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Young Star

The new way of doing school

EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING - Margarita Buenaventura - The Philippine Star

Epsom College offers the traditional boarding school experience you all imagine, but you don’t have to go as far as Hogwarts to get it.

I must admit that my in-depth knowledge of British boarding schools comes from two Harrys: the boy wizard and the Prince of Wales.

Thanks to them, I imagine boarding schools as drafty old castles, filled with stern professors, unlimited food, and dragons. Not that there’s anything wrong with those (especially the food); in fact, having these expectations in mind was what blew me away when we pulled over to Epsom College in Malaysia.

Conveniently located an hour from Kuala Lumpur, Epsom College in Malaysia’s buildings are minimalist and modern — all clean lines, tall glass windows — with cheery brick walls occasionally breaking the neutral color scheme. The interiors were not yet in place when we took a tour, but already you could see they were bound to make a statement. Think Cullen house in Twilight minus the sparkly vampires.

Aside from spacious rooms dedicated to 18 science labs as well as art and design among others, the school plans on acquiring books and digital resources worth at least one million Malaysian Ringgit, just for 2014 alone. Even without the planned game room area and TV lounge installed yet, the boarding houses already look lofty and comfortable.

With Epsom College in Malaysia taking great pride in its excellent after-school programs, its sports facilities are among the best in the region. Aside from a sports hall that can accommodate 10 badminton courts, it also has two rugby pitches, and three astro turf football pitches that are FIFA- and International Hockey Federation-approved. It also has a spacious 600-seater auditorium for budding theater geeks, with plenty of room for Shakespearean plays or singing Jingle Bell Rock with your best friends.

It’s worlds away from the first Epsom College in the United Kingdom, which may not have its Malaysian counterpart’s ultra-sleek digs but is steeped in 150 years of history, educating thousands of students who eventually got accepted in Oxford and Cambridge Universities or went on to study medicine. In fact, it was the life-changing lessons and ideas he gained in Epsom College that led Air Asia Group CEO Tony Fernandes to bring first class British education to Malaysia.

Despite the self-entitled prestige private boarding schools sometimes might have, Fernandes, who also serves as the school’s chairman of governors, is quick to explain that the school’s opulent façade says nothing of its humble intentions.

“It’s not a business for me,” he explains. “Certainly the profit I make from this will go into scholarships. I was lucky that I had an excellent education, but not everyone does. I want to be able to help make that happen, even just a little bit.”

Fernandes doesn’t deny, however, that studying in a very posh school can lead to a bout of extreme self-awareness. “As much as I want to, I can’t sit down in front of every kid and tell them, ‘Be humble!’ But I’m sure it’ll be in the curriculum. (In my case), whether or not I’m selling Side A records or doing what I do now, I’m still the same person,” he says.

Perhaps it is also the homey and close-knit atmosphere in his own Epsom days that allows Fernandes and the rest of Epsom College in Malaysia’s faculty not to worry much about any of its future students’ airs. “It’s not a hotel,” headmaster Martin George states, explaining further that students are taught to be responsible for themselves as well as to learn how to live with their peers in shared rooms and common areas.

The full participation of the school’s supervising adults in the students’ daily lives is also integral to Epsom College’s renowned pastoral care. Aside from assisting students in academics and conduct, housemasters and housemistresses are also available to discuss their health and private concerns.

“I wouldn’t say we’re their mothers and fathers,” says head of Senior School Mike Oliver, who previously served as assistant head at Epsom College UK. “I’d like to think I’m more of an uncle to them. I still keep in touch with many of my previous students, even on Facebook.”

While the Internet has certainly made it easier for Epsom College students to connect and reconnect, the school also acknowledges that it has made young people more susceptible to bullying. “We will address that by showing them why it’s wrong, not just that it’s wrong,” says Oliver. “Even as avuncular figures, we still have to sort of tell them what to do and what not to do sometimes.”

It also doesn’t hurt that while the school’s adults provide 24-hour care for its students, parents can easily volley back and forth to see their children, especially on the weekends. Epsom College in Malaysia is conveniently located just minutes away from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Low Cost Carrier Terminal, where Air Asia frequently flies to and from Kuala Lumpur to various cities in Asia.

Fernandes expresses that one of Epsom College in Malaysia’s great advantages is that students can experience boarding school life without sacrificing family time. George even boldly states that they don’t just aim to be one of the best schools in the world, but perhaps the best. And with excellent facilities, a well-prepared faculty, and centuries of grand tradition, that might not seem such an impossible dream. Who needs Hogwarts when you’ve got Epsom College in Malaysia nearby?

* * *

Epsom College in Malaysia can be found at Lot 29 HS(D) 200269, Bandar Baru Enstek, Negeri Sembilan Darul Khusus. For inquiries, you may call +603 6211 4488 or e-mail at [email protected].

Special thanks to Air Asia.

AIR ASIA

COLLEGE

EPSOM

EPSOM COLLEGE

FERNANDES

KUALA LUMPUR

MALAYSIA

SCHOOL

STUDENTS

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