WHEN I was in school in the 1970s and 80s, international schools were the choice schools for expatriates, diplomats and students who have studied abroad.
Malaysian students rarely were enrolled in such schools as getting an education in international schools was not the priority of most parents of kids in my generation. Government schools were sufficient for a good education back then.
Fast forward a few decades and today, a lot of Malaysian children are on the admission waiting lists of a lot of international schools in the country as the declining standards of the local schooling system is pushing kids towards such schools.
The thing is that the number of parents who want to send their children today will be many times more than the near 12,000 Malaysian students currently enrolled and receiving an education in the syllabus of countries such as England, Australia, the United States or even Singapore.
The removal of the 40% quota on Malaysian students getting an education at international schools will not necessarily see a flood of admissions as a lot of international schools are already filled to their limit in terms of what their classes can take.
The number of students per class are normally fixed but demand for admissions will actually increase. That might lead to schools increasing their fees by a larger quantum given there is now no ceiling to the number of Malaysians who can study there.
The cost of sending a child to an international school can be in the tens of thousands of ringgit a year per child and for families who are struggling to cope with the yearly jumps in fees as their child moves up each grade, the higher fees can be a big burden especially for the middle-income folks who have made a decision to give their children that kind of education. This can be avoided if more schools will be built and as supply of schools increase, hopefully, the price of private education will not rise as fast or preferably drop.
Lifting the quota will also mean that children will get access to an English-medium education. International schools also offer a chance for students to get a rounded education that focuses beyond rote learning most are exposed to today.
The downside is kids in international schools, whether we like it or not, will create a class system. There will be concerns that children going to such schools will not be fully integrated into the fabric of society.
It's a high price to pay but with the schooling system not producing the required numbers of English-speaking Malaysians, this approach is also needed for the future of the economy.
As more investments come in, demand for English-speaking workers will increase. If that means hiring a foreigner to fill a job in Malaysia, then companies will do so. Under the Asean Economic Community by 2015, there is suppose to be free movement of skilled workers throughout South-East Asia.
The one common language this region shares is English and the move to allow more critical thinking Malaysians capable of conversing in English will be to the benefit of not only those students but also for the companies that hire them.