Boarding schools can evoke visions of cold rooms, even colder matrons, dire food, discipline, weekly baths and being far away from your family. Parents often find themselves discussing the merits of boarding school, or expressing horror when they hear of some 8-year-old being sent to board. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to boarding but it is crucial to note that today’s boarding facilities are more akin to a posh holiday club, albeit with a lot of studying and sports thrown in.
Boarding schools in England have been around since before mediaeval times when boys were sent away to monasteries to learn. In the 12th century, Benedictine monasteries were turned into schools offering free education on the order of the Pope. These then became the now famed English public schools when fee-paying students were accepted. Teachers were usually clergymen and only boys were allowed to attend, with girls being tutored at home.
It was during the era of British colonial expansion that the British boarding school became the entity it is now. British families posted abroad would put their children in boarding school to ensure the continuity of their education and keep them within British culture. There was a time when sending your 8-year-old to board was the norm; these days, 11 and above seems to be the average age.
Although British boarding schools are the most talked about, other countries like Switzerland, America and Australia are also traditional boarding countries.
There are many reasons outside the parameters of education why a child is sent to board. Boarding schools are very much the domain of the upper classes, so it is only normal that some parents send their children to be exposed to different types of people. Boarding also instils independence and a sense of teamwork, and broadens their views on everything.
These reasons all sound great, but there are many children who are sent to board due to less cheery circumstances including family problems like divorce, inability of parents to relate to the child, or even if a child is not living up to his full potential and needs a different environment to thrive.
There has been an increase in boarding schools here in Malaysia with independent international schools offering boarding in Penang, Johor and the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. This gives parents an alternative to sending them a 12-hour plane ride away, and with the opening of Epsom and Marlborough, the British public school is now more accessible. Being a weekly boarder (Monday to Friday, home for the weekend) is a gentler way of easing into boarding, and with independent international schools offering boarding in places like Penang and Johor, the choices are getting better.
• Better education – complete immersion in academia and sports
• Both parents work full-time and prefer pastoral care in a boarding school than hiring a nanny
• Parents posted abroad and prefer the children to continue their education at home
• Instil independence, discipline and learn to become a team player
• Making new friends, closer bonds forged
• Romanticised idea of higher education, access to the elite, prestige
• Child doesn’t adapt, separation anxiety, missing home
• Family values may not be instilled as they would be at home
• If the child is bullied, sick, emotionally distraught, parents are unable to physically comfort the child
• Forced to grow up too fast
As with every major decision, choosing to send your child to boarding school is not an easy one. It is also dependent on what kind of person your child is. If he/she is sensitive, timid and insular, then boarding could either instill confidence and independence, or it could go very wrong. Age is such an important factor and the younger they are, the harder it is for parents and children to cope, although most children do eventually adapt and will hopefully thank you for it one day! EL
Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar
Located in bucolic surrounds, this prestigious school was the first British-style co-educational boarding school in Malaysia.
Location: Mantin, Negeri Sembilan
Academics: IGCSEs and A-Levels. The local curriculum leading to PMR and SPM examinations will be phased out by 2016.
Boarding facilities: Modelled after a typical British boarding school with house parents, tutors and matrons in attendance.
Marlborough College Malaysia
The prominent English school opened its Malaysian counterpart this year, offering co-educational full boarding facilities (day pupils are also welcome), high academic standards and a host of indoor and outdoor sporting opportunities.
Location: Nusajaya, Johor
Academics: IGCSEs and IB diploma. Follows the British national curriculum,
Boarding facilities: the House system is the mainstay of boarding here with pastoral care a foremost concern.
Nexus International School
Part of the Taylor’s Education group, this school is one of the newer international schools on the scene and offers boarding for students aged 11 and above.
Academics: IGCSEs and IB diploma
Boarding facilities: Full boarding, weekly boarding (Monday to Friday) and day boarding (morning till evening) are available.
Cempaka International Ladies’ College
Part of the renowned Cempaka schools group and is the first private all-girls boarding school in Malaysia.
Location: Nilai, Negeri Sembilan
Academics: IGCSEs, IB diploma and Global Assessment Certificate (GAC)
Boarding facilities: Follows the traditional British House system with four boarding houses, and all the necessary amenities like school supplies and convenience stores, launderette and a dental clinic.
Epsom College in Malaysia (ECiM)
Opening in September 2013, this will be a co-educational day and boarding school following the British national curriculum. It is an offshoot of the renowned Epsom College in the UK.
Location: Bandar Baru Enstek, Negeri Sembilan
Academics: IGCSEs and A-Levels
Boarding facilities: As this is the overseas campus of Epsom College in the UK, the facilities and pastoral care will obviously be of the same high standard with the traditional House system at the core of boarding life.
Dalat International School
Founded as a private Christian boarding school for the children of missionaries serving in Indo-China in the 1930s, Dalat is now a day and boarding school offering an American education backed by Christian values.
Academics: High School Diploma, Advanced Merit Diploma, Advanced Placement Program
Boarding facilities: Instead of Houses, there are dorms overlooked by dorm parents who create a homely atmosphere and ensure that boarders not only study, but also become part of the ‘dorm family’.
The International School of Penang (Uplands)
Started by planters who wanted their children educated in a safe environment during the Malayan Emergency, the school was located in Penang Hill and was primarily a boarding school until 1976. In 2006 it moved to its own purpose-built premises.
Academics: IGCSEs, A-Levels, IB diploma
Boarding facilities: Offers termly and weekly boarding with each house accommodating a maximum of eight students who are looked after by a matron and a house parent.
POWIIS (Prince Of Wales Island International School)
With an emphasis on teachers with strong academic credentials and modern facilities, this purpose-built school opened in September and can accommodate up to 400 boarders.
Academics: IGCS Es, A-Levels
Boarding facilities: Pride is taken in their traditional English boarding school values with full boarding, weekly boarding and flexi-boarding (where a student can stay for one or more night a week) space permitting.