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International Schools in Malaysia: The Information Guide Parents Need

International Schools in Malaysia: The Information Guide Parents Need


Thinking about enrolling your child in an international or private school in Malaysia, but unsure of where to start? The options out there are plenty - in fact, they have practically doubled over the past 8 years! Here’s essential information on the unique differences and advantages of international and private schooling, for parents looking for an insight to help them make the right selection.

The story behind International Schools

Malaysian International Schools are private pre-school, primary and secondary schools employing an International Curriculum in a global environment, with English as the main medium of instruction. From pre-school education right up to preparing students to sit for international examinations like IGCSE ‘O’ levels, GCE ‘A’ levels and International Baccalaureate Diploma, many international schools in Malaysia offer early K-to-pre-university academic offerings, while others just offer primary and/or secondary education.

The main types of International Curriculums approved by the Ministry of Education of Malaysia (MOE) include the British curriculum, the American curriculum, the Australian curriculum and the Canadian curriculum. In the past, international schools catered mostly for the needs of the international community and expatriate families, as Malaysians required permission from the MOE to enrol their children in these schools. Historically each school had a 40% cap set by the government for Malaysian student enrolments.

Expatriates working with international organisations, foreign embassies and missions in Malaysia would send their children to prestigious international schools like Garden International School, the International School of Kuala Lumpur, The Alice Smith School, and The International School of Penang (Uplands), among other popular choices.

Things changed in 2012 however when the government removed its strict enrolment policy, allowing local Malaysian families into institutions that served predominantly affluent expatriates. The introduction of tax incentives and the relaxing of foreign ownership laws has led to the welcome liberalisation of international schools, with the number of quality international schools mushrooming across the country over the past years. For the first time, local students are becoming the majority at international schools in Malaysia!

Advantages of International Schooling

  • Global community and exposure: International schools aren’t just set apart by their curricula which differs from that used in national schools in Malaysia, but by its global melting pot of students who come from different parts of the world. When exposed to diverse cultures, races and experiences, students are challenged to think outside the box across many different aspects, academically, physically, socially, and spiritually.
  • Quality Curricula: International schools are believed to be more holistic in their approach and well-balanced in all aspects of student development including theoretical knowledge and extra-curricular activities — as well as more interactive, vocal and focused on producing critical thinkers.
  • Smaller Classes: Lower student-to-teacher ratios (about 20 students to a class) ensure that the teacher can provide better attention to every student, and make for optimal group study or work.
  • Superior Infrastructure: Why are many parents willing to pay a premium for international schooling? First-class amenities include well-equipped science labs and computer rooms, adequate space for music, arts and dance classes, well-stocked libraries, swimming pools, indoor and outdoor sports courts, and in some cases, boarding facilities.

Private Schools in Malaysia

While international schools aren’t governed under the Education Act 1996 which requires schools to use the National Curriculum for primary and secondary education, private schools in Malaysia abide by the state-wide implemented Primary School Standard Curriculum (Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah or KSSR) and the Secondary Schools Standard Curriculum for KSSM (Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah). The curriculums are continually revised in order to ensure that students have the relevant knowledge, skills and values required to achieve their fullest potential in the 21st century. In Malaysia, private schools include vernacular schools like independent Chinese schools, Islamic religious schools and Tamil schools.

Advantages of Private Schooling

  • Localised: Open to both local and international students, private schools in Malaysia ensure local integration with Bahasa Malaysia as the main medium of instruction. Greater emphasis is placed on English as a secondary language. Where the medium of instruction is Chinese or Tamil, private schools encourage correct usage of and communication in Chinese or Tamil.
  • More ‘elective’ options: Compared to public schools, private schools in Malaysia are renowned for offering a wider array of elective (or optional) subjects, comprehensive co- and extra–curricular activities, and quality facilities for learning, sports, IT and the arts.
  • Smaller classes and longer study hours: Better student-to-teacher ratios ensure that the teacher can provide more attention to every student.
  • Stricter assessment and regular reporting: Students are expected to undergo an assessment and interview for entry into a private school, while parents receive regular reports on the student’s performance.


The similarities among international schools stop at the main use of English as a medium of instruction, as all schools differ from one another in terms of mission, objectives, curriculum, assessment standards, facilities and fees. It is therefore imperative for parents embarking on the mission to find the best school for their children to conduct the following assessments prior to making their final decision:

  • Tour the schools and talk to the teachers and administrators first-hand to gain a deeper understanding of the school’s intangible takeaways such as their teaching philosophy and ethos.
  • Check if the international school you have shortlisted is properly registered with the MOE and accredited by an internationally recognised body, e.g., the Council of International Schools, the Council of British International Schools or the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.