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Kuala Lumpur education and international schools

Workaholic businessmen sometimes complain that life in Kuala Lumpur is one long holiday, but what else would you expect when you live in a cultural minestrone, and hardly a day goes by without a religious festival of some sort. Naturally, international schools respect many of them.

Expats have always been common in Kuala Lumpur but as the corporate world expands, the number of international executives and digital nomads arriving in Malaysia has increased dramatically. This small country (but nearly one and a half times the size of the UK) has been unphased by the challenge, throwing up the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin buildings in the world and, swiftly, making sure that every western experience, from Gap and Gucci to traffic log jams, arrived more or less overnight.

You could evince surprise that this is an officially Muslim country, as there are so many frivolous shops, catering to foreign tastes, on almost every street corner, but Kuala Lumpur is very much a multi-cultural city and a tolerant society. However, this does not mean that you will automatically find yourself with loads of Malaysian friends, as expats (from all over the world) still tend to live and socialise in the same places and send their children to international schools.

It’s all out there, when it comes to housing, you can choose between a fully-serviced luxury condo, a proto-colonial bungalow or a Beverley Hills mansion, dependent, only, on how deep your pockets are. Not many families rate the shopping and night-life above the noise and pollution of Kuala Lumpur City Centre, so most gravitate further out to the gated communities, such as Damansara Heights, Desi Sri Hartamas or Mont’ Kiara. These have the added bonus of being within fairly easy reach of most of the international day schools with Mont’ Kiara International and Garden International being walkable if you live in Mont’ Kiara.

The lightning speed at which Kuala Lumpur has turned from a sleepy city into a gigantic South Asian hub has not gone unnoticed by the international schools’ circus and there is now a much wider selection than at the millennium. There is plenty of choice for English speaking expats but beware of some schools that may claim to be 'international'.

The schools mentioned below are the main ones most expats really do consider as they offer British, US, Australian and international programmes. The locations are mainly in the central, east, south and western areas of the city, often twenty minutes or more from the centre, these spots have been chosen mainly in order to provide more spacious campuses.

Roughly speaking, the schools can be divided into the ‘old’ brigade which have been established here since the middle of the 20th century and the ‘newbies’ who have come on the scene since the late 1990’s.

International schools

Amongst the older schools, Alice Smith School Secondary and Primary , Garden International School, Mont’ Kiara International School and the International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) (the longest established IB World School in Malaysia), the curricula are either English (Alice Smith and Garden International) or International Baccalaureate (Mont’ Kiara, all the way through, with the additional option of the American High School Diploma). Whilst, there is an innovative offering at ISKL, with its new, flexible alternatives in High School, in addition to IB Diploma and Advanced Placement courses.

Amongst the relatively recent arrivals, elc International School, IGB International School and Fairview International School (here since 1978) also follow the IB programmes as well as EtonHouse Malaysia (only PYP as it finishes at age 12). The remainder, including the British International School offer the National Curriculum for England (or an adapted version). The alternative to these paths are the Australian International School, which teaches the New South Wales curriculum leading up to the NSW High School Certificate and the Lycée Francais de Kuala Lumpur, providing a fully French education.

Apart from curriculum, the other distinct choice that you have is whether you opt for the boarding route or not. If you do, there are three options, ranging in distance from around an hour’s drive (Nexus International School and Epsom College in Malaysia) to an hour in a plane, (Marlborough College, Malaysia), technically in the country but, in reality, much closer to Singapore than Kuala Lumpur. Epsom and Marlborough are outposts of distinguished English schools, whilst Nexus is a relatively new entrant on the education scene. Also, in Johor on the Singapore border is Repton International School Malaysia a new member of the group Repton International Schools Ltd.

For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Kuala Lumpur considered by expats'

And finally…

Downtown Kuala Lumpur may be ultra- modern and frenetic but the international schools in Malaysia offer a range of conventional curricula. This means that your children can move on easily if your stay in South Asia is relatively short or obtain the right (and often impressive) qualifications for their university studies if they are at that stage of their education.

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