Brunei Darussalam has adopted a determined bottom up approach to ensuring the comprehensive spread of information and communications technology (ICT) throughout society and the economy, though sector participants expect it will take time for these policy actions to transform the status quo.
Brunei Vision 2035, the blueprint for national development for the first third of the century, places strong emphasis on becoming a knowledge-based society. This vision foresees the Sultanate building a solid technology backbone, encouraging an awareness of the opportunities offered by ICT in daily life and providing citizens with the skills to best take advantage of these opportunities.
One of the cornerstones of this policy is e-Hijrah, a six-year programme that will deploy the full resources of the Ministry of Education (MoE) to develop a coordinated effort to integrate ICT into the national education system. The strategy’s name is taken from the Arabic word hijrah, meaning “moving forward”, and is intended to set the tone for the Sultanate’s future.
One of the aims set out by the ministry for the project, which was launched at the end of February, is to increase the digital confidence and capability of teachers and students, thus allowing them to make a substantial contribution to key areas of the government’s ICT plan. These themes include developing a technologically-savvy society and deploying citizen-centric and integrated e-services through the public and private sectors.
Some essential foundation stones have to be laid before the benefits of e-Hijrah can flow into the curriculum and from there into the economy. These include overhauling the MoE’s own administrative practices, creating a centralised database to oversee documents, deploying advanced ICT-based management systems and providing training to administrators and teaching staff.
According to the minister of education, Abu Bakar Apong, the first stages of e-Hijrah will revolutionise the administrative practices in the MoE before doing the same for educational operations.
“We have looked into the requirements of schools and ministries, as well as the requirements of every division within MoE,” the minister said in an interview with the Brunei Times in late May. “Before e-Hijrah, we did introduce ICT to schools and ministries but it operates in silos. What e-Hijrah is trying to do here is to integrate all the requirements of every agency within the MoE.”
Samir Patel, the principal consultant with New Zealand-based Global SoF Consortium, which is working with authorities to roll out the e-Hijrah blueprint, said the initial phase of the programme will facilitate the future measures required by the strategy and the implementation of ICT advances.
The strategy will create platforms from which detailed information will be readily available to the education minister and his permanent secretaries, giving them access to data and allowing them to make decisions more effectively, he said.
“They will be able to determine where the gaps are [and] pinpoint them, so policy decisions will be much better,” Patel told local media on May 21.
Another of the main thrusts of the e-Hijrah strategy is to ensure that schools have the resources required to implement and utilise new and emerging technologies and practices. This will allow schools to stay ahead of innovations in education by having immediate access to new technology devices for teaching and learning. It will also provide a means of training users to maximise the benefits of new applications and services.
At an international education conference on May 23 Abu Bakar said that work and research was required to provide teachers and students with the necessary support in a changing educational environment, one that was becoming more dependent on ICT.
“Our classrooms are transformed with the introduction of new technologies,” he said. “Design research will contribute to the integration of educational technology in the learning process. Our students expect us to use new media to help them learn.”
Centres of higher education are also broadening the range of courses related to ICT they have on offer. Institut Teknologi Brunei (ITB) is planning to launch part-time degree programmes in internet computing and business information technology later this year, and other campuses are also beefing up their ICT components so as to provide more avenues of study for future graduates of the e-Hijrah-driven secondary education system.
As new generations of Bruneians start to enter the workforce, the ICT skills they developed throughout their schooling, are expected to be critical to powering non-oil growth helping the Sultanate achieve its Vision 2035.