Tanarata International School (TiS) – A school in an oil palm plantation

Update (Dec. 14, 2012): Read my review of this school after one school term.

International schools in Malaysia are expected to grow, so says M. Bakri Musa in his article “The impact of growth in international schools” (The Malaysian Insider, June 4, 2012). The Malaysian government has lifted the quota on the number of local students who can study in international schools, as well as granting tax and other incentives to promote the growth of these schools. Some private schools like Sri Sempurna School and some Beaconhouse school outlets are starting to offer international programmes. The reversion from English to Malay language as the medium of instruction in schools would further promote the growth of international schools — and the increase abandonment of national schools in Malaysia.

Finding the right school for our children can be a daunting and stressful challenge to us parents (photo from ordinarypoet.blogspot.com)

The major selling point of international schools, M. Bakri Musa writes, is not that they are “international”. But it is rather that these schools offer English as a medium of instruction and they follow a Western curriculum. Chinese and Indonesian International Schools, in contrast, would see no rush of registration — with quota or no.

Questions about schools are important for my wife and me now. Our only son, Zachary, is five years old this year, and we are looking for the right school for him. There are several factors for us to consider: the school’s environment and facilities, the distance we have to travel to send Zachary to that school, and, of course, the school fees.

We identified some schools to visit: none of them is public schools. Although my wife and I attended public schools, we know public schools, with all their infamous problems, are not right for Zachary. Our son would probably find public school too boring and stifling.

My wife and I visited several private schools: some of which impressed us, and some, not so much. For instance, we went to one international school that felt more like a Chinese school! During our walkabouts in that school, we failed to find a single child talking in English! That school was also too crowded. And in another school, the teacher who entertained us during our visit could barely speak in English! No wonder then those two schools were struck out our list pretty quickly.

At the end, we narrowed in on Tanarata International School (TiS) at Kajang. My wife and I were impressed with the school’s environment. The school is located in the midst of an oil palm plantation! Greenery was everywhere. This was very unlike other schools that had more concrete than greenery. The teachers at TiS spoke English brilliantly, so as the students. The school was also not crowded. In fact, it felt like it was a school holiday! The classroom size is small. Although the limit is 20 students per class, the classes we saw had fewer students than this limit.

Administration building of Tanarata International School (TiS)

Lots of greenery in Tanarata International School (TiS). The school is located in an oil palm plantation.

Fancy a dip under swaying palm trees? The swimming pool in Tanarata International School (TiS).

TiS is not perfect of course. For one, I am disappointed by their library. I doubt even 50 students can sit inside the library, and I think Zachary and I have more books than TiS’s library.

TiS has a website and a site on Facebook, but I was not depending on them for my reconnaissance work on TiS. I was more interested in frank and impartial feedback on TiS. I managed to find and contact one parent who has a child at TiS. Fortunately, this parent was also very willing to share her opinions with us on TiS. She spoke to my wife on the phone for about 20 minutes! She has nothing but praises for TiS. This was the deal clincher for my wife and me.

The school field of Tanarata International School (TiS). The field is surrounded by greenery.

A tennis court doubling up as a basketball court in Tanarata International School (TiS)

A treehouse in Tanarata International School (TiS)

So, yesterday on Thursday (Jun 14, 2012), we sent Zachary for his school entrance exam. Blimey, an exam just to determine if a child could enter Year 1. I think I must have been more nervous than Zachary. Like a trooper, Zachary was actually excited and looking forward to sitting the exam!

My wife and I had very little idea on what topics Zachary would be tested on except that they would be on English and Maths. My wife was in charge of English and me on Maths. My wife ensured he could remember and write his ABCs well. We also found several websites that have a list of words a Year 1 student should know. We printed out the list and made sure he could read and understand these words. To our delight, he could read 95% of these must-know words. I like to believe Zachary’s vocabulary is a product of the Read Aloud system which we have teaching Zachary since he was only a few months old.

On my part, I made sure he could count from 0 to 100. I also made sure Zachary could add and subtract numbers, as well as do simple math word problems such as “The tree has 11 apples. Four apples dropped from the tree. How many apples does the tree have?”

I taught Zachary how to read the time from a clock down to every 5 minutes (such as being able to tell time if the clock showed 11:35). Lastly, I taught him a little “algebra” such as solving: (10 + ? = 13) and (8 – ? = 5).

Zachary could do these math problems very well. But I was worried about cramming too much within a short period. I was afraid how well he could keep all that he has learned coherently in his mind. Would all come unfurling during the test? When I was Zachary’s age, I could not even add or subtract numbers, let alone do: (12 – ? = 7). In contrast, Zachary could add large numbers like: 389 + 458.

I am glad to report that Zachary took only 45 minutes to complete the two-hour exam. The better news is that the school later called us to say that Zachary has been accepted in TiS! Boy, it felt good. It was as if it was I who took the exam. But the best news is that the school further reported that Zachary had a perfect score for English and Maths! In other words, our boy wonder Zachary scored 100% in English and 100% in Maths. No wonder then the school was so quick to offer him a place (within a day)!

Classroom building of Tanarata International School (TiS)

The school canteen in Tanarata International School (TiS)

My wife and I know that sending Zachary to TiS does not mean the end of our part. Whichever school Zachary attends, we must be involved in his learning experience, to ensure he learns well and, most of all, enjoys learning. Finding the right school for Zachary is only the beginning. It is interesting to read in M. Bakri Musa’s article that research shows the most important factor in a successful child isn’t in the size of the classroom but the amount of parental involvement in the children’s education.



    • What school year is your child? Entrance exam questions depend on school year. My son’s exam was for year 1, and as I wrote in the article, the questions were related to simple math addition and counting. For English, it was the ABCs and simple nouns. Of course, for other school years, the exam questions would reflect that and be correspondingly more difficult.

  1. Hello

    We are moving in to Malaysia in this December. I’ve 6 year old
    Daughter. I want to admit her in to a school in Ipoh as soon as
    we are in Malaysia.

    I need to know admission process, fees which is below 1000 RM, when the class will start, timing of your class.I also need to know does she require any
    previous educational certificate and admission test.

    Thank you

  2. Hello Christopher,
    I am planning to transfer my daughter to TIS . I want to know is there any transportation arrangement by school available from TIS to Pajam Nilai .

    Thank you,
    Jaya Chander

  3. Dear Prinicpal/HOD

    Please may you quote me the price of fees of you school i have 2 children want to go to school. 1 is of Grade 10 the other son of mine is of Grade 4. Please reply soon

  4. How are the teachers like? Believe they are all local. My concern is that my child is a slow learner-due to her speech delay. Was advised to have a shadow aid for her as she will get tbe help she needs in school. Will tan stats accept my daughter? Thank you Christopher.
    Regards Indra.

    • Yes the teachers are mostly local but there’s a french teacher who teaches french language. There are advantages and disadvantages to having expat teachers. One major disadvantage is these expat teachers tend not to stay long in the school. The school’s official stand is they don’t accept special needs students because they don’t have the facilities to cater to such students. However, you need to contact the principal to discuss your child’s case.

  5. Hi Christopher,

    May I know the entrance test was done with all the applicants or individually or just a small group?

    May I know the person in charge of the registrar?

    Thank you

    • You need to fill in the application form, send in the form personally to the school (rather than mailing it in), then if you are selected, you will be interviewed by the school principal. If the principal allows it, your child will sit for the entrance exam. The exam is conducted when needed — no need to wait until there’s a group of students.

      • Hi Christopher,

        Thank you for your prompt reply.

        Another question of mine, may I know how do we pay the application fee? If I am planning to pay by cheque, what is the payee name?

        Thank in advance

  6. Hi Christopher,
    Thank you for sharing. I am hoping to enroll my girl after standard 6 at SJKC this year. What do u think?

  7. hi we are planing to move to kajang, and looking for school for my daughter,i read your article, is that mean we can chose TIS.



    • No, you don’t have to live near TiS to enrol your daughter there. You can stay far away (as do some parents) and still have your child admitted. Will your daughter enter Year 1? I’m asking because there is a very long waiting list (more than 100) for Year 1.

  8. Hi,

    Thank you for your helpful comments about Tanarata school. I am looking for a good international school around Bukit Jalil. I would like to know if your kid is still attending to this school and also what is your experience about the teachers. You know, the fee are cheap relatively to others and I am a bit doubtful about the teachers quality.


    • Yes, my son is still in TiS. I still stand by what I wrote in this article. Why don’t you visit the school and judge for yourself? How old is your child? I’m asking because the waiting list for Year 1 is 100+, so competition is very tough.

  9. Hi Christopher,

    Found your review about TiS to be very useful for me to form a rather balanced & impartial judgement about the school. My daughter and I will have to attend the interview and the tests tomorrow for her admission into Year 3. May I know what kind of questions will they ask during the interview? Looking forward to your speedy reply.


  10. Hi Chris

    My daughter will be turning 4 next month and looking around for a school worthy to get an education.

    Your write-up is a good tool for parent like myself.

    Just need to bounce off you, do I need early appointment with the school for the assessment (ie book now for the assessment, which will be somewhere end of next year) or just wait until prior to start of Year 1 for her (ie. in the year she turns 6, that’ll be 2015) and make the appointment?

    Do they welcome early walkabout for potential students/parents?

    There’ll be an international school exhibition at MVMM in July but Tanarata is not listed as an exhibitor – so my posers need some other channel.

  11. Hi Christopher,

    I am happy to read your review about TiS. Firstly because this is the first time that I read an extensive review about the school (photographs included!). I found your review very impartial. I share common grounds with you…my son goes to the same school.
    I hope that we as parents are happy with the school for years to come!
    One basic thing I looked for when I was school-hunting was…were the children smiling, were they happy? And for both these questions I had positive answers in TiS. My son in enjoying the school too.

  12. Hi Christopher,

    We are moving to KL in June 2013. I have 2 daughters, one has completed K2 and the older one is going to complete Grade 5 in march this year.
    It was good to read your comments on TIS since we are planning to visit TIS and see how the school is, this school is one in our list of shortlisted schoos.

    Could you give us your feedback now, as its been a year that your son is attending school in TIS. Could you pls share your experience about the school in the past one year? It’ll be really helpful.


  13. Hi Christopher,

    Thank you for your valuable reply, i will definitely be dropping by during this school holiday to pay this school a visit.

    Can you please advice, is the deposit and entrance deposit refundable?

    What is the estimated miscellaneous fess per year

    Hope to hear from you soon. TQ


    • I recommend that you call the school first to fix an appointment to ensure they are ready to answer your queries and even show you around the school. For Year 1, the school fees are RM3000 + RM600 for building fund. This is for one term only. If you are interested for your child to attend ECA (extracurricular activities), then there would be extra charges per term, depending on the ECA. The ECA charges range from RM60 to 450, where the latter is mostly for music classes (such as drums).

      The school deposit is refundable, but I can’t remember if I paid any so-called entrance deposit as you call it.

      Good luck.

  14. Hi Christopher
    We are parents of two children and are searching for the right school for them. We have read your comments on TIS and have been wondering if you would be able to write some follow-ups article, since your son’s admission to the school. Hope to hear more from you. Tq

  15. Hi,

    You review is excellent and very useful. I must congratulate you for your impartial comments and openness. I have read in your original post that your child is 5 years old this year and you have prepared him for grade 1 admission. Can you share his date of birth with us (may be not on form then email me at Khalid.ahmed.fakhruddin@akersolutions.com . My daughter is also five this year but we were told that she can be in grade 1 next years only. So we applied for next year and waiting for Interview call. In the mean time I need to figure out something about this year.

  16. Hi

    We were looking for an international school for our child and someone mentioned Tanarata to us. That was in 2010. However, recently we embarked on the serach again, and googled on the school. There are more negative remarks than positive, recently. One of the complaints was the school is very polarised and very unfriendly and biased. Some teachers’ professionalism have also been questioned. We are not sure now if this is the right school for our child. There is probably only one mother to a student who praised the school at the moment. The school’s performance, the teachers and the principal are disputable? Will there be improvements after all the complaints? Will you still send your son to this school?

    • Thank you for your feedback. I have registered my son in TiS and have paid the school fees for the new term. He will be starting school early September this year, so at the moment, I certainly cannot defend the school or agree with you based on my experience with this school. At the moment, I have no experience! But I will certainly write about TiS after a few months or a year from today based on my observations.
      You did not mention about the source of your feedback on TiS. But you might have already realise that TiS is a very low-key school with few online comments, especially detailed ones, be they good or bad reviews. However, as you have mentioned, I have come across some negative comments about TiS. However, these comments were all made by parents who have had their school application rejected by TiS — not exactly impartial comments that a parent can completely rely on.

      I find that critics of TiS often miss some important subtleties about this school.

      One important subtlety is TiS appears, at least to me, not to care whether you enrol your child in this school or not. In other words, TiS doesn’t appear to be a hard-up school for students, or a school forever chasing or marketing to increase their student intake. This may be why some people accuse TiS as unfriendly, unhelpful and even proud. TiS has a maximum capacity of about 500 students, but their student population is about 400 (or so I am told) — and it isn’t because TiS fails to get the students. As stated on their website (for those who bother to read their admission guidelines properly), student acceptance is based on the child’s entrance test results *as well as* the interview session with the child and parents. Thus, *both parents and child are evaluated* before the child is accepted or even considered to sit for the entrance exam. I am not sure exactly what criteria TiS uses to evaluate both parents and child (TiS certainly isn’t telling), but I can guess that if parents come in with a haughty or “difficult” attitude, their chances of a successful application will be low.

      TiS is one the cheapest international schools in Malaysia, but, based on my observations, this school is also very selective on student intake, even if maximum student enrollment have not been reached. It is certainly not the case where if a parent can pay, their child gets in the school. TiS appears to be more interested in getting the right kind of students and creating the right kind of school environment, rather than to maximize profits by maximizing student intake. TiS is not transparent in its selection criteria, and this is perhaps why rejected parents kick up such a fuss and make all sorts of accusations. That these parents post crude remarks online may be indicative that TiS was correct to reject their applications.

      Another important subtlety that most people miss is TiS allows negative comments on their website and even Facebook. For instance, there is one sarcastic and negative feedback by one unsuccessful applicant on the school principal on TiS Facebook. Instead of deleting that and other negative comments, these comments were kept for all to read (note: their Facebook and website have public access). I think this is very big of a school. If I was the principal, I would probably have these negative comments removed, especially if I felt they were unfairly made.

      TiS have in the past accepted one or two special needs students. Consequently, critics have quickly (and wrongly) conclude that TiS is a special needs school. While some see the acceptance of these special need students as a sign of weakness, I see it as one of TiS’s strengths — that a school would have a heart big enough to take in one or two special needs children and that it isn’t all about maximum-profit-above-all-else for TiS.

      Another important observation most critics might miss is there appears to be an active school and parents association (again, I can only speak from what I read about them; I have no experience yet). Parents are allowed to have a role to play in TiS, and this kind of link is crucial for a successful school and a link that is missing in some international schools I have read.

      One more issue that some critics might have (but which I won’t entertain) is the number of “dark-skinned” children in TiS (Was this what you meant by “polarized”?).

      At the end, time will tell if I have made the right decision. There are so many factors my wife and I had to consider in choosing the school for our son. School fees was one important criterion, and so was the school distance. TiS is the nearest school to my office (only 5 mins away). Moreover, I later learned that some of my distant work colleagues have their children in TiS. I like what I saw in TiS — not crowded, an English-speaking school/students/teachers, and a school that does not appear to be so eager in profit-making or always ensuring their student intake remains at maximum level.

      There are many other international schools out there. Some parents might find schools with, literally, Olympic-sized swimming pool and large gyms, as well as a given notebook for every student to be extremely attractive. In such cases, TiS would not be able to compete.

      The best ways to find out about a school is to read up about the school on the web, talk to parents who actually have children in that school (or previously had them enrolled in that school), and to make a personal visit to that school and walk around and observe the school environment for yourself.
      I will definitely write more about TiS in the future — both the good and bad.

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