Meet the Headmaster of Penang’s Uplands International School

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Matthew Bristow

Matthew Bristow, the Headmaster of Uplands International School in Penang, looks to the challenges of the future while also celebrating the past. Frances Wilks caught up with him recently.

“Uplands really is an international school,” Matthew Bristow says. “While our Malaysian students comprise more than 30% of the total, the remainder come from over 40 countries. We have students from a wide variety of countries including Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Korea, Thailand, and Russia.” Despite the fact that there is now a choice of international schools in Penang, Uplands has a waiting list for the first time in the School’s history. “We’re growing at an exponential rate and we expect to reach capacity within the next 18 months,” he adds.

One of the School’s strong points is that it offers the IB – or International Baccalaureate – a qualification that has excellent worldwide currency. In addition to being strong on the academic side, it also emphasises CAS, which stands for Community, Action, and Service, thus preparing students in a well-rounded way for future engagement in adult life. The IB is broader in scope and has more depth than “A” levels and so helps to develop the skills of exploration of a subject rather than focus on regurgitating facts.

Technology is part of any education these days and Matthew Bristow is keen to build a VLE (a virtual learning environment) that all members of the school can connect to. “I’d also like to get the parents inside the electronic bubble so they can know what’s going on,” he says. “It will mean that there’s continuous feedback on progress through the year rather than the snapshot of a termly report. It also means that we can show that the enquiry and discovery are vital parts of modern education. Parents and students can gauge their progress with their learning objectives in real time.” Technology is now much more integrated in education – computers are no longer restricted to a computer room. The older students use laptops and tablets freely, however, mobile phones can only be used in the classroom if they’re part of the

Matthew Bristow saw the power of technology in learning when he was working at a school in Hong Kong. “There was a typhoon warning and the students were told to stay at home because travel could be difficult. But they could log into the learning environment and work was set which they could do at home. By the end of the day, the students were all working together, assigning each other parts of the task – the power of it was amazing.” He foresees that education will change dramatically in the near future with a much greater emphasis on student-initiated learning and use of technology generally. “We will also have to look at things like the length of terms, and the positioning of holidays throughout the year. We’ve inherited a European model, which was based on a three term system with a long holiday in the summer when children were expected to help with the harvest. Nowadays that’s not relevant so we have to ask ourselves whether students and their families would benefit from more equal terms.”

Uplands offers education right through from primary level to university entrance. Because of the mobile work commitments of many of the parents, some of whom are in Malaysia on contract, the average length of stay at the School is four to five years. Although the medium of instruction is English, many different languages are spoken in the school. The use of mother tongue is encouraged, partly in the primary years, and help with English is given if students need it.

The purpose-built Uplands Campus in Batu Ferringhi is actually the third site that the School has occupied. The first was on Penang Hill, on the old Crag Hill site, which has been used for the filming of the UK television series, “Indian Summers”. Recently Matthew Bristow, with his wife Paula, hosted a reception at the old school for Uplands alumni as part of the celebration of the School’s sixtieth anniversary. “It was a very enjoyable week with former students flying in from all parts of the world. It’s a fairly new thing for Uplands to have alumni but we now give an alumni card to all Year 13s when they leave so that they can keep in touch with the School.”

Reaching full capacity for the School will bring its own challenges. “Although this is a happy challenge it has led to some decisions having to be taken,” says Matthew Bristow. “One is that we will stay on this site and upgrade our facilities. Land is too expensive in Penang to think of moving and it isn’t necessary. We will expand the boarding capacity as we have bought two blocks in a nearby residential development which will provide a secure, comfortable for our boarders.” His message to prospective parents? “Come and visit us and see for yourself.”

Read more:


Source: The Expat magazine August 2015

"ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "


Click to comment

Most Popular

To Top