Madam Mak Lai Ying Frances - Head of School at SJIIM

With a lifetime of experience in education from leading schools to policy making and the implementation of national education in Singapore, Madam Mak is now Head of School at St. Joseph’s Institution International School Malaysia.

Photo: SJI International School

Why did you decide to pursue education as a career and what have been the highlights so far? 
I took up a teaching scholarship after completing my A levels and have not looked back since.  I was with the Ministry of Education in Singapore for thirty-five years and I completed ten different postings.  I had the opportunity to pursue my teacher training with the Institute of Education, University of London and enjoyed an overseas stint as the founding principal of the Singapore International School (Hong Kong) secondary section.  My different jobs with the Ministry of Education also included a work stint at our Headquarters taking charge of policy making and implementation of National Education across Singaporean schools.  

In your opinion, how has teaching changed over the years? Are top grades still the primary priority or ensuring students have a well-rounded education and are prepared for the future? 
There are now many demands made on teachers.  Not only must teachers be able to provide differentiated lessons in face-to-face class interactions, they need to be ICT savvy to conduct effective and engaging online lessons.  Parents and the community do not just look at grades, they also want students to be independent life-long learners who can take challenges in their stride and make good and sound decisions.  The expectation for schools to nurture the students into well-balanced, resilient and thinking individuals is now a given.

What are your views on bilingual education? 
This should be a cornerstone of any educational system.  Most children can learn two languages well given the right exposure and a conducive learning environment.  We learn about the culture as well when we learn the language.  In this globalised world, an appreciation of different cultures and perspectives is important.  I went through the educational system using mainly English, but I am a keener learner of Chinese, and am happy to be able to access a wide variety of English and Chinese materials.

What are the main advantages of a SJIIM education?
When students join SJIIM, they receive a Lasallian Education.  The students “enter to learn” and “leave to serve”. Besides the staff and parent community, students have the opportunity to interact and learn from the Lasallian Brothers.  The Lasallian philosophy of “enriching minds, touching hearts and transforming lives” will have a great impact on the students.

2020 has been an unprecedented year for education. How do you see schools operating in the near future considering COVID-19 is something we will have to live with? 
There may be different challenges in years to come.  Very importantly, schools must strengthen the school ethos and cohesion and trust among staff, enhance teacher-student rapport and build very strong partnerships and communication with parents.  This will ensure that the school community stays united in challenging and unprecedented times.  Schools must stay nimble and well-informed to make changes to SOPs that have worked for years.  Staff have to learn to be more flexible and open to rapid changes and different ways of teaching and reaching out to students and parents.  We need to help students to be broad-minded and adaptable to manage their expectations and responses in different situation.  Life-skills lessons are, therefore, increasingly important in schools.

With so many international school options, what would be your personal advice to parents deciding on where to send their children? 
Parents must decide what they value most in the development of their children.  An important consideration would be the school ethos and culture. They will need to find out about the curriculum that is offered and the corresponding terminal qualifications.  Parents will have to look further ahead by keeping in touch with the educational trends to decide which terminal qualification is more relevant and valued for university admissions.

What are your plans for the school? 
The school will continue to strengthen our Lasallian ethos and tradition, retain and recruit good staff, grow our student population to 1,000 and remain one of the choice schools in Malaysia.

Visit for more information and get a better idea of the school through the virtual image tour. 

Tags: News & Features, Profile, SJIIM, Primary, Secondary, IGCSE, IBDP
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