Epsom College, Malaysia

Jane Smith talks to TIC about Epsom College, the new international school opening in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tropical climate, clean air, lush greenery. According to Jane Smith, a school leader from Scotland who is currently working in Malaysia, these are three reasons why the country is such a unique place to live. “After the harsh winters in China, where I had a headship before, walks in the rainforest in January are such a joy!” she says.

Malaysia’s Growing Marketplace

Jane is one of many expats who have been tempted to Malaysia for its lifestyle and its educational opportunities. In the past 12 years the country has become a highly desirable destination for international education, attracting teachers and leaders as well as big business where a quality education for its relocating families is top priority.

According to ISC Research, part of the International School Consultancy Group, there were 26 international schools in Malaysia in May 2000. Just 12 years later, that number has increased to 100 schools. This increase in the number of international schools in the country is reflective of a global trend; one emphasised most in Asia (including the Middle East) which now has 3,393 international schools; over half of all the world’s international schools.

International schools – a popular choice

International schools typically combine high quality facilities with low student-to-teacher ratios, and provide a high standard of learning. This means that when students leave, many are sought after by the world’s top universities. As a result of this, international schools have become increasingly popular with wealthier local families as well as expatriates. Jane, who is Deputy Head at the brand new Epsom College in Kuala Lumpur, has already noticed this in Malaysia: “Many Malaysian parents value an international education; their children learning alongside pupils from around the world through a very broad-based curriculum in English which develops thinking skills and character,” she says. 

Until this year, governmental restrictions limited the attendance at international schools by local children. However this looks set to change over the next few years and with it, the anticipated growth of many schools in the country. In fact, the government is aiming to make Malaysia an educational hub for the region and has already attracted the likes of Epsom College (a brand new addition to the Kuala Lumpur Education City project) and Marlborough College Malaysia (part of EduCity, a world class education campus in Iskandar). According to ISC Research, several more new international schools look set to follow their lead. In addition, an increasing number of expats are also moving to Malaysia; a trend which will be encouraged by the increased availability of international school places. 

Epsom College: new options for students and teachers

There are currently over 14,000 students studying at international schools in Kuala Lumpur alone and the new Epsom College will add to this and to the learning opportunities that are available to these students. “Having the chance to work on a new school from the ground up; on designs for the ‘perfect prep’ is a once in a lifetime chance,” says Jane Smith. “It’s a great responsibility too as, for Epsom, this will be our first [international] Prep School and it will be a flagship within the organisation. The first of several we hope. Malaysia already has a very good reputation for strong international schools and Epsom College’s arrival will allow families a great choice of options for their children, plus will raise the bar further for sports, IT use and pastoral care. Ensuring our school offers the very best in terms of sports, music and science facilities and teaching will allow us to capture the attention of families already in Malaysia as well as those planning to move here.

Epsom anticipates a 50/50 split between local and expatriate children says Jane. “The school will be a truly international school and will be a rich and inspiring learning environment for our pupils which will make it a stimulating and rewarding place to work.”

Teaching in Malaysia – opportunities abound

The opportunities for qualified, experienced teachers in Malaysia are extensive says Jane. “There are many good schools here, the environment of which teachers and managers from the UK would find pleasantly familiar but at the same time stimulating and exciting,” she explains. “Children at international schools tend to have parents who are very well educated, outward looking and very keen to help their children do well – highly supportive with both their time and other resources. The children themselves are the reason I so enjoy working internationally; they are used to being with people from different cultures and they have a drive to learn and achieve that makes teaching a joy.”

For teachers considering international teaching as an option, Jane warns that not every teacher is a good match for every school and offers some valuable advice: “Careful due diligence on the school, its curriculum, governance, their expectations of staff and school aims is a must for prospective staff,” she says. “Find out about where you will live and try to picture your work and lifestyle. Does that seem appealing? What opportunities are there at the school and how will you contribute to the community life of the school as you will be expected to do so, more so perhaps than in the UK.”

If you are new to expat life, find out about the challenges of living and working overseas so that you and your family move fully informed and with your eyes open. However, adds Jane, “many international teachers leave the UK with the intention of returning at the end of their contract, but find they enjoy life overseas so much that they never return. Malaysia certainly appears to have that appeal – it’s a very liveable country with great food, stunning wildlife and scenery, and its stability allows a vibrancy and creativity. I certainly am smitten!”

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