Brunei Darussalam: Bigger emphasis on vocational training

Starting in July, Brunei Darussalam’s Ministry of Education (MoE) will begin implementing a series of broad-ranging reforms to the technical vocational education and training (TVET) system to align training programmes more with the needs of the economy.

The reforms, based on a white paper commissioned earlier this year, will completely change the way technical and vocational education has been provided over the past 20 years, according to officials.

Among the core components of the programme will be greater cooperation between technical education agencies and the private sector, allowing for better shaping of training and developing relevant skills bases for students; a new body to oversee TVET – Brunei Technical Education (BTE), which will have its own governing board; and a stronger emphasis on topics related to the modern economy such as ICT, creative technology, multimedia, innovation and knowledge-based industries.

The reform programme envisions the creation of two campuses, the BTE Central, which is expected to open its doors in 2018, and the BTE Satellite, slated to begin operations two years later. Between them, the two campuses will cater to up to 12,000 students. The total cost of the seven-year programme has been put at $590m, taking into account the upgrading of existing facilities, building new infrastructure, recruiting and training new personnel, and investments in equipment and materials.

In a media statement issued on May 16, the MoE said while technical education is instrumental in helping Brunei Darussalam to achieve its vision of a diversified economy, its importance has not always been fully recognised, something the reforms would rectify.

“Today’s globalised and highly competitive environment calls for a productive workforce that is skilful, efficient, effective and innovative. The technical education which is increasingly considered part of mainstream education, creates important pathways towards enhancing competencies for honing employability skills necessary for creating a highly successful economy,” the statement said.

Though the government is stepping up efforts to broaden its skills base, there was also a pressing need to change public opinion over vocational training, which some see as either an easy option or not being of importance, according to Minister of Education Pehin Dato Abu Bakar Apong.

“The success of an education system hinges on its ability to meet the different needs of students through alternative pathways, including that of a quality post-secondary TVET,” the minister said in a recent speech. “In Brunei, sadly, TVET is still perceived as a system for school dropouts or low achievers. This is why there is a need and urgency in changing the societal mindset.”

In the past, there has been a strong emphasis on more academic studies, resulting in Brunei Darussalam being ranked 28 out of 142 countries by the World Economic Forum for quality of higher education. Though this is a significant achievement, it will need to be matched by vocational and technical education to sustain economic development. To achieve this, Apong said, the new TVET system will be more flexible than its predecessor and better able to address the growing aspirations of the young, while still meeting the requirements of a competitive global economy.

The planned revamp of the vocational education system was not just about providing skilled employees for the workforce, but also a stepping stone towards expanding the business base, Hazair bin Abdullah, the minister of culture, youth and sports, said in late May.

It was important for the national economy that self-employment was promoted through small and medium-sized enterprises, and that the educational system provided the necessary skills sets for this to be achieved, the minister said.

“Our education system in Brunei is currently undergoing a transformation to address this,” he told an ASEAN seminar on young entrepreneurs. “Our technical and vocational education in phases will ensure that young people who are not academically oriented will be employable or ready to start their own businesses.”

With a seven year timeframe before full implementation, it will not be until into the next decade when the full effect of the MoE’s reforms will be felt in the economy. The extent of that impact will also depend on whether society’s mindset, so long geared to academia as being the gold standard, can instead embrace vocational education as an equal partner in learning.

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