GOOD teachers who are proficient in English are being sought after, with some international schools offering huge monthly salaries and perks to attract the cream of the crop.
With international schools now a booming business, some operators have resorted to poaching as demand soars for top-notch teaching staff. There are now some 100 international schools in the country with an enrolment of about 40,000 students.
Recently in an exclusive interview with The Star, the Sultan of Johor made a strong case for English to be used as a medium of instruction in schools in our national education system.
Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar spoke about the importance of the English language, which he described as a “neutral language” that can be used to unite the people regardless of race or religion, and a “universal currency” accepted even in countries where the people don’t speak English well.
The Ruler noted that the international and private schools in Malaysia, where English is the medium of instruction, are only available to those who can afford it.
These schools are set up to meet demand but are business entities that charge high fees, making them inaccessible to the ordinary Malaysians.
Educationist Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said teachers are being pinched and offered high salaries because of their English proficiency.
A teacher who masters the language will have a job waiting beyond retirement, he said.
“There has been a shortage of good English teachers for some time now so it’s not surprising that international schools are prepared to pay their staff handsomely.
“Even middle-income families are doing whatever it takes to send their children there because they feel it ensures a brighter future,” he said, adding that the main reason international schools are popular is because the teaching medium is English.
He called on the Government to “go back to the drawing board” and chart the country’s future in education, adding that there is an urgent need to train more English teachers.
“Countries like Thailand, Taiwan and China are stressing on English and their teachers speak the language well,” he said.
Association of International Malaysian Schools (AIMS) former chairman Margaret Ann Kaloo said parents send their children to international schools because of the medium and method of teaching.
She said the number of international schools has already exceeded its target but more are coming up.
The Education National Key Economic Area under the Economic Transformation Programme has targeted the setting up of 87 international schools by 2020 with an enrolment of 75,000 students.
“Do we really need that many international schools? It would be much better to improve the education system,” Kaloo, who is also the chief executive officer and founder of the elc International School, suggested.
She said teaching staff salaries, ranging between RM7,000 and RM12,000 per month, represent 70% of a school’s costs.
“It is a teachers’ market, young teachers are always on the lookout for better deals, with some being paid phenomenal salaries.
“Staffing is a horrendous headache made worse by staff pinching. Don’t poach gainfully-employed teachers”.
The price of proficiency
DESPITE charging fees that can go as high as RM100,000 per annum, international schools are popular as parents who can afford them believe their children will be more globally competitive, well-rounded and proficient in English.
Businesswoman Sherina Ch’ng said teachers at international schools have a different approach, ability and skills compared to those at government schools.
“International schools have become a necessity rather than a luxury. There are various types offering a range of fees, so parents need not be super rich to send their children to one,” she said.
“Middle-income families can afford to send their children if they save or cut down on other unnecessary expenses,” added the mother-of-two who pays about RM40,000 yearly for her son’s Year One tuition fees at an international school in the Klang Valley.
The amount does not include meals, special classes, school trips and uniforms.
A check by StarEducate showed that international schools in the Klang Valley charge each pupil between RM12,000 and RM78,000 per annum at nursery and kindergarten levels, and between RM14,000 and RM84,000 at primary level. At secondary level, fees ranged from RM17,000 to RM105,000 per annum, depending on the location and reputation of the schools.The sums quoted are for tuition fees alone and do not include the deposit, building fund levy, as well as application, registration, enrolment, installation and boarding fees.
Working mother J. Tan, who pays about RM50,000 per year for her son to study the American syllabus, feels it was “worth it” as her 12-year-old had improved academically and became more self-confident.
“Since he started attending international school more than a year ago, he has also excelled in extra-curricular activities like sports and music. He would not have had such opportunities in a national school where there’s an over-emphasis of academic-based grading,” she said.
Thomas Gomez, 39, claimed that international schools provide “better classmates and environment” but those with quality teachers and good teaching methodology cost a bomb.
With international schools mushrooming now, even those who do not love teaching are hired to fill vacancies, he said.
“Many new schools are set up to make money and teacher-pinching is rampant.
“Parents feel short-changed because some of their kids have even endured not having a teacher for one whole month,” he said.
For those who cannot afford international schools, another option is to homeschool or send their children to learning centres that teach the same syllabus.
Bank officer and mother-of-three Irene Tang, 48, said she and her friends send their children to such centres which charge about RM12,000 per year.
“Rather than force my daughter to study something she is not interested in, I enrolled her for a British education, which is more to her liking,” she said.