Matrix Global Schools: Much needed inspiration that school education is about more than just exams?

A repost that, while not directly related to Geography, talks about a school that is going against the norm to teach in a way that they believe is in the best interests of their students.  Visiting the school made me reflect on how I, as a subject leader in Geography, balance the bigger picture between school and national agendas with what I believe Geography teaching should be about.  For me, we can get any student to learn a long list of factual geographical information (what Matrix Global Schools calls skills) but the real learning comes from getting students to want to learn more and to think geographically to adapt to whatever the future throws at them (the Matrix Global Schools idea of character). The visit didn’t give me any answers on how to do this but it did inspire me that there are others who haven’t given up on a wider purpose for school education than just getting exam certificates…

The Asian model of education is learn facts, pass exams and leave with an A+; the stereotype of an Asian F is a well known characterisation on American shows. Yet in a small pocket of Malaysia, Matrix Global Schools is bucking the trend. Slowly growing with 650 students after two years and promoting problem-based learning, Matrix Global Schools is blending the education philosophies of the East and the West to create a unique style of education in Malaysia.
The school building and its facilities are beyond belief. With a pre-school, international primary and secondary school and a private Malaysian school built around a central athletics track and lake, the facilities are first class; from dedicated cookery classrooms and multipurpose halls to formal auditoriums and exhibition areas, the only thing missing is a zip wire and that is being built this year! Yet walking round the school, even without any students present, it is clear there is much more to this than impressive facilities.

Matrix Global Schools is part of the development company Matrix Concepts Holdings Berhad that is building a new town as Sendayan. Felix EB Lee, CEO of the Schools, presents a passionate and refreshing vision for education, one clearly routed in what the development company seeks in its employees and his own beliefs about education. He argues skills get people hired but (poor) character gets people fired; anyone can develop skills and pass exams but the right character makes people lifelong learners and better employees. Phrases such as ‘Learning beyond boundaries’, ‘Our lessons are for Life’, ‘Seeking knowledge; Opening minds’ and ‘We send our students out of class’ are displayed on internal windows throughout the school and Mr Lee is adamant that through developing students into critical thinkers and learners first then the A+ grades will follow.  

Mr Lee knows this is not the Malaysian way of educating and the proof will be in the exam results when students have passed through the school having learnt through problem solving and asking questions. He talks about the anxiety of parents and the need to invest in time through parent conferences and communication with home to ensure parental buy-in as without this he recognises it will not be successful. Yet his conviction that this is the future of education means they are developing both the English (international) and Malaysian (private) schools to base their teaching around problem-based learning.

And it is not just in the classroom that this ethos permeates. Students have to take part in 3 compulsory extra-curricular activities each week; a club of their choice, a sports activity of their choice and belong to a uniformed organisation of their choice. Promoting the arts and creativity, the students have written, produced and performed their first musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ with Mr Lee encouraging them to create their own scripts and improvise lines where needed rather than buying and regurgitating a bought production; the real learning, he suggests, is in the ability to react and keep going when things do not go to plan.

Walking round Matrix Global Schools and listening to Mr Lee, it is obvious something special is going on here. This is about someone having a vision for education that is about being educated for life and having the courage and conviction to pursue this regardless of what everyone else is doing. Whether or not the vision is successful or along the way it gets knocked and shaped into something considered more mainstream remains to be seen, but visiting Matrix Global Schools was a refreshing and inspiring experience of a vision for what makes education for life.

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