Teaching and Learning in Malaysia

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FOBISIA Malaysia St. Christopher's International Primary School


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Why do British teachers work overseas, particularly in Malaysia?

From 12-17th November 2019 I was visiting Penang in Malaysia to attend the teaching and learning conference organised by FOBISIA.

Why leave the U.K. to teach overseas?

The more I visit schools around the world, increasingly I am understanding why so many British teachers have left the U.K. to work overseas. The lure of warmer climates is certainly a factor, but it is not the driving force. Despite marking, emails, report writing and lack of time blighting teachers – across the world – in any school context I have visited, here are some of the key reasons why our teachers are working overseas in non-for profit schools:

  • No requirement to teach SATs
  • A flexible curriculum
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Better facilities
  • Students that want to learn
  • Almost no behaviour issues, which means
  • Teachers ‘can teach’
  • Longer holidays and better pay and conditions
  • As well as all the benefits an ex-pat life may bring to the individual/family.

It’s a no-brainer really! Why on earth would teachers choose to work in a high-stakes accountability system in any OECD country? ‘Teaching to the test’ and ridiculous levels of workload or behaviour management make it impossible to do your job, you can see why so many British teachers have left the British Isles to work overseas.

However, in the defence of our English schools, it is not all doom and gloom. From the 150+ schools and colleges I have visited, I’ve captured their challenges and successes in, Just Great Teaching. My new research to raise the profile of verbal feedback is also being received widely. I suspect the international schools that follow the British curriculum will soon follow suit with the recommendations from this research.

How are teachers supported overseas?

From 12-17th November 2019 I was visiting Penang in Malaysia to attend the teaching and learning conference organised by FOBISIA. The event was attended by 160 teachers and I was fortunate enough to be asked to lead the opening keynote and a couple of practical teaching workshops over the two-day event. The programme offered a wide range of teaching topics for newly qualified teachers, as well as school leaders and teaching assistants.

My approach to much about teaching and learning is addressing teacher wellbeing from a pragmatic perspective, discussing workload and wellbeing head-on with research into teacher attrition in England (as well as Malaysia). You can see below what the issues are arising from surveying 160 teachers in the room from across South East Asia.

Does your school provide the conditions for you to grow?

Over the two days, there were a large number of workshops delivered by a wide number of teachers. In my keynote I raised these important issues:

  1. All leaders must reduce workload
  2. Challenge habits and perceptions
  3. All ideas = bad when X frequency / compliance
  4. Reform meetings!
  5. Narrative: Replace ‘marking’ with ‘feedback’ immediately
  6. Mental health conversations matter …
  7. Collective teacher efficacy: Interrogate, interpret, inform
  8. Cognitive load – do less, more effectively
  9. Experience matters; share ideas.

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Bringing teacher wellbeing and effectiveness to life!

In my Mark Plan Teach workshops, my aim was to bring all of the above ‘teacher-pressures’ to life, disseminating key concepts from my research and with the 100+ teachers I worked with to develop the MPT methodology. Based on the feedback from teachers attending, I spent more of my time working with them to offer marking and assessment ideas to help reduce the workload burden – even for teachers working in salubrious surroundings.

  1. All teachers should have high expectations of all students – the Pygmalion Effect
  2. Data – look at the full picture – including SEMH – do you have a secure overview of assessment?
  3. Zonal Marking – or Yellow Box feedback
  4. Modelling – I do, we do, you do
  5. Share the success criteria! Here’s a great example of how to teach resilience.
  6. The 5 Minute Marking Plan – focused marking
  7. The 5 Minute Lesson Plan – stickability
  8. Wait Time – Fermi and Hinge
  9. Cold Call; No Opting Out – based on upon Doug Lemov’s fabulous Teach Like A Champion
  10. and the Question Matrix – ask (planned) questions to reduce workload and improve effectiveness.

All of the above is captured in this one blog post. Due to the hospitality and the friendliness of the conference – which I’ve never seen anywhere else – I offered an impromptu coaching session over the lunch break so that I could share as much as I possibly could with the teachers who wanted to learn more about observation reliability. It was an amazing experience and I consider myself very fortunate enough to have been invited by FOBISIA.

Watch what happened?
  • You can watch me speak with the headteacher, Martin Towse in this video
  • Watch me offer a tour of St. Christopher’s International Primary School – the host school for the conference.

About Penang

Penang is a Malaysian state made up of two parts: Penang Island, where the capital city, George Town, is located, and Seberang Perai on the Malay Peninsula. Penang’s population is 1.7 million. I was lucky enough to visit The Blue Mansion and the Eastern and Oriental Hotel (the Raffles of the East) and take in some of the amazing food and weather!


FOBISIA (Federation of British International Schools in Asia), a membership of 69 international schools located in Asia provide a British-type curriculum, first started in 1988 with the purpose of sharing. The schools within the FOBISIA network cover Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

If I stepped away from working in England, FOBISIA is definitely an organisation I would want to belong to…

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