Issues Blog Issues Blog

National school vs vernacular school vs international school

Posted by: Brigitte Rozario, 26-Feb-2009

How do you choose the school that's right for your child? Do you enrol them in the regular national school, the national type school also known as the vernacular school (Chinese or Tamil school) or how about the international school? All three options offer their benefits and drawbacks.

Here are three people we spoke to who respectively offered good reasons for sending your child to each option.

Raymond Liew, board president at SMJK Yak Chee in Puchong

Basically I think parents want to send their children to Chinese school so that they will learn and be able to speak in Mandarin. Secondly, the Chinese schools offer more languages Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and English. With these three languages you can work anywhere in the world, even though you might not be an expert in the languages.

Personally I don't believe that only one language can unite the people. I think that the more languages the children learn the better it is. In Chinese schools you learn everything. In our Chinese schools we have Chinese students as well as Indians and Malays. When the children mingle they learn from each other the different cultures.

From what I can see the national schools' way of teaching is different from our way of teaching. We have more emphasis on practical and not just on theory; we make sure the students do their homework; and discipline is very important to us. We also place emphasis on activities and sports.

It is true that students have a lot of homework in Chinese schools but it's because we have a lot of subjects. This doesn't mean that the child will grow up to be studious and not so well-rounded as we also have a lot of activities and sports in the Chinese schools. This is to build up both their IQ and EQ at the same time.

Whether the Chinese school students emerge with a good command of the English and Bahasa Malaysia languages depends on the individual. I don't think you can say that someone who goes to a Chinese school will emerge with a poor command of both these languages. 

I can see that the teachers in the Chinese schools are more responsible and more concerned about the students' development.

I think the best thing about the Chinese school is that it offers unity. The children are brought up to not be so divided. It is easier for the children of different races and religions to bond. Personally, I believe that the more you learn, the better to unite.

Margaret A. Kaloo, principal of ELC International School and chairman of the Association of International Malaysian Schools (AIMS)

Why do Malaysian parents queue up to go to international schools? They want English. They want smaller class sizes. They want more attention paid to their children; they want their children to be able to think, analyse and apply information, and not to keep quiet and not ask questions.

In today's world it has never been as important as it is now to be articulate. It's not enough to have it in your head; you must be able to articulate it; you must be able to ask; you must be able to apply it. That's where our students in government schools are missing out. They may get 14As, but can they think, can they analyse, can they apply information?

At the international school we have much smaller classes, much better student-teacher interaction, excellent extra curricular activities; we take the children out of the school and into the community and we even teach several languages like French, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin.

Being educated in English doesn't mean that the command of other languages suffers.

We can have anything from 20 to 60 different nationalities at an international school. Hence the students find out about each others' cultures and views, they learn to develop tolerance, they are encouraged to have a healthy international outlook, they form friendships which transcend traditional barriers and differences and they even learn a range of languages.

In addition, graduates of international schools have lifelong access to their school's international network of social and business contacts.

There is definitely a better chance of raising a well-rounded child at the international school and the middle class parents see that. They want their child to have the option to do all the other things like sports, music and drama.

An international education offers the opportunity to celebrate diversity in a spirit of understanding and tolerance and to develop a positive regard and awareness of other people.

Associate Prof Datuk Mohd Ali Hasan, National Parent-Teacher Association Collaborative Council president

I think that parents, or whoever takes care of the children, must consider who we are. We are Malaysians. We want our children to be grow up with the national spirit, a sense of integration, unity and belonging to Malaysia.

Where else can we send our children in order to achieve this?

Are we going to send our child to an international school considering that its reputation, image, status, even the curriculum is not to our mould. Secondly, we have to consider the cost and thirdly, the eliteness.

The school would consist of the upper echelons of society, perhaps the children of diplomats and high commissioners. I'm sure the general population in Malaysia cannot afford it.

So definitely, the international school is out of the question for the general population.

I can say that the Chinese school does have its strong points. For example, the teachers are very professional and hardworking compared to those in the national school. In addition, the Chinese schools excel in terms of discipline and infrastructure. These are the advantages of the Chinese school compared to the national school.

As for the Tamil schools, there are many in the estates where the facilities, teachers and infrastructure are still lacking and not on par with the national and Chinese schools.

I think for Malaysian parents, or whoever takes care of the children, currently it is a choice between the Chinese school and the national school. I think, we need to consider that we want to develop future Malaysian leaders who live in a proper Malaysian environment.

I would advise parents to send their children to the national school because I think we need to instil integration, unity, feelings of diversity in unity which I think is more prevalent in national schools.

Unity, integration and a sense of belonging to Malaysia is of prime importance rather than being compartmentalised, being with one race and not mixing with others.

For me, that is of prime importance. We want our children to be leaders of their own race as well as Malaysia and the global race, I think the national schools have a bit of an advantage here over the present national type school or even the international school.

  • You said that the teachers in Chinese schools are more professional and hardworking and the Chinese schools excels in discipline and infrastructure. Why is this so? Why can't the national schools have more professional and hardworking teachers and also excel in terms of discipline and infrastructure? If the national schools can have all these qualities, then the parents do not have to choose anymore. They will send their children to national schools and give the child tuition class to learn Mandarin, as an extra language.

  • Prof. said that the teachers in Chinese schools are more professional and hardworking and the Chinese schools excels in discipline and infrastructure. Why is this so? Why can't the national schools have more professional and hardworking teachers and also excel in terms of discipline and infrastructure? If the national schools can have all these qualities, then the parents do not have to choose anymore. They will send their children to national schools and give the child tuition class to learn Mandarin, as an extra language.

  • I think the question of why teachers at the national school level aren't more professional boils down to:

    1) the headmaster and how he or she sets the bar in that school.

    2) the general standard of teachers emerging from the colleges and universities today.

    Plus, if they're allowed to get away with it ... then of course it will continue.

    The dedication is just not there anymore. But then you could say the same for a lot of the civil service depts in our country.

    And why is that? Doesn't it boil down to how the ministry and the govt lets the quality deteriorate?

  • Besides arguing about the 3 choices of schools we have for primary kids can I suggest that we also look into the secondary education. Tug of war between national school and boarding school. The pros and cons.

  • Those in favour of the vernacular school system speak of the quality of education and infrastructure often cited in the case of chinese schools. Those fortunate enough tobe able to afford private international schools will send their children there for the quality of education and infrastructure.
    All the above is true: comparatively, the quality of the public education system is markedly inferior, and as long as this continues to remain the case, there will be a widening racial gap in our children, leading to further disharmony for the future of Malaysia.

    In public schools today as there has been for the past decade or so, a widening racial polarity. This was not so when I went to school 2 decades ago, or in the days of my parents. Some schools are predominantly attended by only one race, as other races make a choice to send their children to vernacular schools. For the sake of integration, we must upgrade the school system and take steps to ensure that the composition of each school contains a good mix of different races and cultures and encourage tolerance and integration. Single race schools breed a sense of differentiation/elitism, racism and lack of understanding for others.

  • I dont understand all these fuss about National, Vernacular scholls. as far as i am Concerned a school is a place where we send our childrens to study,whether its a Tamil,Chinese, Malay school it doesnt matters.
    Nowdays in these times we often see an Indian in a chinese school The fault lies with us because in my parents time when they send me to a normal school these things were unheard of and that our parents children thats us are now having our childrens have these problems????

  • Dhilakar, I feel the same way about this issue .

    My daugther is going on 3, and we have sent her to a private kindi. We sacrifice luxury so our daughter can experience a fun school experience.

    We have not decided on what primary education that we will send my daughter too yet, my wife is inclined for private about RM 1K /per month.

    I am still thinking that public school will be best ! The challenges will make her stronger, we as parents need to provide the support and direction and not only rely on the the school to instill. There are still dedicated teachers out there this I am sure.

  • My view of the national school teachers are hopeless. They are just not interested in the affairs of the students.All they care about is that they give them more homework without teaching and students are not allow to voice out their views.

  • In my opinion the role of teachers in schools should be to educate the student's mind and not his/her character through applying strict discipline, sanctions, etc. If the mind is educated, we will not have problematic students. Students should be given the opoortunity to apply what they have learnt and this is only feasible when they are in an environment which does not stess too much on academic excellence. I was educated in a national-type school and believe that the national schools are still the best option for a all-rounder student be it in the academic, scoial (racial integration and communication) and thinking skills development. Having said that, I wld like to see the national schools' facilities be updated and the implementation of Mandarin and Tamil classes in all schools even though the number of students enrol in these classes are below 10.

  • I went to a national school more than 20 years ago and we were able to communicate with students of different races using BM, English and sometimes Mandarin. I don't think I have seen much of that in vernacular school students. It's true that in chinese schools they learnt all thee different languages but do these students speak Bm and English fluently?Also the homework burden is depriving them of learning more things.
    Most of the teachers in chinese schools are also trained in the same teachers training college as teachers from national school. Not all the teachers in vernacular schools are dilligent and professional too. Similarly, not all teachers in national schools are unprofessional and lazy.

  • Attitude! Every child can excel if he/she has the right attitude towards learning. It doesn't matter what school you choose. Parents must also be cooperative. If the school contact you concerning your child, they must have their reason. Parents must respond to it positively and not brush it aside and start giving excuses that your child is good and he/she has never done this before or the teacher is at fault. If you want your child to grow up as excellent student, you need to work side by side with the school. Some parents are over-pampering their children. They pick on very small matter and start attacking the school. They sometimes do not communicate with the school authority first but they go straight to the department or ministry. A few have also threatened the school principal asking, "do you know who am I?"

  • What about private school and homeschooling? There are many private schools now in Malaysia that uses the local curriculum.. and also many homeschooling centers

  • As parents, we tend to want to give the very best to our children. But we also need to do that within our own means. It does not mean that if International schools are the best, our children must attend one even if we are not able to comfortably afford the fees.

    National schools, Tamil and Chinese Schools are also good in their own way. It is the education system and the quality of teachers that need to be upgraded. We should focus on the main subjects and let the supplementary subjects be activity based instead of exam based. The less stressful a child is, the more likely he or she would be able to perform much better.

    Those who wants to consider teaching as a profession, please think over many times. One needs to love children to be able to be a teacher. Don't just consider teaching as a last resort for employment.

  • It is good to see that parents are taking a proactive role in their children's development and learning. We must not forget that early years (birth to 4 yrs) are the foundation for our children's later learning. Kindergartens will pave the way to malay or chinese medium primary schools.

    Therefore to cultivate the right attitude and learning style, our children have to be exposed to such attitudes and styles in their early years. Anything that a child learns after the age of 10 years old may take twice the effort to master than he could easily do so before he is 6 years old. Parents who are concern about their children's attitude towards learning must first cultivate a learning environment in their home and show that they love reading. It should start right after birth.

    When the child's attitude towards learning is correct, it doesn't really matter which school he/she goes to but good/professional and knowledgeble teachers will bring the child's interest to a greater height. This I wrote through my own personal experience. Parents help to set the foundation and the right teachers bring the child to greater heights.

  • You have got to be joking that Chinese schools are better. I have staff who cannot even speak a sentence of English. They are just rubbish!!!! and I am so frusterated in dealing with these kind of individuals.

    How can they be better? They just stick to their own kind and do not mix around , mainly due to their handicapp in language.

  • 23:9Don't speak in the ears of a fool,
    For he will despise the wisdom of your words

    This could explain the silence of Beatrice's staff, in general. Chinese education emphasizes respect to the elders, superiors and those should be respected even though they did not earn it.
    Remaining silence in the presence of arrogant bosses is not uncommon for Chinese educated people who are generally less confrontational and conflict-avoidance in nature

  • Remaining silence in the presence of arrogant bosses is not uncommon for Chinese educated people who are generally less confrontational and conflict-avoidance in nature

    So you would agree that the "Chinese educated" way to go about problems is best approached by avoidance and refusal to approach the issue? That when there are conflicting thoughts, the best way to diffuse the confrontation is though silence and not speaking out their minds? I find that it is psychologically damaging and the opression of "voicing out" in young children towards their elders is not at all healthy nor does it make one lesser in values and morals. By doing so, in this "Chinese educated" way, you are conditioning your children to have self-confidence issues in communication with others and not being able to voice out if and when they see an unjust act, just because it may cause unwanted tension and conflict? Don't be a self-serving coward and hide behind your so-called values of "Chinese education". One more thing. Don't be a hypocrite. Respect deserves to be earned, it is not a given.

  • BL Tan: I feel the same way. I went to both national and private schools ~20 years ago, and I never felt even a tinge of racism back then. And it's also a very valid point that each teacher is unique.

    PC1: Yes, homeschooling has many benefits and is increasing steadily in popularity. Have a look at :)

    Audrey Lee: The early years of a child is considered the most important stage in a person's life. During this time, not only does the brain grow and develop, but it's also during this stage that a child's character and personality take form as well.


  • You have a chinese educated staff who cant speak english?
    I dont think that's as bad as my national school / local uni boss who cant speak english, right?

    I don't know where the American accent comes out from (probably too much american tv), but the use of that to cover up the bad english is horrible. And we're in marketing. Gosh.

    Point to be made is, it all depends on the schools that you pick. I remember us having these half baked uni trainee teachers coming in, and then leaving soon after (usually sent to a class who wasn't too fussed with their under-performance) cause we sent the class rep to the headmaster's office to complain. England no good lar. And then teach like by reading from the book. As if we couldnt read it ourselves.

    I reckon it boils down to the school's track performance and parents' open mindedness to motivate, encourage, accept and adapt.

  • I agree with Audrey. Their ability to be creative and think laterally and ask questions must be inculcated in their early years. The Chinese system of teaching suppresses this and emphasises deferment to authority figures. Neither is the extreme of no respect for elders desirable. Hence i am torn between Chinese primary school or international school

  • Worrying about my childrens' education is a constant problem I am facing. I am appalled by the celebration of students achieving a string of As that we read about in the papers every year come exam results time. Are these students able to cope in the real world where they are not meant to memorise and regurgitate things they learn?

    Furthermore, what is the point of all those As when they are unable to speak and write proper English. I worked in a prestigious company whereby the managers were mainly university graduates and I was shocked by the reports and corresponces that I had to go through from my staff everyday.

    The education system in Malaysia certainly needs to be revamped with a change in attitude and mindset!

  • Kudos to all parents for their comments. We certainly can learn something here...regardless of race, we definately want the best for our kids, and it is not international school if we can help it. I guess if we want more improvement to the education system, we have to be more vocal. Politics and education shouldn't mix and unfortunatately that is what is happening today. We should do a survey how many top politicians send their kids to national school to know the direction of education system!
    Having said that international school is not all good. I am a product of an international school for secondary eduction. If you are not prepared for the high and mighty attitude of student that thinks a world of themselves because I am the daughter of Tan Sri xxxx,the extra budget allocated for kiasu-ism( a handphone must be the latest version), self centredness at some point, then other options. would be better.
    Btw, if I throw a stone today, it will definately hit a graduate. So attitude is more important today as without it, we can be a Harvard graduate and still not be the best among our peers in terms of successful career. Look at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

  • As parents, we are worrying about our children's education all the time.

    This worry also tempt us to enrol our children in international school IB or not. We do our best to cater all the necessary details that the school wants.

    Then we realise that, 'my god, nowadays international schoosl are real blood-sucking-monsters.'

    They just keep going on and on about cash for this cash for that but are they delivering what they are paid for?

    We pay them for our child's development; academically and socially. We pay them to ensure our child's safety while they are in the school. We pay then to ensure the child learns about discipline and respect.

    We as parents do all that at home too.

    Are the international school delivering what they advertise, these days?

    Some times I wonder.

  • All I have to say is, education should be free. No parents would want to pay a bomb for something that is free. The bottom line is, our national education has become from bad to worse and that worries me. I would spend some money sending my child to a good private school (where the fees are reasonable, of course) if I have to. I come across news about fights going on in schools and unfortunately, they are mostly from national type school.

  • The choice here in Malaysia is very much crystal clear now....Malaysian parents only have the private/ international school as the only options. Why is this so, after reading various comments by parents, I think National Schools & Vernacular Schools do not have a chance at all. This then leads to another issue, the growing gap of the haves and the have I guess to create a level playing field, the government of the day should step in with the combined consultation of parent bodies, teachers and students as well to raise the bar higher for the quality of teachers & principals being churned out to public schools as well as revamp the curriculum to be on par as what is being offered in private & international schools. This way the growing gap mentioned above can be further reduced.. and we can produce a holistic human beings in Malaysia..