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Meet Alan Stevens, Master of Marlborough College Malaysia

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

In this Education Matters feature we talk with Mr Alan Stevens, Master of Marlborough College Malaysia, who joined the College in 2017 having previously been Headmaster of Barnard Castle School, a co-ed boarding and day school in the UK.

 

What drew you to Marlborough College Malaysia?

I first visited Malaysia back in 2010. I came here for a few days to look at the EduCity project. Then six years later, this role came up. I was quite happy at the time running Barnard Castle, a boarding school in England in the most spectacularly beautiful area but I discovered MCM isn’t just a franchise of the UK College. It is genuinely an extension of it, completely owned by it but not here to generate profits. It’s actually the only model like it in the world. Once I knew this I was really interested and it seemed like a great opportunity to do what I love most, working in great schools, and to do it in a part of the world that my wife and I both love too.


You began your teaching career as a Head of History and are passionate about History and Education. Do you still teach?

I taught for 25 years before accepting this job as Master of the College. It is a wonderful job but it is not a teaching position and it doesn't permit me to teach because it involves too much work outside the College during normal times. So, while I would choose to continue teaching, it would be unfair to a class to constantly have their teacher absenting himself for meetings in KL or Singapore (in the days when those happened!).

Time with children is what’s at the core of education, so what I’ve had to do here is find alternative ways to keep in touch with the classroom and with children. So, while I will still get into the classroom whenever I can, we’ve established other activities such as The Lectern Club, our public speaking society for Sixth Form. It’s about etiquette, it’s black tie, it’s dinner. Everyone in the club gives speeches over the course of the evening and it’s something a bit different. It's something you don’t typically find in international schools but together with my wife (a highly qualified lawyer in her own right) we enjoy running it and we get to know the boys and girls really well through it.


Being part of the boarding community here is tremendous. Even outside of term time we have over 100 people on the site and during term time that swells to several hundred when the boarders are resident. My wife, Heather, is part of this as well. She reads bedtime stories to the youngest boarders and has them round to our house for BBQs and afternoon tea. It’s really important to have that contact.


What led you into education?

Well, the well-trodden answer to this question is that it was inspiring teaching at school and it was. I had an absolutely inspirational History teacher who at the drop of a hat would start bowling cricket balls in his classroom – he was quite eccentric! And while I didn’t particularly love every aspect of what I was being taught I came to really enjoy the subject through him.


What do you think is MCM’s strength as a school?

There is no doubt that our strength here is our boarding and our tremendous space. Most of our pupils start out as day pupils but when they are old enough to start boarding increasing numbers choose to, or is that increasing numbers of parents are won over! By the time they get to Sixth Form most of them board. It is the best possible preparation for going to university. That little bit of independence with a bit of care and a safety net so nothing can go wrong. That independence from home gives them so much more.


We have a conviction that children learn best, not just that they learn but that they develop as people best, in their community. We see them thriving and flourishing in a really well-run set of boarding houses.

The Marlborough philosophy is to help develop children with curiosity, independence and creativity of thought; to bring the best out of every individual who is here. And it genuinely works.

We have a co-curricular programme which isn’t just bolted on at the end of a day, it’s integrated into the timetable. The children learn so much more than just how to kick the ball or receive a pass; it’s about teamwork, ambition; how to lose and what to do with that feeling when you lose; how to win graciously. All the skills that are applied in these activities are applied academically as well. The skills applied when tackling the climbing wall or swimming in a gala are applicable to algebra or conjugating imperfect verbs. It’s more than routine sports and as the father of a boarder I’ve personally seen it working. It’s something which we as Marlborough College Malaysia are absolutely committed to. It’s the best possible development for children.



Tell us a bit more about this Marlborough ‘spirit’

What we really aim to achieve is for our students to develop a sense that they can make a difference to other people. I don’t mean that they think they are game changers or have any sense of arrogance in that, but that with humility they understand their own privileges and see that they can make a difference with that position. All our outreach projects, from our youngest children to the IB students, are all based in our local neighbourhood, helping in a Malaysian state school in Sungei Buloh, a children’s orphanage in Johor Bahru, or with marine conservation on the peninsular. The students build up local relationships. They see the effect they have, that just being there can make someone’s day better. It’s that conviction that they can improve society even in small ways. If they leave here with that sense of mission, of what’s possible for them in the future, then I think that is very exciting. That compassion, kindness, altruism, is really important.


What has been your favourite moment since joining the College?

Gosh, I have so many good moments. It’s such a vibrant place to be that it’s hard to choose.

Seeing the plans that our children can make come to fruition is a wonderful thing. Our Sixth Form students started a small farm here, two and a half years ago. Initially it was to be an additional educational resource for them, for Chemistry, Biology, Geography and Business Studies but they created it to be organic and sustainable as an enterprise and now they sell the produce to our own kitchens and parents. It’s absolutely thriving! They even designed little potting tables for three-year olds to use to put seedlings in. I’m so proud of what they’ve done. It looks amazing today, much more mature now and it’s one of our best educational resources and yet, completely designed by our boys and girls. I think that is wonderful, seeing those projects like that come to fruition. They spotted a problem to solve, an objective and they managed the whole thing.


What’s next?

A great deal! This is not a job that can ever be complete.


Something I’m really excited by is our researcher-in-residence from the School of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. We spend a lot of time working on student wellbeing and there are many aspects to it. It’s their outlook, their appreciation of the importance of sleep, it’s about nutrition, exercise. We didn’t just want an off-the-peg solution, we wanted something quite unique to MCM so our researcher in residence is working full time to promote, and measure, well-being amongst administrative staff, teaching staff and children in the school.


What’s more, on the back of that, we’ve just won a competitive international bid for the services of Masters Students in Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania to complete their research with us. We will have a team of them working remotely with our boarding houses this term. They will help to really promote that sense of well-being, balance, positivity and hopefully that enhances that entire experience of the staff and children. It’s a key element of what we are doing at the moment and I don’t know of any other school devoting this level of resources to it. It’s very exciting.

 

Marlborough College Malaysia is a fully coeducational, independent British boarding and day international school for children aged 3-18 years. The school is situated on a secure 90-acre estate on the southern tip of Malaysia 20km from the Singapore border. The campus provides a spacious, purpose built fully equipped, beautiful environment to enrich the development of our pupils. Marlborough College Malaysia’s curriculum broadly follows and extends the British National Curriculum to allow for a proper combination of breadth and specialisation. It has been designed to stimulate, challenge and support all pupils. A broad range of subjects are offered at IGCSE which leads onto IB Diploma for all pupils in the Sixth Form. To find out more, contact Admissions here


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