EDUCATING OVERSEAS Kuala Lumpur
The tourism strap line is ‘Malaysia – truly Asia’. And, to be honest, I couldn’t agree more. Kuala Lumpur is a hotbed of different Asian cultures, religions and nationalities, which all seem to interact and cohabit with no fuss. A true microcosm of what the world should be like.
I look back now to those frosty mornings in the UK, scraping the ice off the car, with dismay. The dark nights coming in, OFSTED lurking just around the corner… I did two years at a fantastic school at home, but it was time to move on and me and my girlfriend couldn’t have chosen a more magical place.
As adjectives go, ‘cool’ isn’t the most adventurous, but when asked what Kuala Lumpur is really like, it’s my go to word. This city really is a cool place to live. Different districts are packed with hipster cafes, boutique shops, vegan restaurants, and new styles of Yoga.
At times you have to remind yourself you’re not in New York or London. At other times, however, it’s strikingly clear. I wouldn’t say the gulf between rich and poor is large, it’s just that in among the high rise and built-up shopping malls exist small Kampungs, local Bahasa dialect for village, where corrugated iron forms the shell of primitive housing, a stone throw away from Starbucks and McDonalds.
Another thing to note is the local way of life. Malaysian’s are, shall we say, relaxed. The bureaucratic efficiency of the UK is streets ahead. Buses are late, post is late, a 6:30 meeting is usually 7:30. The deadline for housing bills are not enforced, parking fines are seen as optional and traffic jams are just expected. I guess it all adds to the fun! Or as the locals say: “That’s Malaysia, lah.”
As stated at the beginning of the article, travel was a huge driving force in my decision to move, and it’s in the perfect place to hop aboard cheap flights to other destinations. So far, we’ve explored Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia, with many more still on the list. Thanks to AirAsia’s remarkably cheap prices, every pay packet is subsequently spent visiting somewhere new.
But beyond all of this, the main positive for me is the school – the reason I’m even here, of course. I’m extremely fortunate to work in a place where I love coming in every day. The makeup of staff is predominantly British, meaning friendships are easy to forge and the atmosphere within the school is one not too dissimilar to the UK.
The school is also driven by technology, where students from Year 3 upwards operate on a 1:1 iPad scheme, which has completely changed my approach to teaching. My current class has 12 different nationalities and behaviour management isn’t an issue at all.
The Asian parental culture at times is demanding, with the mindset being “top of the class” and “homework equals success.” But as is the case with any teaching job, parental engagement is a huge part of it, you have to find ways to connect on a personal level.
I teach Year 6, without the usual SATs test at the end of the year. Quite simply, it’s great. Students and staff are not pressured by the results of SATs scores and students working ‘below, expected, exceeding’ the prescribed UK government levels (even though we are told they are now without levels, it’s really the same thing). This means I have more freedom to teach content thoroughly without rushing through a syllabus, or teaching to a test.
My use of assessment is now 100% focussed on the students as students, as opposed to falling into the trap of viewing students as pieces of data that I have to justify at every performance management meeting. Yes, I am still identifying students who have strengths and weaknesses, and adapting my practice accordingly. But I can actually enjoy them as learners, and as young people.
So, I’m 18 months into my overseas adventure and loving every minute of it, both professionally and personally. I can see myself teaching and exploring for the foreseeable future. My advice for those considering it would be to research the school before you move. Does its philosophy and ethos suit yours? Read reviews. Remember, it’s different living somewhere and holidaying. Have an open mind, you never know, you might just surprise yourself.