Different Spin - The Price of Good Education

Yours Truly
Form 1: Last day of school with my BFF's. We called ourselves The Nerds

Here's my article for The Star last Friday. The original draft was longer (I exceeded the 900 words limit!) but I will show what was omitted and some comments and feedback from those who were kind enough to share their thoughts with me. TQ!

THERE is a lot of pressure these days about sending children to the ‘right’ school. Even though Isobel is two years shy of primary school age, I have started doing some research on what’s best for my child and admittedly, to my wallet.

I have asked around for recommendations and many friends believe, hands-down, that private schools are way better than public ones. It seems, parents are feeling anxious and guilty these days about sending their kids to a public school.

Shireen Zainudin-Lowe, a mother of two, feels that public school teachers are vastly underpaid and as such, the calibre of teachers nowadays is abysmal. She added that private schools are businesses so they have to be competitive and tend to offer a better rounded education.

I studied in a public school all my life and I’d like to believe that I turned out pretty much well-rounded, if not okay.

But then again, it ‘helped’ that I had a straight-A, older sister studying in the same school who was not just academically strong, but also active in sports, debates and was head or deputy of almost every club and society.

So the expectation of excelling was thrust on me by default. I also had wonderful teachers who were very patient and dedicated in giving their utmost best. But according to some, the set of teachers nowadays are no longer of ‘that breed’.

“Public school teachers are not the same as before. They do not care and I feel they are not there to educate but (to) simply fulfill their time,” said Melati Wan Malek, a mother of two privately-schooled children.

Melati had tried both public and private schooling for her kids. However, she is adamant about keeping her kids in a private establishment as they get more exposure.

“In public schools, due to thousands of kids, only the bright and active ones get to perform. And it’s always the same faces doing the dancing or singing,” added Melati.

Naturally, I want the best education for my children — in both academic and curriculum activities.

Both public and private schools require their teachers be credentialled.

This usually means a degree and a teaching cert.

However, private schools tend to hire teachers with advanced degrees in their subject over teachers who have an education degree. Put it another way, a private school hiring a Drama teacher will want that teacher to have a degree in Drama and Arts as opposed to an education degree with a minor in Theatre, for instance.

Jason Teo, another pro-private-school friend said that the teacher to student ratio for private schools was relatively lower than most public schools, resulting in greater individual attention for the child.

He added that many private schools also focused on character building — and with school being an extension of a student’s home, it should serve as a place where good character continues to be fostered. I agree absolutely.

My husband and I were blown away by a musical performance at a private school renowned for throwing amazing stage shows.

With my four-year-old’s love for music and dance, we knew this school was going to perfect for her.

Our only concern was the price we had to pay and the slight fear that our child might turn snobbish. Forgive my stereotyping, but from my experience, the students from international schools were always so mean and arrogant towards those of us from public schools. Am I harshly judgmental?

TV host Nurul Alis sent her kids to a private school but switched them to a public school as she felt her children started ‘changing’ after hanging out with some of the more affluent students.

“All they talked about was who had a better handphone, better holidays. They were even ashamed when I came to pick them up in my small car because the other kids’ parents had luxurious, bigger cars. Now that they are in a public school, they are much more down to earth and are more appreciative about life,” said Nurul.

Well, I guess it’s reassuring to know that, overall, public-school education should not necessarily be seen as second-rate compared to private schools.

But let’s not forget the costly fees of private institutions. I did some background homework and fees per semester can go as high as RM16K!

Recently, the 2012 budget was announced and for the first time in history, government primary and secondary education is provided free.

Honestly, I feel the subsidy is a pittance to what I’m currently paying for my pre-schooler’s fees!

But I am grateful nonetheless. There are also income tax exemptions of 70% and other incentives proposed for private schools registed with the Education Ministry, in the hopes that the savings accrued by private-school operators will subsequently result in the reduction of school fees to ease the burden of parents.

Hopefully, this will allow more leeway for parents like myself to have more options now that affordability is expected.

I spoke to Raphael Hamzah, the director of a private school in KL and he was quick to clarify that it’s not always the case where the rich go to expensive, private schools and those in a lower income bracket go to public schools. “Drive past SKBD (SK Bukit Damansara) after school and check out the cars there,” he joked.

“But seriously, private schools like ours need to make each dollar count thus the quality comes from a true desire to be better — it’s all honestly for the students,” he said.

In conclusion, when it comes to deciding where to place your child, the only way to do it is to “test drive” a school.

Call the school and ask to come for a tour and class visit. Once there, you should be able to find out about class size, the types of resources available and the programmes offered.

You may even want to attend a few PTA meetings or school fairs to get a feel for the children, teachers and parents.

Daphne wishes parenting was as easy as eating chocolate everyday. Share your thoughts with her at daphne@daphneiking.com

The part that got butchered:

Speaking of better, I know some folks who wish that the powers that be make up their minds on the educational system in our country. A parent who wishes to remain anonymous has bleak hope of any reversal in decision by the Education Ministry.

“The public school which I attended in the 70s and 80s had great extra-curricular activities. But in recent years, the unfortunate era of my children going to school, where the education system is being subjected to the flip flop decisions (teaching of Maths & Science in English is one example) has forced us to send our two older children to attend the home-school programme as we could not afford private education for our 3 kids.”

( This was shared by a CEO of a Financial Service Group. According to him, there are 6000 of home school students in Malaysia and they even have an annual sports day gathering. He plans to send his 3 children to a neighbouring country who is welcoming them with 'open arms'. The 'pull factor' in sending his children there includes a special preference granted on fees for 2 years. He and his family plan to leave Malaysia next year. "Our children are growing up, we cannot wait for the government to come to their realisation, if they do not have the will to see reality, but instead are blinded by political short-sightedness'" he added sadly.)

* LATEST UPDATE: Education Ministry has decided AGAINST the use of ENGLISH in teaching Maths and Science *

My god-daughter Kristen was previously in a Private highschool but is now in her neighbourhood public school. She admits that the stress to excel was higher in the private school, but now that she is in a school where most of her friends (from Primary school) are, she misses her old school.

"I think the teachers in private schools are more caring, loving and dedicated towards their students. They put more effort into teaching and making sure they understand what they have been thought. Even though the students are not as exposed to the outside world as those who study in public schools, they come from good family backgrounds and are well brought up and therefore it is a much better environment to learn and grow in," says this 15 year old.