Most parents assume that international schools cost a lot because of their facilities: the swimming pools, the ICT labs, the fancy theatres and the music rooms. It's certainly true that these sorts of facilities are expensive to build and maintain. However, that's not the main reason international schools are expensive.
So what IS the answer? It's pretty simple.
Around 80-85% of a school's budget is eaten up by teacher salaries.
To successfully recruit (and hold on to) good, experienced and qualified expat teachers, international schools need to pay them well. That means a competitive salary - one that is comparable to the countries from which the teachers are hired. That salary is then combined with other benefits like medical insurance, housing allowance, flights home at the start and end of each contract & school places for any children.
What does this mean for schools?
Hiring expat teachers is expensive.
International schools in KL that hire almost entirely foreign teachers - like M'KIS, ISKL, Alice Smith, GIS & BSKL - are, invariably, at the top of the fee tables here in Malaysia with fees up to a staggering 120,000RM a year. These schools all have fantastic facilities too - but it is their teaching faculties that form the bulk of their costs.
These schools are all held in high regard by teachers and thus receive a huge number of applications for every vacancy they post. They can - and do - hire very experienced, (think a minimum of 5 years teaching), highly qualified (often with Masters degrees and/or even PhDs) teachers and school leaders who are very much at the 'top of their game', professionally. But they have to pay them very well to 'woo them' to come to Malaysia, and keep paying them well to keep them here. We are simplifying things of course, but you get the idea.
Cheaper international schools - and there are plenty of these in KL now - are able to charge lower fees because they reduce their staffing costs in a variety of ways.
- Hiring younger expat teachers, with less experience (so demand lower salaries)
- Hiring single teachers without children (so there is no need to offer them school places)
- Hiring more local teachers, who aren't given the hefty expat packages (sadly!) so are therefore cheaper to hire.
Any international school costing less than 50,000RM per year will almost certainly have a 70/30 or 60/40 expat-to-local teacher ratio (a couple of notable exceptions in the city are Oasis International and Sunway International, both of which hire almost all of their teachers entirely from America & Canada respectively, but still fall within this price bracket). Below 30,000RM and you'll find a 50/50 ratio at the very least.
So, what's the 'take-away'?
We think the most important thing is for parents to understand: the fees you pay are almost always going to directly correlate with the quality, experience levels and retention of the school's teaching faculty.
But if you can't afford 'top tier' fees, don't worry. There are still some great quality options out there. Keep an eye out for:
- Schools with high retention levels (ask how long their teachers stay, on average)
- Schools that offer their teachers regular, high-quality in-house training & PD (professional development) opportunities. The best schools make time for this every week.
- Schools that support and empower their local teachers by offering them Cambridge (or other) high-quality qualifications and providing them them leadership opportunities.
NB: One of the best examples for this in KL we would say is HELP International School. Their fees are very competitive but their commitment to staff growth and development - both expat and local - is really impressive.
Thanks for reading!
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