Education Destination Malaysia had the privilege of sitting down with Dr Mike O’Connor, principal of The British School of Kuala Lumpur (BSKL), an international school renowned for its rigorous curriculum and extracurricular programmes. As an educational leader with a wealth of experience, Dr O’Connor shares his vision for students, the strategies employed in fostering global learners and his views on the use of technology in education.
About Dr O’Connor
Dr O’Connor is no stranger to international education. He began his teaching career in Australia before assuming prominent leadership roles in various primary, secondary and all-through schools. His journey has included prestigious positions in educational institutions in Australia, China and now Malaysia. His role at BSKL involves overseeing the teaching, planning, performance and outcomes of the 1,200 students ranging in age from 2 to 18 years.
When asked about the motivation that drives him as the principal of the school, Dr O’Connor pointed out that his passion is focused primarily on achieving the school’s objectives. His priority is to continuously improve the performance of his students in all areas, nurture the professional development of the staff and ensure the satisfaction of parents whilst upholding the school’s mission.
While he faces numerous challenges in his role as principal, Dr O’Connor derives immense satisfaction in seeing students reach their goals. Witnessing students graduate, achieve their desired results, gain university admissions, or excel in cultural and sporting pursuits brings him profound joy.
A Proud Member of The Nord Anglia Education Group
Besides being a renowned school, BSKL is also a proud member of the Nord Anglia Education group. Dr O’Connor described their membership as being part of a family. This collaboration entails a shared purpose across the Nord Anglia Education group, focusing on academic outcomes, global connectivity, creativity, and building wellbeing, resilience and purpose in students. The collective strength of 33 countries and 85 sites worldwide fosters collaboration, resource sharing and engaging activities such as music and art activities, sporting experiences, student service projects, academic competitions, and professional learning for staff.
As part of the Nord Anglia Education group, students of BSKL get to experience endless opportunities through collaboration with institutions such as the Julliard School of New York, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and UNICEF. Dr O’Connor explains that such collaboration provides students with the opportunity to travel to the US and other countries to participate in programmes there. Additionally, representatives from these institutions will also visit their school in Malaysia to share their expertise with the students.
Holistic education is the core of the BSKL educational philosophy. Dr O’Connor believes in developing well-rounded individuals who are academically successful, kind, resilient, purpose-driven and capable of contributing to the world. He explained that BSKL makes three promises to their community – a happy culture; equipping students with the skills, knowledge and attributes needed to create their future; and delivering a proven record of achievement. He said that BSKL wants their school to be a happy place but also equally one that achieves.
BSKL offers the English National Curriculum, adapted to the local context. It includes Bahasa Malaysia and Islamic studies. From early years to Year 9, the curriculum is adapted to the local context, emphasising literacy, mathematics, arts and languages before transitioning to the IGCSE program, where students are taught with a view to meeting the requirements of the different exam boards.
Apart from the rigorous academic curriculum, Dr O’Connor pointed out that music and languages are unique features of the education offered. Every single student from year 2 to 9 is required to learn a musical instrument, and students from early years up cultivate an interest in languages with a view to becoming bilingual or multilingual.
The co-curricular activities (CCAs) offered at BSKL go beyond the ordinary, providing students with a vibrant world of opportunities to explore and excel in their passions. Whether they have an interest in sports, the arts or a variety of other pursuits, BSKL ensures that there is something to cater to every interest and talent.
When asked about mental health, Dr O’Connor drew attention to the school’s recognition of its importance and noted that BSKL has a dedicated counselling team and collaborates with external agencies to support students’ emotional and psychological well-being. BSKL employs a proactive approach to promote mental health, mood regulation and resilience.
In addition to mental health support, Dr O’Connor said that the school is also committed to providing support for non-native English speakers and students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disabilities. These cases vary on a case-to-case basis with tailored programs and targeted resources prepared to ensure that every student receives the necessary support to thrive.
All About the Community
Dr O’Connor drew attention to the community at BSKL, noting that it is a vibrant and tightly-knit one, characterised by inclusivity, diversity and a shared commitment to educational excellence. He pointed out that BSKL takes great pride in fostering a positive and supportive community environment where students, parents, teachers and other staff members all have a vital role to play.
AI and Education
Dr O’Connor acknowledged the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) and generative tools like ChatGPT in education. While they are cautiously integrating such tools into their educational programmes, at this stage they primarily view them as aids for students to check their understanding of what is taught and enhance their research skills. In future, the school aims to leverage AI to support learning while maintaining academic integrity.
At BSKL, student success is measured primarily by academic excellence, but Dr O’Connor is insistent that the school does not use this as the only metric. Whilst BSKL continually celebrates excellent student performance in A Levels and IGCSE examinations, striving always for consistently outstanding results, as previously mentioned student wellbeing is also highly valued. High percentages of students achieving top grades, including A-stars and A’s, exemplify the school’s commitment to academic excellence.
BSKL also encourages a love for lifelong learning, not limited to the classroom. Dr O’Connor focuses on modelling a passion for learning, by having teachers and himself continuously share details of their educational journeys and key learning points in their lives. Dr O’Connor also emphasised the importance of students acquiring skills in areas such as communication, teamwork and adaptability, with a view to preparing them for a diverse and ever-changing professional environment.
Advice for Parents Seeking an International School Education
When asked about advice to parents seeking an international school education for their children, Dr O’Connor emphasised the importance of shared values and a sense of partnership. He urged parents to choose a school where they feel comfortable being active participants in their child's educational journey. He also encouraged parents to look at the school in terms of what their child aspires to be or has a strong interest in and then see how the school can help in supporting the child’s interests and aspirations.