5 differences between an international school and a normal school


International schools have been growing in popularity globally for several years across the world. According to an ISC Research report there has been a 7% rise in student numbers in 2020 compared to 2019. Forecasts suggest that international schools will host almost 7m by 2023.

It is often argued that international schools are better than national (or “normal”) schools – whilst that tends to be more a matter of opinion, it’s important to recognise that they are different in many ways. Here are 5 of the most common differences, and what they mean for your child.


Probably the most significant and obvious difference is their curriculum. National schools, naturally, follow a national curriculum, which varies from country to country. The qualifications students gain from these schools often make it difficult or impossible for students to gain entry to programmes of study in other countries.

However, an international school’s curriculum is globally recognised. They vary from school to school – some are modelled after the national curriculum of countries like the US and UK. Others are modelled after more international curricula like the International Baccalaureate, or the International Primary Curriculum.

Alice Smith School  in Kuala Lumpur, and we pride ourselves on our innovative curriculum that has been based on the English national curriculum.

Learning language

Another major difference between the two types of school is the language students learn in. National schools will teach mainly in their native language, whereas international schools will often .

As it is very likely that the vast majority of students will speak it as their second or third language, teachers adapt their teaching methods to make sure all children are engaged and fully supported, whether they are EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners or not. As an international school in Kuala Lumpur, Alice Smith prioritise students learning and their environment, to ensure they are supported on their journey to higher education.

This is an excellent way for your child to expand their language skills, giving them a more in depth understanding of the English language and its application in practical and academic environments.

Internationally diverse staff base

Teachers will travel all over the globe to teach at international schools, which results in children learning from well-rounded professionals that have experiences they can apply to their teaching to better prepare their students for the future.

Most (but not all) national schools will have teachers from the local area, as they are teaching in the country’s native language. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but it is a drawback if parents are looking for that more holistic, international community feel to their child’s education.

International study and work opportunities

Now, students that come from both national and international schools can and do travel abroad for further study and employment.

The key difference though is that at an international school, a student’s qualifications are easily accepted by institutions across the world, including Russell Group and Ivy League universities. However, with a national school education, this may be different depending on the country. Students with a national education may find they need extra qualifications or need to take on foundation programmes to access higher education abroad.

With an international school education, students are better prepared to acclimatise to learning and working environments abroad, especially with their people skills. It’s part of an international school’s core design.

Privately versus publicly funded

National schools are typically publicly funded – so a lot of their resources and capabilities rely on funding from the public or the government. On the other hand, international schools have the luxury of being funded by investors or privately owned. This means they can invest their funds how they see fit, to further benefit their students.

For example, at Alice Smith, as a not-for-profit school we ensure that every bit of our funding is invested back into resources that enhance and develop our students. Whether that be the learning environments and facilities, the calibre and professional qualifications of our teachers, or extracurricular activities and programmes.

So, there you have it, 5 ways that international schools are different from national schools. If you are looking for an international school in Kuala Lumpur, why not look at the Alice Smith School. You can download a prospectus or customise your own based on your child’s needs or book a tour of our campuses.

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