Private and international schools in Malaysia offer a wide range of curriculums to suit the educational needs of all students from primary through to tertiary levels. No longer the domain of the expatriate community, international schools are becoming a viable choice for many parents, and with them the many options for the type of education they want for their children.
These curriculums do not only focus on academic aspects, but are designed to include artistic pursuits, music, sports, extra-curricular activities and the performing arts to ensure students receive a well-rounded education. The most popular international curriculums are the British national curriculum, followed by the International Baccalaureate, American, Australian and Canadian systems of study.
English National Curriculum
The English National Curriculum is well known and respected globally with children going through an Early Years programme followed by four key stages covering education from the age of three through to 18. The curriculum focuses on students developing thinking skills and forming opinions through a query-based classroom environment. At the end of each year, students undergo standardised assessments to review individual progress.
In Key Stage 1 and 2, compulsory subjects include English, maths, science, history, geography, PE (physical education), music, art, MFL (modern foreign language) and computing. During Key Stage 4 (Year 10 and 11), students work towards the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) certification over two years. Students take between nine and 10 core and elective subjects that prepare them for Sixth Form (Year 12 and 13) where the focus is on specific subjects, and the A Level examinations taken in the last year of secondary school before going on to university and further studies.
A key feature of the British curriculum in international schools is a focus on personal development, problem solving, learning outside the classroom through extra-curricular activities, trips and sports. Many international schools in Malaysia follow this curriculum with a more global educational perspective to cater to the various nationalities and cultures.
International Baccalaureate (IB)
The International Baccalaureate originated in Switzerland and is now in its 50th year. According to its official mission statement, its aim is to ‘develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect’. The curriculum is divided into three programmes according to age and authorised schools are called IB World Schools. The Primary Years Programme (PYP) teaches students to take control of their learning and learn how to work together, while the Middle Years Programme (MYP) goes on to connecting academics to real-life situations.
For the last two years of secondary school, the Diploma Programme (IBDP) is followed and is an assessed programme designed to develop students intellectually, emotionally and ethically. There are six subject groups – language and literature, sciences, language acquisition, maths, arts, and individuals and societies – and they also must do an Extended Essay, study the Theory of Knowledge and complete a project based on creativity, activity and service. The norm is to take three to four subjects at higher level (HL), and the remainder at standard level (SL).
The final assessment is based on the combined scores for each subject and the diploma is awarded for at least 24 points. International schools in Malaysia perform above the global average with many students scoring an average of 37 points and above, and some even scoring close to the maximum of 44 points.
The American curriculum is becoming more popular in Malaysia with an increasing number of schools offering it. Comprising three levels – Elementary, Middle and High School – it is also known as K-12 education, which denotes the 12 grades from kindergarten to the 12th grade. The High School Diploma is awarded upon completion of 12th grade at the age of 18.
A general syllabus is followed from Grade one to five; and mandatory subjects in Middle and High School cover English, social sciences, maths, science and PE. Students must also choose elective subjects like art, music or drama. Performance is based on teacher observations, class work, common assessments and projects, and credits are gained from course work, which counts towards the high school diploma.
American curriculum schools also offer the International Baccalaureate, Honours and Advance Placement classes in Grade 11 and 12 for those who want to gain entry into top-tier American universities. Students can also take American university entrance exams like the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) and the ACT (American College Test).
The Australian curriculum covers 13 years of school from the age of six to 18 and concludes with the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in Year 12. The primary years syllabus includes diverse subjects from maths and literacy to civics and citizenship. Although academics are important, this is a curriculum that is designed to also prepare students to contribute to society and be active and informed citizens.
The curriculum until Year 10 (age 16) revolves around eight learning areas – English, maths, science, humanities and social sciences, arts, technology, languages, and health and PE. These in turn cover seven general capabilities including literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, intercultural understanding and social skills. The HSC is based on school based assignments, exams and projects (50%) and the rest on exams. This curriculum teaches according to student needs and regular assessments are carried out to keep progress in check.
Although only a couple of schools presently offer the Canadian curriculum in Malaysia, it is gaining traction. The Ontario framework is followed, which begins with preschool, followed by primary, secondary and a choice of either the IBDP or Canadian pre-university programmes. Elementary school begins at the age of six with the following subjects being taught – science and technology, maths, health and PE, English, art, history, geography and social studies.
During Secondary school, project-based learning, field trips, independent research and group work are added to the syllabus. The initials years of secondary school sees students taking compulsory subjects with a few options. These increase during the later years as students begin to specialise in preparation for what they will do after graduation. Upon completion of secondary school, the Ontario Secondary School Diploma is awarded, and this is recognised by universities in Canada, America and Commonwealth countries.
Malaysian National Curriculum
For parents who want the Malaysian curriculum within the private school sector, there are now many choices. Local schooling begins at the age of seven with the Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR) comprising up to 11 subjects. These include languages (English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin), maths, science, moral education, information and communications technology (ICT), design and technology, art, music and history. Private schools also offer the Dual Language Programme where maths and science are taught in English. When students reach Standard 6 (aged 12), they are required to take the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) examination.
The Secondary School Standard Curriculum (KSSM) comprises five classes or forms. The lower forms (Form 1-3) take the Form Three Assessment (PT3) while the upper forms (Form 4 and 5) are required to sit for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) or Malaysian Certificate of Education examination. The assessment of the students’ academic performance is based on examinations and tests. After the SPM, students can opt to continue to Sixth Form where subjects are streamed according to science or humanities, and the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) exams are taken.
The Singaporean curriculum provides education to students from the age of six till 17 years old. During the primary years, students study four core subjects – English, Mandarin, science and maths – with another four to five electives. At the end of primary school, they are required to sit for the Singapore International Primary School Examination (iPSLE).
For secondary school, students can either take the ‘Express’ course (a four-year programme leading to O Levels or IGCSEs) or the normal course. This syllabus relies on textbooks, worksheets, worked examples and plenty of drilling and practise. Academic performance is imperative, and grades are based on performance and exam results. Singapore Math is based on the national math syllabus and has become a preferred methodology in many schools. Based on the concept that students should understand the subject instead of just memorising, it is being taught in schools globally.
Other available curriculums
With such a surge of international schools and the increase in both Malaysian and expat parents opting for international or private schooling, other curriculums are being offered as well. These include the Lycée Français de Kuala Lumpur offering the French curriculum until the Baccalauréat, and the Deutsche Schule Kuala Lumpur with the German curriculum that prepares students for the German International Abitur qualification. The Chinese Taipei School Kuala Lumpur focuses on the Taiwanese curriculum, while the Global Indian International School Kuala Lumpur follows the Indian curriculum.
Choosing the right school and curriculum for your child depends on many factors like what kinds of teaching methods are used, whether your priority is academics or a well-rounded education, where they will continue their tertiary education and most importantly, where you child will be happiest socially and scholastically.