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We Come to Teach

by Eleanor Lopez 1 Jun 2011
We Come to Teach

With their distinctive philosophies and objectives, these schools are laying the foundations for the island’s future as an education hub.

According to Principal John Gwyn Jones the main strength of St Christopher’s is the teachers. Just back from a recruitment visit in the UK, he is keen to point out that they have an equal number of expatriate and local teachers who have been handpicked. “As long as they meet our requirements, I’ll always prefer to hire local teachers. They are the backbone of the school, the long-term asset,” claims Jones. And he would know having been principal at St Christopher’s for 20 years.

Established in 1963, the school is another pioneer in international education in Penang. Funded by parents and run by a voluntary board of directors, the school started as a primary only and is set to remain so despite requests from parents to go up to Year 12. Jones points out how being primary only is an advantage. “What they (the parents) don’t realise is once we go up to secondary, the school will change. This is what we’re good at, the ethos, the environment. I invest just as much in my three year-olds as in my Year 6.”

As the biggest international primary school on the island with 600 students and a long waiting list, St Christopher’s acts as a feeder school to those that have secondary level namely Dalat, Tenby and Uplands. The last five years has seen a steady growth in student numbers. “And (this) naturally generated surpluses. With that we built a new three storey teaching block,” states Jones.

It is also the only remaining primary school in FOBISSEA a membership association of British International Schools of quality in the South East Asia and East Asia region. This offers a valuable learning experience for the students who are treated as seniors once they reach Year 6 and given responsibilities such as being prefects and sport captains. It promotes enthusiasm in learning and also provides a sense of expectancy when the students leave.

On the prospect of other international primary schools being set up in Penang, Jones thinks that this would bring a positive change to the island. “I think Penang like KL is developing into an education hub. To me that’s all good. The advantage of having more international schools is the parents can make a more informed choice as opposed to the only choice.”

St Christopher’s International Primary School
Tel: 04–2263 589

Dalat, first established in Vietnam in 1923 has a long and extraordinary history that is fittingly of biblical proportions. From the beautiful highlands of Vietnam to a Japanese internment camp and a desperate flight to safety in Thailand where the teachers and students spent eight months in deplorable conditions they moved to Cameron Highlands before finally settling in Penang in 1971.

The hardships endured and the commitment to the school from both the teachers and students are a testament to the faith that is the driving force at Dalat. “The biblical worldview is our history and is integrated in the curriculum,” says Larry Chinn, Director of Development at Dalat. “We want to educate our kids not just academically; we want to educate their character, so they become people with integrity, people who care, people who work as a team.”

The sense of community is one of the school’s strengths. In fact many students have returned to teach at Dalat. “Our longest serving teacher has been here for 33 years. One of our English teachers who graduated from the original Dalat,” claims Chinn. It also has the added merit of being the only American school in Penang as well as the only Christian international school in the country. Chinn points out the fact that many of the students at Dalat are looking to go to university in the States. Graduating from Dalat is equivalent to graduating from any high-school in the USA.

Starting out as a closed school for children of missionary parents who served in Indochina, Dalat continued to grow and expand over the years. In 2001 the school was established as an international school and in 2006 the Malaysian government allowed local students to attend international schools, its reputation as a Christian school notwithstanding. Chinn explains, “Our student’s don’t have to believe it, but we do require that they participate. I’ve never had a parent tell me that their children felt awkward because of a discussion (on differences of beliefs). We have a very open environment and it works.”

Dalat International School
Tel: 04–8992 105

With a student body of 580 students from 30 nationalities, it is obvious why Uplands stresses the importance of self-respect. John Cadman, Assistant Principal at Uplands coined the motto in 1995, as a way of inspiring a feeling of self-worth which he believes is essential to human beings living a worthwhile life. “It is out of self-respect that respect for others grows. How can you like others and treat them properly if you do not like yourself?” he explains.

Being the first international school on the island (established in 1955), Uplands had a rather dramatic beginning. Seeking a safe refuge from the threat of communists in rubber estates during the Malayan emergency, expatriate planters set up school on the premise of the former Crag hotel on top of Penang Hill for their young children. The original building still remains and can be seen from Strawberry Hill, abandoned and melancholy.

The new Uplands stands proud and large on a purpose-built campus in Batu Ferringhi. Despite being ‘grounded’, the school’s spirit and world class standards remain high, making it one of the most respectable international schools in the country. This is helped by the fact that Uplands is a not for profit institution that is owned by parents (as shareholders) and administered by an unpaid Board of Governors.

One of their main strengths is their pastoral care. With 75 highly trained teachers, the school also has a mentor system in place as well as a university counselor. “We have students who leave at year 11 (to pursue their A-Levels at less expensive institutions), but when they want references or help with university applications they come back here,” explains Cadman.

Principal Dr Horsfall is also keen to point out the importance of having a good quality international school in Penang especially for the expatriate community. “You can come from anywhere and slot back into the education system when you return.” Uplands long history of achievements and academic track record has led to student admissions in prestigious international universities around the world.

The International School of Penang (Uplands)
Tel: 04–8819 777

Taking the expression ‘two is better than one’ and applying it to an educational institution may seem like a conflict of interest. But with Tenby’s integration of an international school alongside a private Malaysian school, it looks like a formula that is set for success.

Since its establishment in 2005, Tenby is setting the benchmark for cost-effective international education in Malaysia particularly in Penang where the cost of living is still comparatively low. Founded on the belief that ‘our investment should be in our children’ the pooling of resources offers students the best of both worlds setting the foundations for internationally minded global citizens.

In Penang, Tenby International School and Sekolah Sri Pinang sit side by side on the current campus on Lorong Burmah. The international stream offers the National Curriculum of England whilst the Malaysian stream follows the national KBSM syllabus. Teachers are separate for the two schools but overlap for common subjects. “Each school learns from each other, and as the schools develop we try and ensure we integrate our students across both schools,” explains Giles Montier, Principal of Tenby International
School Penang.

Other than sharing the same campus and facilities such as playing field, cafeteria, library and science labs, the students also get together for extra curricula activities such as sport, concerts and community service. “That’s the beauty of it. You can be Malaysian or expatriate but you can be in the same sport club,” enthuses Yuen Yin Fong, Senior Marketing and Communications Executive for Tenby Schools.

And things are set to get better as the school prepares to move to a bigger, better purpose-built campus in Tanjung Bungah. With state-of the art facilities and resources, a large sports complex and expressive art block that houses specialist music, drama and art studios parents can rest assured that their children benefit from the union of the best traditions of Malaysian education with the highest standards of modern international schools.

Tenby Schools Penang
Tel: 04–2291 227

Philip Couzens is another principal who subscribes to the opinion that having fully-trained local teachers is an advantage. Speaking about the soon to be opened Prince of Wales Island International School (POWIIS) Couzens explains, “I believe that you should get the best person you can get. That does not necessarily have to be an expatriate teacher.” He highlights the importance for students to have local rolemodels.”

Located in the growing township of Botanica in Balik Pulau, POWIIS is accessible yet far from the bluster of Penang’s development. Having the distinction of being the first school in Malaysia to offer British-style boarding, Couzens points out how the choice of boarding be it full, weekly or flexi-boarding (students can stay for one or two nights) caters for every level. “The weekly boarders whose parents work on the mainland will be able to go home for weekends. This offers a good balance of home and school for the students.” And being so close to the airport (30 minutes away) commuting would not be much trouble.

Being a homegrown brand, Couzens highlights the advantage of not being associated with a franchise brand. “Schools should stand by their own reputation,” says Couzens. And POWIIS is certainly setting standards of royal proportions when it comes to their resources. Spread over 7.5 acres of lush hills, they have every facility needed to encourage exercise, competition and relaxation.

The self-contained campus which will include the halls of residences will be protected by extensive security systems to ensure round-the-clock safety. The school also boasts a stunning 500-seater natural acoustics auditorium that can be transformed into a professional standard theatre. “We want to draw the people to POWIIS as a centre of arts and culture,” explains Couzens.

Being the first international school to open (Sept 15, 2011) in the rural area of Balik Pulau, Couzens is looking forward to the important part POWIIS will play in contributing to the shaping of the community there.

Prince of Wales Island International School
Tel: 04–8662 399

For more information on schools and education in Malaysia pick up your copy of Essential Education 2011, available at all reputable bookstores. Or visit or

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