Panthers of ISKL #91 – Toshihiko Saito

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This week, we met up with parent volunteer and father of Mizuki in Grade 11, Toshihiko Saito. He is serving in his fifth year on ISKL’s Board and is ISKL’s current Board Chair. 

Here is his story. 

Can you share a little bit about your background?

“I remain a Japanese national, but I grew up in the New York metro area, attending public schools through high school. I earned a BA in Economics and East Asian Studies and an MBA in Marketing and Finance, both from Columbia University and worked for a large, global investment management firm in Tokyo before establishing my own company, which I sold in 2015 when I relocated with my family to KL under Malaysia’s MM2H program. We have three children, two at university in Canada and our daughter, Mizuki who joined ISKL in Grade 5 and is now in Grade 11.”

What attracted you to Malaysia?

“When I was working, I visited many cities on a regular basis. I chose KL to retire because it struck me as a green and livable city. The traffic can be bad, but it’s not “Bangkok or Jakarta bad”. That many people still speak English is a huge factor, along with the great educational, medical, and retail infrastructure. The people are warm and friendly, and the food is amazing. KL also has a significant Japanese community, and Japanese people and culture are held in high esteem. The slow pace of life is just right for retirees, and KL is also a great place to travel from.” 

What were the deciding factors in choosing ISKL?

“Before I left Japan, I spoke with a departing business school classmate who had glowing reviews about ISKL. While we applied to a number of other top-tier international schools, for us, ISKL was an easy choice. The school was a perfect match for our criteria of a holistic approach to education taught by leading international educators, excellent English as an Additional Language (EAL) support, and fabulous extra-curricular programs.” 

Any words of advice for parents choosing an international school for their child?

“The school you choose will have a significant effect on your children. Go with a school that fits your philosophy. Consider a holistic approach that nurtures the soft skills – proactivity/passion, the ability to analyze, flexibility/adaptability, teamwork, love of competition, speed, the ability to lead, wellness/happiness. It’s not just about knowledge and scores – the excellence of extracurricular activities is a crucial component of future education. Try to talk with as many parents and students as possible at schools you are considering. The literature, input from staff, and stuff available on the internet are great, but remember that any school can say they are “excellent”. Try to get a feel for the culture of the community at each school. In Malaysia, it should be clear that ISKL is the aspirational school.”

Can you share a highlight (or most memorable moment) for you/your family at ISKL? 

“There are so many memorable moments! The welcoming and caring culture was a hugely pleasant surprise. After one of her first days at ISKL, our daughter, Mizuki declared that when she tripped on the stairs, someone asked if she was OK and offered a hand to help. It’s such moments that set ISKL apart. She excitedly related a talk by a lawyer who helped Orang Asli (indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia) in Grade 5. There was also when we handed out toys to economically disadvantaged children and went to a soup kitchen to help out for an “agency” activity. Another time was when she showed us a video of what she did in PE class – dancing freely to music with the PE teachers! Her expression as we watched the video was just priceless. So much fun and freedom! At her previous school, it would have been military-style calisthenics. Either way, she gets her exercise. Why not have fun and encourage creativity while getting it? Come to think of it, many of these surprising experiences were during Elementary School. More recently, before the pandemic, it was such an experience to be part of the ISKL contingent at IASAS events overseas. Every Panther parent cheered for all athletes with a blue and gold uniform. The camaraderie was awesome! We hope it won’t be too long before we are able to experience this again.” 

What are your passions? How do you pass them on to the next generation? Who or what inspires you?

“I have a lot of passions – probably too many. A general passion is to understand things. I have a curiosity that drives me to seek information and analyze. I also believe in volunteering to help organizations that have social impact. I have volunteered at various organizations for over 30 years and find it rewarding and fun.

‘I suppose curiosity can be nurtured by opening avenues for reward. In one educational system, I was oppressed with knowledge. In the American educational system, I had the opportunity to discover. How cathartic it is to discover something that fits in with the rest of what you understood? I suppose that volunteerism comes from being socially responsible, a global citizen. What organizations can have a positive impact on Society? My volunteerism has focused on my university, CFA Institute, and other organizations that promote SoPs that increase societal wealth through effective capital markets that distribute capital efficiently to where it is needed most on a risk-adjusted basis, and most recently, ISKL. I can only hope that the legions of socially conscious ISKL graduates will have a positive impact on Society. That would be some legacy, don’t you think?

‘Historically, I have not had any “heroes” per se. I don’t aspire to be like anyone. I do get inspired by inherently good people who are selfless, ethical, and concerned with their impact on others. I think our Head of School, Rami Madani, is such a person. He inspired me to do what I can to provide stability, support, and management experience so that he can focus on pedagogy as much as possible.”

As Board Chair, what do you see as the strengths of a parent-led Board?

“All ISKL Board members are volunteers and join because they want to work for the benefit of ISKL. That is where our similarities end. I believe our strength lies in the fact that we are unabashedly diverse, with different cultures, nationalities, personalities, and areas of expertise represented. This enables us to look at issues through multiple lenses, enhances our collective decision-making capability, and effectively represents ISKL’s truly international community.”

It’s been a challenging 18 months for schools, how do you see ISKL emerging from the pandemic?

“While it has undoubtedly been a challenging period, I have been impressed that externally bench-marked data confirms student learning and growth at ISKL has not been impacted, with students across all divisions continuing to outperform global averages.

‘ISKL’s diversity and culture are undeniable strengths that will certainly allow us to emerge from this trying period stronger than ever. I’m excited about being a part of something revolutionary as Mr. Madani’s first strategic plan starts to come together. And thanks to his leadership, ISKL is at the forefront of primary and secondary education, and we expect to solidify our reputation as educational practices evolve. The earlier children start learning the “ISKL Way”, the more they will benefit from the “ISKL Difference”!” 

What does Be All You Are mean to you? 

“To me, it means that ISKL is a place to discover yourself. Asian and European educational systems tend to focus on knowledge, but at its best, the American system allows students to find their passion. People are likely to be more persistent, successful, and most importantly, happier in a field they enjoy. The academic accomplishments of ISKL’s students are amazing, but they truly stand out in the many extracurricular activities that are not just available but encouraged. Students are also encouraged to excel in a wide variety of athletics, performing arts, forensics (debate, Model UN, etc.), and agency (volunteer organizations), as well as on semi-academic teams (math, robotics, writing, etc.). Knowledge can be obtained without schooling. The culture, facilities, and programs that a school has – that can’t be replicated very easily. ISKL offers maximum opportunities and encourages each student to challenge themselves in their own way – to discover the person each is capable of becoming.”

Do you know a student, faculty, staff, or alumni with a story to tell? Nominate them to be featured in our Panthers of ISKL stories by sending in your submissions here.

To find out more inspiring stories of our community, read about Julian L. (’25), The Polo Player, or alum Nadia Redza, The Swimming Champion!

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Communication Updates

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