Why is private education so expensive in Malaysia?
A short answer to this would be that private schools do not have the backing of the Government and hence, have to collect as much money as possible to weather the storm. A good example of a storm would be when many parents pulled their children out of international schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The international schools need to stay solvent, afloat and most importantly, maintain their teaching staff.
Let’s look at a simple calculation. In 2018, the government spend RM 45.9 billion on 4.65 million students (Got the statistics from some basic Googling so it might not be 100% accurate). That means if you sent your child to a government school, it is costing taxpayers about RM 9,870.97 to keep your child in school each year. This is for education that most label as sub-standard hence the reason why a lot of us shift to private education. So I would assume a good international education will cost more than this, at the very least. Another point to bear in mind is the economies of scale that government schools are able to reach to keep costs this low. More on that in a while.
Now at the crux of the question of why private education is so expensive, I believe is two deeply rooted beliefs.
One is that education should be free or a basic right. I agree with the first belief and in our country, the government has done a great job at providing a universal education system at almost no cost to its citizens. Our public education is utilitarianism at its best. The government has designed a service that brings the greatest benefit to the greatest number of the population.
Two, educators are self-sacrificing saints that are deeply passionate about educating young minds with no expectations. This, unfortunately, is not true. Teachers who are passionate and are able to inspire would like to be paid well based on their expertise. And in most schools, attracting and retaining great talent comes at a cost. Not to mention, the cost of continuous training of teachers to keep them on top of their game.
Further, I believe with no government backing, the private schools have to go to parents or their retained earnings to provide the facilities that parents and students value. I am not sure about other schools but I believe I’ve read the financial reports of ISKL. A huge % of the profits are reinvested into the school infrastructure. Parents can always look this up for their respective schools. For community-based schools like Pasxcel, we retain the profit for expansion and staff training.
Next, is the economies of scale I mentioned earlier. Government schools are able to provide education at that cost because they do it at scale. Government schools have a few thousand students in each school. Let’s do some basic math for a government school of perhaps 2,000 students (which is quite a decent average).
2,000 students * RM 9,870.97 = RM 19,741,935.48
What this means is, it costs close to RM 20 million per year to educate 2,000 students. The sheer size of government schools helps them provide facilities and trained teachers at a low price point per student. The more students you have, the easier it is for you to provide the same facilities and personnel at a cheaper price.
How many international schools can boast of the same numbers as government schools? Rarely so. The fees become more exorbitant as the same (or more) costs are sustained by a lesser number of students. Hence, resulting in expensive private education in Malaysia.
It really comes back to what you want and need for your child. Do you need more facilities? Do you need more attention from the teacher? You have to weigh in the cost vs benefits for your child in order to make a good decision.
Lastly, here is my public service announcement. If you find international school education to be exorbitant, stick to government schools. Go ahead and supplement that education with lots of character and personality building classes. What matters the most, in the end, is parents’ love, attention and affection. At least this is my humble opinion.
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