As part of the Sultanate’s plans to overhaul the national education system, Brunei Darussalam’s education professionals are being taught new skills to better equip them to teach the new generation of managers. Efforts in this area are part of the shift in focus away from what has been described as “chalk and talk” teaching to a curriculum that is designed to meet the future needs of students in a changing working environment.
For a number of years Brunei Darussalam has been working to tailor its education system to fit the country’s new economic direction, which has been outlined in a series of blueprints for national development, in particular Wawasan Brunei 2035 and the National Education System for the 21st Century (SPN 21).
Under the former, Brunei Darussalam is to build a dynamic, sustainable and diversified economy, an objective to be attained in part by promoting an education system that produces highly skilled graduates. Through SPN 21 – which was unveiled in 2008 – the paths to achieving this were set out, including providing multiple choices for educational programmes based on students’ interests, needs and abilities; offering basic technical, vocational and business skills useful for self-employment and other career opportunities; and putting a greater emphasis on character building and leadership.
To help with this last objective, Brunei Darussalam’s educators are also being given a firmer grounding in the skills needed, with the Ministry of Education (MoE) launching the School Leadership Programme (SLP) last year. Through the SLP, teachers, ministry officials and administrators undergo training to help them identify and implement best practice and acquire leadership skills that they can pass on to students.
The education minister, Pehin Abu Bakar Apong, believes the SLP will help energise Brunei Darussalam’s teachers and encourage them to explore avenues to improve their own schools and the entire education system.
“It is important to make sure we have quality teachers who are committed, dedicated and truly have spirit and soul as teachers,” he told the Brunei Times in April. “We hope that the new scheme of service for teachers will make the profession attractive and competitive. This will enable the ministry to be more selective in identifying and hiring teachers. Qualifications are not the only passport to becoming a teacher, there are other criteria.”
The SLP is being overseen by the Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Advancement (ILIA), a dedicated centre within Universiti Brunei Darussalam established to foster educational, academic and social excellence through the provision of research and training on issues related to the development of the nation. In particular, as its name implies, ILIA aims to strengthen the public, private and social sectors by helping to build an understanding of responsible innovative leadership.
One of the core means of achieving this goal is to boost standards in the country’s school system, from entry level through to graduation. This is the primary function of the SLP. To date, education professionals from more than 120 schools across the country have taken part in the programme, and while it may be some years for the full effect of the SLP to be felt, as it will take time for students to pass through the education system and then work their way up in their chosen professions, the initial results are already being seen.
According to Ibrahim Abdul Rahman, the acting director of the MoE’s Department of Schools, there has been a noticeable improvement in academic results in schools that have had support from the SLP.
“If you look at the Primary Assessment Examination and General Certificate of Education results, and how many students are now able to enter sixth-form centres, what does it tell you?” he told the Brunei Times on April 30. “It means that many students have now achieved more than we expected. The SLP, the education system in place, quality teachers and the commitment of parents all have a part to play in this.”
The SLP is also bearing fruit as individual schools put into place new methods for teaching traditional subjects such as mathematics, Malay and English, programmes that will be assessed by the MoE for possible adoption at the national level in the future, Ibrahim said.
Having laid the foundations for an innovative, individual-focused education system, Brunei Darussalam now faces the challenge of pushing forward with the changes to the national economy necessary to enable the leadership skills of future graduates to be best utilised. This may not be easy, given the long tradition of a state-directed economy, though with a young and educated workforce the Sultanate will be better equipped to meet that challenge.