Beware of private centres

LESSONS are from 9.15am to 4.45pm.

Extra activities range from hip hop classes to drama and vocal training.

There is no uniform but there are dress codes to adhere to.

“You have to dress decently. No shorts and singlets,” says 15-year-old Lau Wen Anne, who has been studying in a private learning centre in the Klang Valley for the past two years.

It’s somewhat like a regular school in Malaysia, only that such centres are mostly located in shoplots and commercial areas.

And instead of the national syllabus, students are taught international curriculum such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and Cambridge primary education.

These centres seem to be flourishing over the past few years as more parents weigh this new option when planning their children’s education.

Some parents are also drawn to such private learning centres as the fees are generally cheaper than full-fledged private or international schools.

And if they want to, children at such centres can also sit for national examinations like Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) as a private candidate.

For Lau, she took seven subjects including Bahasa Malaysia, Economics, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics before starting on her curriculum for IGCSE this year.

“It’s really fun since there’s more freedom,” she says of her “school”.

“Our classes are smaller so the teachers are able to pay more attention to us.”

The middle child of three siblings, who previously studied at a Chinese primary school, sometimes wonders how things would be if she had gone to a national secondary school.

“But I know that I wouldn’t like it as much as where I am now,” says Lau, who dreams of being a video editor or an air stewardess one day.

While these centres are gaining more students, the Education Ministry is warning parents to be wary of illegal centres – those that operate with a different licence or no licence at all.

There are currently 18 categories of registered private educational institutions, comprising private schools and education centres such as tuition centres, language centres and enrichment centres.

“Private learning centres are not one of those categories.

“There are some cases where these centres have a tuition centre licence but operate like a school.

“We are looking seriously at their existence and the issues involving these centres as it is against the provision of compulsory education set out in the Education Act.

“We will be taking appropriate action in accordance with the Act against illegal private educational institutions,” the ministry tells Sunday Star.

It urges all private educational institutions to be registered in accordance with the guidelines and terms.

“For private educational institutions that wish to run international curriculum such as IGCSE, they have to register themselves as an international school.

“We will not approve any educational centres to run international curriculum in other settings,” the ministry says.

While it does not have the exact number of illegal centres at present, the ministry does receive complaints about them and has conducted inspections.

“We have noticed an increasing numbers of complaints about these centres,” it says, adding that such illegal institutions will be subject to penalties according to the law.

The ministry advises parents to check the registration status of a centre before enrolling their children to avoid difficulties in future.

“For example, the ministry will not endorse any certificate from unregistered institutions.

“This is a compulsory requirement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry for any students to go abroad,” it adds.

Meanwhile, as they continue to grow, private learning centres are open to engaging with the ministry to iron out any issues.

“Our learning centre welcomes governance by the ministry as this will help weed out learning centres which may be set up by business individuals.

“They may not necessarily be experienced educators,” says the academic head in a private learning centre in Kuala Lumpur, who wishes to remain anonymous.

She suggests that learning centres which meet the criteria as education providers be given a separate category of licences.

“Some of the larger and more established centres have started conversations with the ministry.

“We were invited to meetings and discussions with the officers.

“We suggested control measures in terms of setting teacher-student ratio, minimum teaching qualifications, teaching licences, fire and safety measures,” she says, adding that her centre strictly adheres to such standards.

While the centre started in 2014 with a class of just 10 students, it has since enrolled over 300 students.

“The students we produced have proven to be high achievers,” she says, adding that the centre’s growth has been controlled to maintain quality.

She reveals that parents who enrol their children have various reasons, as with parents who send kids to national or international schools.

“They believe learning centres can meet their needs.

“This includes a smaller ratio of teacher to students so that their children get the attention they need to achieve academic excellence and be raised in a manner that they want – well-behaved, obedient, adventurous in learning, able to plays sports and communicate well, among others,” she says.

A principal of a centre in Petaling Jaya, known only as Wong, estimates that there are 50 to 100 centres in Klang Valley alone, with the numbers increasing every year.

“I believe more private learning centres will continue to spring up, with a growth rate of about 15% in the next five years,” he says.

Echoing the sentiments of other centres, Wong agrees that the Government should provide a special category of licences for private learning centres.

“We should be in a category between tuition centres and international schools.

“With more parents sending their children to private learning centres, the Government should look into proper regulations.

“However, any measure taken by the ministry should not leave the children and their parents in a lurch,” he says.

Wong says it is the right of every parent to choose the kind of education they want for their children.

“And as for centres which sole aim is to make money without doing things the right way, they should stop as they are robbing the children of their future,” he says.

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