Malaysians value education highly. Parents will go out of their way to ensure that their children have better prospects in life. All parents or guardians would need to make decisions on the education of their children based on the options and choices available at every key stage of their academic life as they progress. These choices are heavily influenced by the confidence they have in the various education pathways they choose, what they can afford and what they think is acceptable for their child in order to get to the next stage. Ultimately, the end game is to be able to secure a good career with a well-paying job, be able to contribute positively to society and of course to ensure a comfortable lifestyle as well.
The most important key stage arguably is the stage just prior to tertiary education, and the qualifications and preparation required to enter pre-university programmes and various colleges.
Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) is the main national examination which awards candidates the secondary school qualification, provided they pass the examinations. SPM is taken at the end of Form 5 after 11 years of schooling, and it is one of the pathways to tertiary education. Education provided by the Government is relatively free (aside from necessary purchases like school uniforms, stationery and some books). About 70% of Malaysians are qualified up to this level of education and 23% have a tertiary level qualification.
But of late, many parents have been seeking alternative pathways to tertiary education and chosen The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), which is based on the British curriculum. There are 2 examination boards offering the IGCSE, which are Pearson Edexcel and Cambridge. Cambridge IGCSE is the world’s most popular international qualification for secondary education.
According to the statistics of the Malaysian Cambridge Assessment International Education, in 2012 there were approximately 3,000 local candidates sitting for IGCSE, by 2017, the figure rose by 293% to 8,800 candidates. In a main test centre in Klang Valley, it was mentioned that there are 500 candidates sitting for the Mathematics paper in the upcoming May 2018 exams. The Cambridge IGCSE indeed has gained traction and popularity.
Those who can afford to send their children to international schools have an array of choices to choose from. For IGCSE, these schools tend to be a safer option as they have to be registered as a Cambridge school and meet a certain quality benchmark set by Cambridge International Education. The annual tuition fees at upper secondary level range between RM24,000 and RM100,000.
For many who seek the more affordable option for IGCSE, they can decide on the choices of private learning centres or home-schooling tutors, with monthly tuition fees ranging from RM700 to RM2,000. Students enrolled in these courses will have to be registered as private candidates and take their IGCSE exams at selected test centres around the country. Fees for each IGCSE paper can range between RM600 and RM2,800.
A note of caution to parents who choose the affordable route - they must do their due diligence thoroughly, check to ensure that it is suitable for their children and that it meets the requirements of the chosen tertiary programme. Parents and students must do their own thorough research about the courses, teachers, facilities and safety. Many pre-university foundation or A Levels programme would require 5-6 IGCSE subjects, with varying grades and subjects, which are required for the specific programmes.
My personal journey with IGCSE is through planning for my eldest daughter. She will be sitting for 4 of her IGCSE papers this May as a private candidate. She took 2 papers last November, making it a total of 6 subjects. She takes lessons from subject specific home-based tuition teachers who have experience in conducting IGCSE classes. She started at the end of Form 3, attended Form 4 in a national secondary school whilst going through the home tutoring programme after school, but has since opted out of school at Form 5 this year, to focus on her IGCSE lessons and exams. I chose this way for her because it allows more flexibility with scheduling, and I am able to chauffeur her around. The planned next step for her is to enrol her into a local UK university foundation course. I have listed links of references of the journey I have personally taken, seen and read. Do visit PageMalaysia.org and search by tag ‘IGCSE’ for the links, write-ups, opinions and resources of my road to IGCSE and beyond.
Whichever step that a parent chooses for their children to pursue the alternative secondary school qualification, do ensure that a thorough analysis is done by referring to various resources on the internet, speaking to teachers, parents and students with some experience, visit and take trial classes (if possible) at the schools and learning centres and make sure that it is a right and suitable choice for the child, and for his/her future prospects.
Is ditching SPM for IGCSE necessary? No. But it is something to consider and a good and plausible choice that one can make.