Malaysia.
    All of what I was able to achieve thus far in my educational/life journey, of course, could not be accomplished without the unconditional love and support of my parents – something I know you and Tim are not short of for your own children. You will make the right choice for Fighter and Penny.

  • Li Vern Lim

    I attended chinese primary and secondary schools but personally I don’t find myself or my close friends struggling to socialise with people. Ah though it’s absolutely true that the friends I met in my current university who went to international schools have sharpened social skills. They have met many different people from different places and of different social statuses so that will definitely be to their advantages in the future. In ‘my’ belief they will always achieve higher. I see they were getting tons of fun too. Two of my friends travelled to Ethiopia rural with their school to be exposed to the local social issues such as poverty and malnutrition etc. I bet they truly understand not all human beings are as fortunate as others because from what I see they are not obnoxious at all. We Chinese school students certainly have no access to many of these eye opening opportunities with limited funding and stronger interest on studies.

    If one day I’m able to earn more than enough, I will not be hesitant to send my children to international school. My boyfriend was educated in Beijing international school and he is interested in truly learning the material instead of memorising. Compared myself to him, I get frustrated very easily when I don’t understand some concepts and tend to skip the lengthy understanding process. He is a very great learner to me.

    Though one thing very true is smart kids can excel even in dumps 🙂

  • Iris

    This is a good post!

    I came from Chinese Primary because my parents wanted me to at least know how to write my name in Chinese. I’m sure the system is alot more demanding now than it was for me but I do remember having to go to alot of additional prep-class for UPSR hosted by the school itself. Although I did really well for my UPSR, I had such terrible grades (3rd from last hahaha) from primary 1 to 5 and didn’t even know there was a ranking system till i was 10! Mom used to discipline me because she knew I could do better but dad always told her if everyone wants to be first in class who the hell is gonna take the last spot! I guess that took pressure off me cause I had the best time in my life running around playing games and became really social.

    Since I did well in the national exams I really wanted to go to a Chinese Secondary, but the good ones are too far from where I stayed and in the end mom sent me to a Public school right around my house. At first it was a complete shock cause I was the only Chinese girl in my class and I had to speak and learn in Malay all the sudden, not to mention the school discipline was SO bad, once the school gang burned down the teacher’s discipline room because it held all their records (no kidding we were in the news). Parents didn’t really care about school work at this point, but I continued to thrive because I know what I am capable of and wanted to do well for myself. In the end I got a scholarship for my A-Levels and went on to Singapore to do my Bachelors since it was the closest overseas university that I could afford with a loan.

    I am proud that people often think I am Malay because I could speak the language so well, all these due to the fact that I went through such a diverse environment growing up and it forces you to adapt quickly whilst being resourceful. I got a good job which sent me to US for a couple of years and now I’m in Norway doing my post-grad.

    I believe the values we instill in our children in their everyday lives go a longer way than what a school can ultimately provide. I had the privilege of growing up without much parental pressure or expectations from teachers and it made me like to learn because of my own interest! If you could afford to send them for better early education of course do it, but it shouldn’t add unnecessary pressure on yourself, as happy parents = happy kids!

  • Mifeng

    Having been through Chinese education (but SJK SMK, not Chinese private high schools) I felt I turned out okay as well. I did go to an English-based kindy though, which resulted in a preference for reading and writing in English even though I speak Chinese at home. Admittedly not as creative as I would like to be, and more critical thinking would have been nice but had no issues in uni etc. No kids though, so can’t say I see things from a parent’s pov but would it be possible to consider a combination? Chinese primary school to instill the discipline (added benefit of the child being able to at least speak Chinese if not read/write well), international school during high school for exposure and options to explore. Less taxing on the bank account too.

  • Jane Gan

    Hi Audrey, this is an interesting post and I have often wondered what choices I would make for my future kids’ education too. I was actually schooled in all three education systems in Malaysia; Chinese govt. school (Primary 1-2), private (primary 3 – form 1) and international (year 9-11) – and I actually had very good experiences in all three. I didn’t think being in a chinese school stifled my creativity/personality much (but perhaps it’s because I wasn’t there long enough). It definitely gave me a good foundation in terms of discipline & values but learning mandarin was definitely challenging when I did not speak it at home & I started to notice a disparity between my peers and I. On the other hand, private school was also a really good experience, despite it following the local syllabus, the one I went to definitely gave me a lot of opportunities outside the classroom to develop my character. Besides this, i also received a lot more attention and for subjects like English and Science, I do think we learnt a wider array of topics outside the local syllabus. Lastly, I highly recommend international school. But perhaps consider it at a later stage for Fighter and penny’s academic career. International school really enriched my learning experience – the syllabus we studied was so diverse and much more relevant than say what we learnt in moral or Sejarah. They also offered unconventional subjects like Music, Drama & Design technology that is compulsory up till IGCSEs. In my opinion, if it’s an option, it’s definitely worth the money and whilst there are obviously a large proportion who turn out as snobs etc, I can vouch that there are also an equally large number who don’t and who are actually very humble despite their backgrounds. At the end of the day, I think it’s down to the individual. I’m sure with the good values you and Tim share, your kids would have no problem at all in any environment. Good luck with your decision. 🙂

  • Celestial

    You have voice out my thought as well. My baby is just only 13 months old and I started to have this kind of dilemma too after hearing some experiences/advice from other mommies friends. I was mad that there is no good private playschool in my place here, Sibu. I was mad that there is not much choices between international school and private school in Sibu. We only have one international school, which is quite new in town and only for wealthy families’ kids as the fees cost dearly and one chinese private school. Like you said, the chinese private school has so much homework and very pressure and stressful. I even thought of migrating just for my baby’s future or sending my baby to overseas for education. But it is quite impossible unless we hit the jackpot. In the end, we could only resort to government school. I was mad at that too.

  • Lynn

    I went to a Chinese primary school and then switched to an international school for secondary. I hope I don’t sound annoyingly preachy like some mothers, but I personally think International school for small children isn’t very necessary. Maybe a Chinese education until standard 4 or 5 before switching to international? I really got the best of both worlds, with a Chinese school cultivated discipline and a more “western” style of self expression.

  • oka

    Hello Audrey,

    My siblings and I went to a Chinese vernacular primary and high school. For myself, I wasn’t an exceptional student but I was constantly surrounded by ambitious peers; as most of the students there were brought up with the mindset of valuing hard work and achieving excellent results.

    However, the system and framework cover far more ground than just rewarding clever students. We were engaged with various activities; conducting events, planning school trips, participating in clubs, interacting with other schools, joining after school programs and competitions etc. It really does help grow our sense of responsibilities, self discipline, critical thinking and builds teamwork and train leadership. We played hard and worked hard.

    ・Yes, there is a lot homework, but nothing that you can’t handle without some self control.
    ・Yes, there are tons of rules to comply with, but the teachers do encourage students to think outside the box; especially the younger teachers are very open minded.
    ・Yes, there are a bunch of extra classes, but mostly electives; we had commercial art, calligraphic art, music, economic etc. English lessons are taught during school periods, we have oral classes, listening, creative writing, presentations and whatnots.

    I guess Chinese schools’ system prepared us to be more well rounded. I went to university in Malaysia, did my last year in Japan, and managed to breeze through with straight As. But after going through all that, I got my fair chance to know people from different backgrounds; public school kids, international school kids, Chinese school kids.. It made me realise, it really doesn’t matter. Schools are just a platform and what’s important is how the kids choose to react. Ultimately, the parents and the environment that the kids grew up from are the biggest influencers. If the kid is craving for knowledge, throw him into a bad school and he’ll still find his ways to learn; if the kid is adventurous and playful, bury him in mountains of homework and he’ll still find time for after school clubs.

    So it’s ok, fighter will be fine wherever he goes.
    ٩( ‘ω’ )و ガンバル

  • YI YING Lee

    Hi Audrey,

    My sister and I went through Chinese education (SJKC) and then goverment secondary school (SMK). She is now a government secondary school teacher and I am currently a lecturer in private college. We choose to be educators as we are passionate in education. However, from what we had been through and what we are facing/handling now is totally different.

    What we went through & what is happening now:

    – Pressure/ competition (normal kiasu characteristic of Chinese).
    – Chances to out-stand
    – Excel in time management
    – All rounded

    Our family is not really well-off but still consider ok. We tried to lighten their burdens by being excel.
    Trying to study well, there is a lot of memorizing and exercising needed in Chinese school —-> tons of homework.
    Luckily my father always give us least pressure, what he always remind us is just “did u tried your best? if yes, that’s enough.”
    Being a teacher now, we understand that if we practice enough there is no memorizing needed. Just that our old school teacher did not tell us why we need to do so previously.
    Apparently, a lot of current students/parents don’t like homework and memorizing which is why they are turned off from Chinese school but probably it is also being lessened now since the teachers also being replaced by the younger generation.

    Study in the government secondary school (SMK) gave us a chance to mix with different races which improve out communication skills a lot.
    Past: we mix and we speak different languages to different persons
    Current: Sadly, racism is a very serious issue especially in peninsular Malaysia. We don’t mix and we speak our own mother tongue or even dialect.

    In order to get a better opportunity of being interview for education degree, we need to be very active in co-curriculum activities. We joined Chinese language society and Scout. We earned the chances to explore organizing activities in school, district, states, national and even international level. We get to know people from everywhere.

    The main weakness of current education system is being too exam oriented.
    To maintain our curriculum, we went for tuition.
    To maintain our excellence, we joined co-curriculum activities.
    To maintain an all-rounded person, we went for different enrichment courses.
    We tried Piano, Abacus, Art, Webpage design, Calligraphy courses,
    Fortunately, my father just wanna give us a chance to choose. After all the trials, we choose to focus on Piano lesson. And I have been depends on this skill to earn a living when I was doing my master study.
    Conclusion: the kiasu-ness trained us to be excellent in time management such that we play, learn and grow happily as a healthy human.

    I am a product of late 1980’s. Therefore, I have been a guinea pig in Malaysian education system.
    I was the second batch of scholars in PTS (the exam which allowed u to skip primary 4, so my primary school education only took 5 years). Looked fun but despite my OKOK result in SPM, I was not allowed to continue studying for my STPM as I haven’t reach their so called entry age for STPM.

    I need to appeal to get myself in. And when I successfully entered, I realized that I had completed my SPM in BM but I was going to start my STPM in English. >.<

    Confusion in our education is making us mad and sad.

    However, my sister and I are now teaching the children in 21st century. Government schools are varied. We are unable to conclude anything as mainly it depends on the Management of the schools and the teacher. We had been in some schools which are in rural areas but very good in terms on learning atmosphere. We had been in some schools which are in town but having problems with racism therefore atmosphere are different.
    In my opinion, I believe that a syllabus is important but the parents' support and educators' determination are more important to convey the right message in terms of knowledge and character building.

    Timothy and U are aware and clearly understand the situation now, Fighter and Penny will be fine as long as they are with you all. Just believe in your decision.

  • Angel

    I am a mid 90s kid who went to Chinese Venecular Primary and Secondary school (SJK(c) and SMJK) and currently in the midst of completing my Law degree in the UK. True enough that chinese schools, especially chinese primary schools tend to have lots of homework but I think the scenario is getting better now. I used to have huge amount of homework (10-14) throughout my primary school time (which I did cry struggling to finish them by 11pm everyday) but when it came to my younger sister’s (8yrs my junior who just completed her primary school education) days in primary school, her homework was much lesser and the teachers are more caring comparing to the old teachers during my time.

    As opposed to many other Chinese educated peers, my sister and I did not attend any tuition classes throughout our primary school days but still constantly performed well academically. As far as I know, most primary school tuition classes give the same or similar questions (be it composition or comprehension) and that’s why many said chinese schools students are less creative and couldn’t cope with their studies in higher education. Though not attending tuition classes, we attend piano/violin, art, English(creative writing), sports/dance classes but this doesn’t mean that I don’t have time playing as a kid. I’m thankful for my parents whom I think they did well in parenting, I used to spent my evening outdoor playing with a few close neighbours and TV session (I think watching drama/movie helps in creativity =P) with my family everyday. I did enjoy my childhood.

    For kids studying in Chinese venecular schools, I personally think that parents play a very important role. Being said that teachers in Chinese schools often scold/punish students and indirectly being discouraged to speak out/think out of the box (but I don’t think this is the case anymore given that my sister’s teachers are mostly encouraging and caring). I used to get punished in school during lower primary for one wrong maths answer, but this has shaped me to a more organised, responsible and careful person. Growing up as a non-typical teacher’s kid (my mom is a teacher in a government secondary school), my childhood was being able to speak out my own opinion, share my own stories with my parents and having the chance to choose (yeap, I chose my own kindy after visiting various kindies at age of 3). The encouragement and guidance of my parents make up the dejection in school.

    One thing that I don’t like about Chinese venecular schools is that we are only exposed to peers who are of the same race. My other races friends are limited, and these are friends whom I got to know outside of school. If I did not expose myself in activities outside, I would have no friends of other races. And one other thing that you might need to consider is that, not all but some children from non-chinese speaking family struggle in Chinese school. I have peers who failed Chinese throughout higher secondary despite outstanding results in other subjects and a family friend’s kid (late 00s kids) who often got punish due to ugly handwriting and not being able to understand instruction in the first 2 years of primary school.

    For secondary school wise, there’s still a long way to go. Given that I am from a upper middle class background, my parents were in dilemma deciding my sis’s secondary education (the options were the same as yours) but she ended up in my alma mater now, a SMJK. And the education system in Malaysia has shifted to system which requires more thinking, tho not established yet but at least it’s improving. So, don’t worry too much for now. I was a very active students in secondary school and that also make up the disadvantage of being exposed and communicate in a single language. I was a school debator for Malay and English (and I read extensively in 3 languages since young). Being in a Chinese venecular secondary school, many opportunities were given to students to lead and organise activities inside and outside the school which I think helped improve my creativity, leadership and time management but parents will be troubled to send children to school during weekends and school holidays. Besides spending time in school’s extracurricular activities which most of the time I am surrounded with peers of the same level (e.g. Top classes with top classes), I spend my weekends in church and exposed to peers from different backgrounds and social classes which I think is quite important.

    To be honest, coming from such bakground, it did give me a minor culture shock when I meet my peers from other backgrounds at the start of my pre-u education (I did SAM) and then in the UK, but it wasn’t a big deal. Coming from Chinese educated background, most of the time means that you are more hardworking, you memorise well, you have good maths and sciences foundation, and when I continued in a different style of education, I get the best of the two. I don’t think it’s too late to expose yourself in such environment only after 11 years of chinese/local education. Critical thinking and creativity can be improved outside the school, and character building (by both parents and teachers) are even more cruicial.

    Just a few cents of thoughts from a 90s. HAHA. Wishing you and Tim the very best in life and have a great childhood growing up Fighter & Penny! =)

  • Teoh Cherylyn

    Hi Audrey. I’m a 90s kid. Went to SJK(C) and SMK. I studied in local Uni and now I’m an international school teacher. Both my parents are Bananas and they saw the importance of me learning Mandarin way back then. They felt learning Mandarin in primary level is good enough for knowing my roots and conversing with others of my same heritage. Subsequently, they sent me to National Secondary school because they wanted me to experience the type of education they experienced: mixing around with different races and speaking more than one language. I would say I turned out fine as I spoke English more frequently to my parents and used Mandarin to communicate with the elders in my family. Though I picked up my dialect quite poorly, Mandarin really help bridge the gap between me and my relatives. At Uni, I didn’t see the language as a big issue as my lecturers spoke in a mixture of English and Malay and for my exams and sometimes assignments I also use both. I still use Mandarin to converse with my really really Cina friends coz they are simply used to it. So I make it a point to speak English to new friends that I made and when they found out I can speak Mandarin, it was a bonus (They thought I was Banana, I think I’m pretty good at hiding that fact XD). After graduating, I went to find a job and started my career in an international school. As person, I can say that my parents made the right choices for me. As I’m the first child and also the guinea pig in the family, I do not feel like I was deprived of learning. My parents taught me to be a very independent person. I participated in activities that I liked in school, I enjoyed my time with friends. Up until today, I’m still grateful for all that. If I continued to study in a Chinese medium school at Secondary level, I think I might have turn out different as a person. Studying in a Chinese medium school can change your mind set a lot and I see it in my relatives or friends who went through that. As a teacher of 3 years, I can firmly say that no matter where the child is send to study, it is very important that the parents always have the child’s back. Support is the key to any kind of education. School is indeed a place to nurture your child’s potential but do not forget, the amount of time a child spends at home still exceeds the time spent in school. Parents are still the greatest teachers and education a child can have.

    Private and international schools may seem to provide immediate opportunities for your child to grow but that does not mean it is guaranteed. Teach your child to be independent and open minded at home and he/she will surely excel in any place they go. They will be able to make decisions on their own.

    As you and Tim are so fully aware of your choices and the choices that you can make, I’m pretty sure wherever you send Fighter and Penny, they will be in good hands. 🙂 Best of luck and be blessed.

  • Yvonne

    I went to Chinese Primary School, Form 1-3 (Government National School SMK) and Form 4-5 (Private School with local syllabus). I was born in the late 80s. I really enjoyed my time at Chinese Primary School despite the fact there was a lot of homework. I think children being children, we will cope somehow. And like many comments I’ve seen here, Dayre and from my primary school teacher who is still teaching, these days the kids really have an easier time. Less homework, less writing. What I like about chinese primary school is they provided a very good foundation for me before going into secondary especially in terms of math, science and even mandarin. I continued taking mandarin up till SPM. We really learn a lot then which I felt after going into Form 1-3, the learning curve became rather flat. I also enjoyed form 1-3 in a national school mostly because of extracurricular activities and no one really look at each other too differently. My parents decided to let me go to private school thinking it will be better for me la. Truth be told, I really don’t think it was better academically because at that time it was new and we were the first batch. Going into private school means you like won’t have the opportunity to socialize with people from a whole different spectrum. Your classmates will likely come from the same family background (upper middle class) which can be good from a networking stand point or even a potential mate standpoint. I think a lot of people don’t think of it that way but it is sometimes who you hang out with that open doors to opportunities. But that also means, you may not be able to relate to the general public especially for those who went to private school all their lives.

    Anyway to share my siblings experiences for comparison sake. My bro went to chinese primary school, form 1-2 (private, local syllabus) and boarding school in aus (in case you have thought about it). I wouldn’t recommend to send your kids overseas or to boarding school before completion of high school. Mostly, 13-17 is critical growth period for your angsty teenager and being away some times make it hard for you be there. My bro being away for a long time struggle to bond with the fam again. I would wait till they are finish with high school and are more sure of themselves before considering going overseas.

    My sister also went to chinese primary school, form 1-3 (private, local sylbs), form 4-5 (int. school, O levels). She generally fit in quite well with all the programs but she recently highlighted to me after taking A levels, she felt that O levels don’t cover as much as SPM does. So her A levels classmate who took SPM previously,was able to cope better with the tougher syllabus. So yaaa, kinda feel like why pay so much for international school right? I felt that the good thing about private or international is that they focus a lot on the arts too. Kids who like music, performing etc. have more opportunities to explore than govt. school (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Both my bro and I ended up in US unis. At the end of the day, it is about striking a balance and I do think family education (rather than school) makes a huge difference who you turn out to be. So, whatever decision you make, I’m sure fighter or penny will be ok!

  • Tan Shu Ting

    I had the privilege of being educated in Singapore (I used to be a Malaysian) and I am really grateful about it. One thing I do notice is that most of the commenters are talking about the Malaysian Education sector in the 1980s-2000s, and it is perhaps less reflective of what is going on in school nowadays. As I am going to be a teacher (I am currently in university), I worry about the lack of inequality in getting the right to be properly educated around the world. (I am in full support for Teach for Malaysia and I totally understand the challenges they face.) The education sector is what it is today due to a lack of clear planning from the relevant authorities, inability to focus on the right issues (by allowing racial lines to become prominent in having Chinese schools and govt schools). The fact that the assessment criteria is not properly fixed to international standards but pegged to present a good image of the government to its people only worries me. Key things to note were the indecisiveness and lack of determination to push for English to be learnt, the lackadaisical attitude in ensuring quality of education and the fact that they allowed schools to be set up based on the race of students they admit. A lot of things needs to be done. Maintaining the current standard of education in Malaysia is unacceptable as other countries are improving drastically (Case in Point: Vietnam). We should really aim to improve the quality of education by fine tuning content in schools and acknowledge it when we are lacking; and change ourselves to improve.

    Education is the base of meritocracy. If the children in rural areas do not receive proper education, what are their chances of chasing their dreams? They should be at least given a chance to learn and experience a different kind of life that their dreams lead them to have.

    If the MOE continues to refuse change nor acknowledge its failings, but give out A based on racial politics or because it needs to, ultimately the country stands to lose as we are not tapping on the talents of our people. We are not developing the people to their fullest ability. We may have oil reserves for now, but it will one day run out and what will happen to our people then? This might be a pessimistic portrayal of the situation, but if we do not consider it now, what can we do when it actually happens?

    My heart bleeds when I feel that children are being robbed of a chance to do better than they allowed to. Hopefully the government does something for its people and make real reforms for the benefit of the country. Stop focusing on maintaining power and putting in some effort to do some proper governance. A government that governs well need not worry that it will not stay in power, because democracy will ensure that they are voted in to continue the good work they have done.

  • potatoes

    I’m not a parent I understand where you are coming from – proper education at this point seems like a luxury. But sadly, sometimes even the sky high school fees cannot guarantee a good quality of education.

    I work as a school shadow in a international school where the syallabus itself looks pretty interesting, although it may come off abit too difficult for some kids. But sometimes the problem lies in the teacher – while the hefty school fees guarantees a higher standard of education, the teachers employed may not be well equipped to deliver the lesson. I’ve come across a teacher who wrongly spelled kangaroo as ‘kangroo’ and went on for the rest of the class with it, to the extent i suspect it wasn’t a typo, she didnt know she got it wrong. But ofcouse i have also come across other teachers who try their best to the make the lesson fun and conducive.

    International schools may pride themselves on good results and all, but some of it comes with a price. I recently met a boy diagnosed with a learning disability and his school *coughfaircoughviewcoughcough* refused to let him go up the next grade because they dont want him to affect that grade’s performance.

  • Esmonde Lim

    Hi Audrey. I haven’t been here for some time.

    Anyhow, for the sake of having a [rather] normal childhood experience, I think sending kids to public school is still best. Socializing skills is by far the hardest to learn or to acquire [I think].

  • alohamolly

    What u’ve mentioned is what many parents are facing…hi-5 to your dilemma and mine too.

  • Shela

    I love your post! “Whether we should settle for a lower standard of living to give our kids a “better” education:???? is the exact dilemma we are facing and I feel sad coz still not getting the answers…. 🙁

    Btw, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously expensive was hilarious 🙂

  • Sin Yee Yuet

    Just a sharing. =D

    Parent plays important role too.
    I came from Chinese Primary school, but my mum never cares about my result. Whether A or not, first class or not, she don’t care. She won’t even reward me for getting good grades, nor punish me for getting bad result. I consider myself quite a clever girl. I got top 2-3 on my Primary 1-2. My mum might feel proud too but never forced me to study. Up till form 6, I request for tuition class myself. My mum just let me choose what I want, never pressure me.

    I HATE DOING HOMEWORK thou. I don’t like memorizing. I don’t like the homework called 抄寫, which we need to copy the entire article. At the age of 10+-, I already know no point memorizing other’s works. Haha so clever ah moi ni.

    I remained in first class, swinging between 20-30th place, but I was so happy cause our teacher allocate our seats according to result where I feel very happy that I doesn’t need to sit in Group A (1st-12th place). Even more excited when I sit in Group C. And me being myself, I don’t do homework that I don’t like. I only interested in Science & Math, anything other than copying and essay.

    I can tell much more about my experiences. But it’s too long.
    What I want to say is, because my mum doesn’t care nor pressure on my results, I am who I am now. Not result driven, completed my degree too. I never ever remember my grade/CGPA for more than a week. But, it’s true that my teachers never teach me critical thinking, which is something very important.

  • Lynne

    I have a primary 4 & 2 boys studying now in a SJK Chinese school. Believe me, the syllabus they are going through now is very different from those we used to go through in the 80s and 90s. In fact, our MOH are playing politics with our children’s education, and the format has been constantly evolving, for better or worse is anyone’s guess. Early this year itself, syllabus was changed again that even affect the students taking upsr this year. Just a word for the poor teachers who sometimes viewed as incompetent, I feel sorry for them. They are not thoroughly briefed on the changes and there is hardly any time for them to prepare their work.

    Anyway back to my boys, I am transferring them to an international school come this September. My P4 boy’s school work load has increased a lot more than the year before and there is seriously no time left to do anything else in school or at home. 90% of work are devoted to BM and Chinese, memorising words, idioms, passages etc. My boys are taught these at ‘first-language’ level which is much more difficult than that during ‘our days’, whereas the English level are taught at mediocre level. However I do not regret their time so far in the Chinese school. They learnt to read and speak Chinese at an amazing rate (children adapt so easily but I did start them at a Chinese kindergarten). For kids who had refused to speak a single word of Chinese just a few years ago, they are now babbling away in that language with their grandparents and neighbours. They would not be able to do this if they are in any other school, even if supplemented with Chinese tuition. Also here in Chinese school, they have learnt discipline, honour and respect, chinese cultures and beliefs, which to me can only be ‘caught’ in the environment. I only wish I can let my younger boy stay another year there in the Chinese school. But juggling my time between 2 schools will be a nightmare.

    Anyhow, the decision to send them to an international school did not come easy. We had pretty much the same concerns. Worse, we have only 2 international schools here to choose from (well, actually only one because we hear the other one is not very good). HoI have a primary 4 & 2 boys studying now in a SJK Chinese school. Believe me, the syllabus they are going through now is very different from those we used to go through in the 80s and 90s. In fact, our MOH are playing politics with our children’s education, and the format has been constantly evolving, for better or worse is anyone’s guess. Early this year itself, syllabus was changed again that even affect the students taking upsr this year. Just a word for the poor teachers who sometimes viewed as incompetent, I feel sorry for them. They are not thoroughly briefed on the changes and there is hardly any time for them to prepare their work.

    Anyway back to my boys, I am transferring them to an international school come this September. My P4 boy’s school work load has increased a lot more than the year before and there is seriously no time left to do anything else in school or at home. 90% of work are devoted to BM and Chinese, memorising words, idioms, passages etc. My boys are taught these at ‘first-language’ level which is much more difficult than that during ‘our days’, whereas the English level are taught at mediocre level. However I do not regret their time so far in the Chinese school. They learnt to read and speak Chinese at an amazing rate (children adapt so easily but I did start them at a Chinese kindergarten). For kids who had refused to speak a single word of Chinese just a few years ago, they are now babbling away in that language with their grandparents and neighbours. They would not be able to do this if they are in any other school, even if supplemented with Chinese tuition. Also here in Chinese school, they have learnt discipline, honour and respect, chinese cultures and beliefs, which to me can only be ‘caught’ in the environment. I only wish I can let my younger boy stay another year there in the Chinese school. But juggling my time between 2 schools will be a nightmare.

    Anyhow, the decision to send them to an international school did not come easy. We had pretty much the same concerns as yours. Worse, we have only 2 international schools here to choose from (well, actually only one because we hear the other one is not very good). However, we believe that our children’s values and beliefs should be calculated strongly from home. Thus a strong marriage at home plays a huge part in the children’s development, all the way to adolescence.

    As for the international school here, we are pleasantly surprised that it is a non-profit running school. All the fees collected are put back into the school. Also the school board is comprised of parents, principal and heads of departments. This is very good as parents have huge influence in the running of the school. Also the students can stay till they finish A-levels, thus stay longer at home till university. So if you do look into international school, do check into these things. Also it should be accredited with CIS Council of International Schools.

    I wish you all the best here. Happy parenting! 🙂