Before 2018, if you asked my opinion about boarding schools, I was always adamant that boarding schools are only suitable for children more than 15 years old. We are influenced by our life experience (like it or not), and I am (somewhat) proud to say that I went to boarding school at 16 years old.

Or course, in a lot of things, my opinion does change with the times.

My second son, ever since last year when he was in standard 6, had expressed his wish to enter boarding school.

I’m guessing it’s influence from his friends because his parents at home (at least him mum), certainly did not ‘sell’ this idea of going to boarding school at form one (yet).

My husband too went to boarding school at form 1, although our backgrounds differ slightly, in that I went to what is now a cluster school during form 1-3 (SMP Sri Aman – always proud to be an alumnus), but hubby grew up in Parit Buntar, Perak, and I’m not exactly sure how the local schools are back then, but certainly, boarding schools were better at least by reputation.

My second sons class also had a whatsapp group between parents and teachers (I keep emphasizing it’s my second son because my eldest attends a local SMK/sekolah menengah kebangsaan, and I’m glad for the experience so that I can compare). So when the teacher told us that the website for MRSM and SBP is open for application, we applied on behalf of our son. It’s his dream. As long as it’s legal and good, why not? I will always do my best to support my children.

The UPSR results then came out some time later and if I remember correctly, SBP results this time (apparently many things were different this time compared to the previous years, yes, Ministry of Education or policy makers keep changing the rules, hopefully for the better), offers for SBP/sekolah berasrama penuh came out before school started. So those who accepted the offer to go to SBP did not have to attend the other high school.

This is what I understand of the current system for public schools in Malaysia:

Every SRK/sekolah rendah kebangsaan is a feeder for one or two other high schools/SMK/sekolah menengah kebangsaan. So every child in primary school is guaranteed a place in a high school that’s automatic without having to apply. But the student must of course register accordingly.

Then certain students, I believe the criteria are a combination of academic excellence and active in co-curricular activities, are offered special schools like sekolah kluster/SBP/sekolah berprestasi tinggi high schools, some are SMKA (sekolah menengah kebangsaan agama). Application to enter is also done by the class teacher, where by parents are informed and have to fill out a form/give details on the choice of school.

Alhamdulillah, during the school holidays, the offer letter for SMK Dato Ahmad Maher (Maher for short) was made available to collect from the school office. So my son didn’t need to register at the other SMK.

My son was offered a place without asrama/boarding, I presume the offer is only made for students who live outside of reasonable commuting distance. Since he did not yet get any offer to go to a full boarding school, like many of his friends, I suggested staying at the boarding facility in Maher. He declined. Much to my surprise. He said he wanted to look at the place first and then decide.

So day one of school was normal, just like any other day except that the traffic jam at pick up time was horrendous. If he was to stay on, we would definitely needed to get transport arranged.

Then he came home and said that he wanted to go to the boarding facility there. Yup, must have been peer influence. I know that he has a good friend who boards there and many friends in the same school.

My first son is more the reserved type, like me. My second son is way more out-going and social compared to the first, and especially with friends. I remember his kindergarten teacher and even his form 1 class teacher at Maher, said that he was quiet with the teachers. Anyway, my point is, its probably more friends influence that made him decide to go, than parents.

The office was probably closed by then, so I went the next morning around 10am after sending my youngest to kindy. Met the PKHEM (penolong kanan hal ehwal murid), who directed me to the Penyelia Asrama/Boarding school coordinator.

There was a list of stuff to buy, some from koperasi sekolah, and the rest from supermarket. He had to register same day, by 4pm. So it was quite a rush, first koperasi, there was a bit of extra uniform for boarding school students, shopping spree at the super market, extra uniforms since he will be doing his own laundry, it was pretty exciting but mostly for the mother, worrying.

Will my son be able to manage?

Then when we came to the boarding school’s coordinators office, the first thing I remember was the form 1 hostel room, which can accomodate 16 students, was full, and the only vacancy was at the form 3 and form 5 hostel rooms.

I wanted to say to my son, “Jom la balik, cancel je la” there and then, but my son didn’t say that, and my husband didn’t say that either so I kept quiet.

 

It was a temporary arrangement, the coordinator reassured us.

To be honest, I couldn’t sleep that night even though our second son was just a short driving distance away. The next day, I sent a whatsapp to another parent I knew from our days in Ireland, to ask about the boarding school there as she also had one child in form 3 and one child in form 1 at the same school. She said that place is fine, there’s no bullying at all. Zero. And for this, I must congratulate the school. Any student found guilty is promptly removed, I think strict policy also helps a lot. So from then on I could actually sleep peacefully at night.

Because the school was quite near, I also came almost every day for the first week, just so that I can see my son and know that he is ok. We sneaked all kinds of stuff and I found that coming just before or after Isyak was the best arrangement, since the boys had to pray at the masjid which is near the gate. We could have a quick chat and pass all sorts of things from little presents to money.

The boarding school there didn’t allow mobile phones so we gave our son that watch that can be used to call us. There were also a few public phones within the boarding school compound, but it didn’t allow us to call back – for good reason, perhaps many would abuse it if that was allowed.

Little did I know then, that the first three months, from January 2nd to 31st March, was a practice.

My son fell ill once with fever, somewhere in January, so he came home for MC for a few days. But he did adapt to boarding school life well. When I came to pick him up that day, he was wearing school uniform that he had cleaned and ironed himself, I felt really proud.

He didn’t complain much. Got good results for his exams. Of course, because we were near, certain things perhaps were taken for granted. But I remembered there was a student whose home was in Gua Musang, so yeah, we wondered then, kesiannya, jauh. Tak dapat balik so often like the other kids.

Then the unexpected happened. April 2018 was such an exciting month too.

At around 10.30am, recess time, my son called. He wanted to come home and not stay at boaring school anymore.

No problem, its the same school anyway.

But we were shocked because there was never any complain before this. I called my husband to let him know. He said ok. He was also shocked.

Hubby arrived first to de-register from the coordinators office.

My son didn’t admit to any particular problem, it was more being tired of doing his own laundry and stuff like that. Prep having to use the same tables in the canteen which were not that clean. No major issues lah.

In Maher, students were allowed to go home every fortnight and parents can come visit on Friday when students do not go back. Even so, I noticed that the boarding school did not stop parents from visiting on Saturday.

Again, in hindsight, little that I knew these were the last few days we spent together before my son would be going to a full boarding school, hundreds of miles away.

Yes, I chose that particular boarding school because we were planning to relocate next year. Did not consider what would happened between now and then, honestly.

On the 9th April, which was a Thursday afternoon, my second son came back from school as usual and I broke the good news to him. I expected him to say, that’s nice, but I’m happy now where I am so I’m going to say no thanks to the offer, and our lives continue as normal.

But no.

Instead, he wanted to go.

Even though it was far away.

Even though he probably didn’t have any friends there.

In fact, he told me he had been praying everyday that he would get an offer to go to a full boarding school.

If we were to accept the offer, we have to fill in and read the 20 plus pages and come to the school on Monday, 10th April.

Ok lah, we spent the weekend (which is Friday and Saturday here) shopping for new uniform and other bits and pieces.

Sunday, the three of us travelled by car to my hometown. Visited my mum in PJ. Spent the night at our home in Selangor. Then early next morning we drove to the boarding school, left our son and headed back to Kelantan. It was exhausting, but as I said, I would do anything for my children as long as it was halal, legal, its their choice and their lives.

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In general, the fees for boarding schools are reasonable. The above is for food, cheap, certainly, but kids are also very hungry and do spend money for other food than what is prepared. Laundry is only RM2 per month, and a very small fee for Quran classes.

So for those wondering on whether or not to send your child to boarding school, I would advice only a few things:

  1. Send and support them if it is their choice. And if they choose not to later, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. I would never have forced any of my kids to go to boarding school at form 1.
  2. Form 1 isn’t too early for boarding school after all. Of course it depends on the child also, others (like my first son) might not be ready at form 1, but can go at form 4.
  3. Expect that you and your child will have to adapt to the new life. It may take months (it took three months for me), or shorter, or longer, depending on the parent and the child.

I hope this post is helpful.