Should Parents Switch Their Children from Chinese Schools to International Schools?

Published by SchoolAdvisor on May 23, 2019, 02:25 AM

You hold your child’s soft hand, careful not to grasp too tightly in fear of harming him. A gate separates you and your child as you watch him walk step by step towards the beginning of his education journey. A small smile graces your face as you heave a sigh of relief, the excitement shining in your eyes betraying the sad little tug you feel in your heart. You eagerly anticipate what the future holds for your child and what will become of him.

Some of the thoughts that plague parents minds are “Is this school right for him?”; “Is he happy there?”; and “Can he be successful in this school?”. Government vernacular schools such as Chinese schools in Malaysia are popular options for parents who want their children to learn a language other than Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction for subjects.

However, it is no secret that Chinese-medium schools have a reputation for being extremely strict. Most Asian parents have preconceived notions that these schools will be able to instil discipline in their children that regular schools won’t be able to. You have to ask yourself if that is the right strategy for your child.

Felix Lee, executive director of the Education Divison of HCK Capital Group Bhd, says that parents should choose a school for their children based on the children’s needs and learning styles. It is vital that parents pay close attention to how their children feel towards learning in a school, which brings us to the question: What can parents do if they find their child unable to cope in a Chinese-medium school?

Education mediums are right there waiting to be explored by parents who want to admit their child. There are schools, centres and even homeschooling! If you dive further. Schools offer a wide range of variations classified as national/public, private and international. Admittedly, there has been a spike of interests in international schools recently that some parents even decide to bring up their child who is already enrolled in another school, no matter the cost. One of the constant changes is from Chinese school to an international school.

Parents are willing to do that because International schools are known to provide quality education, holistic environment, cultural attunement and cutting edge essentials for their child. Meanwhile, Chinese schools are often exam-oriented, monolinguistic and individual-centric.

Chinese school quick fact!

For those of you who don’t know, Chinese-medium schools abide by the national syllabus, which is taught in Mandarin at these schools. Chinese schools that do not offer local examination accreditations are known as Chinese private schools. International Chinese schools adopt curricula and outsource teaching materials from Taiwan and China.

Differences between Chinese schools and international schools


International schools are often accredited by either local education authorities or foreign organisations. Their certifications are highly sought after and the students who possess them are believed to be the crème de la crème of the newer generation. International schools are only recognised as such if their parent campuses or the curricula they offer are from foreign countries.


International schools are student-oriented, catering to students’ capability to have and maintain a keen interest in learning. Chinese schools are exam-oriented and focus on excellent academic achievements. Both Chinese and international schools offer enrichment programmes for students to gain additional skills. However, Chinese schools advocate a more “by-the-book” approach while international schools encourage students to think outside the box.

Since Chinese schools are exam-oriented, teachers tend to assign a great deal of homework as it is believed to contribute to better learning. They take the phrase “practice makes perfect” to a whole other level compared to international schools, which go by whatever curriculum or specialisation they follow. Some international schools specialise in grooming athletes, future leaders of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics), or even teachers, thus students are given relevant tasks to boost their potential.



Chinese schools usually have a Chinese-majority student body. The communities these schools are centred to want students to develop the habit of striving hard to overcome obstacles. These hardships are supposed to temper the students into becoming mentally stronger, but is it worth it?

International schools, on the other hand, focus on a holistic approach. They empower students by acknowledging that each one has her own strengths and flaws. Rather than pressuring them to master more skills, international schools allow students to choose what they want to do amid positive reinforcement.


Accreditation from international organisations come with yearly or even monthly verifications to see whether international schools are worthy of maintaining their accredited statuses. One of these verification processes involves representatives from these organisations visiting the schools to check the facilities and teaching and learning processes.

Chinese schools’ facilities are influenced by three things: the funding they receive, their boards of management’s decisions, and basic students’ utility. The funding usually comes from the Chinese community and associations, student fees or investors, and is sometimes limited. Thus, certain aspects of comfort such as niche facilities are sacrificed. The boards of management will decide on what to add or scrap, as long as the school is meeting (or ideally exceeding) the minimum standard comfortable learning environment for students.


Why switch?

There will be no certainty when choosing a school, but why a sudden spike of the shift from Chinese schools to international schools? It is common for parents to switch schools after their child has completed primary education in a Chinese school and continue their child’s secondary education in an international school. Some experts say this is a smart move, seeing as students get the best of both worlds. With the discipline that has been instilled throughout their education at Chinese primary schools, adolescent children can benefit from being exposed to the out-of-the-box thinking that is encouraged at international schools as they are a little older and have a better understanding of themselves.

Why just take our word for it? School Advisor decided to contact a few students who made the switch and, based on certain criteria, this is what they had to say:

Cultural Differences

  • There are a lot of dos and don’ts in Chinese schools
  • Teachers often walk around with ‘rotans’ and are typically seen as too strict to approach
  • At international schools, teachers are more approachable, open-minded and willing to interact with students. Perhaps because of the mix of cultures, there is a bit more understanding from international school teachers.

Learning Experience

  • In an international school, the learning environment is more relaxed. Teachers give students space and encouragement to speak up. The students consider teachers as friends.
  • There is a lot more pressure in the Chinese school environment, as well as a lot of competition in academic achievements.


  • Chinese schools provide all the information you need to memorise and churn out later during the exams. It is very heavily based on memorising rather than independent thinking.
  • International schools, on the other hand, require a lot of independent research and thinking to complete tasks. They are generally less exam-oriented and more centred on self-development. In terms of subjects, there is more variety to choose from in an international school.

However, one common thing all the former Chinese-school students mentioned was that they wouldn't trade their primary education at a Chinese school for anything because although it was tough due to the strictness and punishments, they became more organised and disciplined compared to their peers in an international school. The hardworking nature and diligence that was instilled in them helped them tremendously when it came to projects and passing the major exams in an international school.



Would you choose to switch your child to an international school? If so, make sure to find the best fit for him. Worry not! We at School Advisor will help you throughout your journey.

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