100 Years of Formal Education in Brunei Darussalam

On Friday, 10 October 2014, The Brunei Times reprinted my article on the post war education history in Brunei Darussalam. This article has been reprinted at least twice before in The Brunei Times before this. Here is the article which was published under my column The Golden Legacy:



Friday, October 10, 2014

TODAY in Brunei, students have a choice of four universities to choose from, all fully funded by the government. However providing education has not always been as easy as it is now. We look at the early development of education in Brunei.

When the British Resident first began his duty in Brunei in 1906, the education system in Brunei was along the line of religious education with “sekolah pondok” and students being taught the rudiments of the Islamic religion as well as how to read the Al-Quran.

It was not until 1911 that the British Resident was able to introduce a western education system. It was not because education did not play an important role for the government but it was because of the lack of funds as well as the lack of available Bruneians who can teach. Between 1906 and 1910, the budgets were in deficit and it was only in 1911 that the budget showed a small surplus.

It was also thought that the introduction of a western style education so soon after the British Residency would be quite sensitive to the Brunei population then.

Formal education began in Brunei in 1914 with the opening of a Malay vernacular school in Brunei Town. When it started, it had no special building so the school used a mosque. Psychologically, using the mosque also reduced the resistance and objection from parents. It later moved to a building which was formerly occupied by the Monopoly Office. The first group of students was made up of 30 boys.

By 1915, that number has increased to 40 boys. Another school was established in Muara with a Malay Teacher teaching at his own house. The other districts got their first schools in the next three years. In Belait, the first Malay school, the third in the country, was built in 1917. In Tutong, it was built in 1918.

The first crop of these schools was absorbed into the government as trainees by 1917 and full time government servants by 1920. Some of these students were also sent to attend short teaching courses at a Teachers’ Training College in Melaka.

Education in these early vernacular schools was limited. It was conducted in Malay for boys aged between seven and 14 years and the curriculum included Reading and Writing (in both Arabic and Romanised script), Composition, Arithmetic, Geography, History, Hygiene, Drawing and Physical Education. Gardening and Basketry were later introduced at some schools.

The Chinese community established their own school in 1916.

Teacher training in Brunei began soon after the modern Brunei education system started in 1912. The shortage of experienced and qualified Brunei teachers was immediately apparent.

According to the State of Brunei Annual Report of 1919, as early as 1918, two Brunei teachers were sent for a short teacher training course at the Malacca Teachers College. Teacher training began in earnest from the 1930s. As there were no teacher training institutes in Brunei, all the trainee teachers were sent abroad.

The colleges included the Sultan Idris Teachers College at Tanjong Malim, Perak (SITC) and the Durian Daun Women Teachers College in Malacca (MWTC).

The first Bruneians to be sent to SITC were Marsal Maun (later to be Dato Paduka) and Haji Basir Taha (later to be Dato Paduka) in 1930. They graduated from the college in 1932.

Islamic religious education began in 1931 when it was taught formally as a subject at Jalan Pemancha Malay School. It was still limited as classes were only held on Friday after the noon prayers.

The teaching staff was made up of mosque officials. These teachers received an allowance of $5 per month only. They were not paid by the government but by three donors.

In 1936, Marsal Maun was appointed as the first local Superintendent of Malay Education. Under his watch, the Islamic religious education was moved into the regular Malay education curriculum and no longer taught on Friday afternoons.

However despite the government's efforts, many parents did not want to send their children to schools. Even though there were shortages of teachers and shortages of school buildings, there were also shortages of willing parents. Most of the boys who attended were from the upper class and very few from the village commoners. Most parents refused to send their daughters to school.

In order to encourage parents to send their children to school, the government enacted a legislation making attendance at school compulsory.

The School Attendance Enactment of 1929 allowed the government to impose a fine between 50 cents to $1.00 to parents who refused to send their children aged between seven and 14 years old to government schools. The Enactment covered mostly parents living in the Brunei Town area and had little effect elsewhere in Brunei.

At first the government's efforts were mostly focused on getting Bruneians to be able to read and write. During those years, there were not many literate Bruneians.

The curriculum was based on those taught at the Malay Schools in the Federated Malay States in Malaya. They are taught Malay language and Malay culture so that they can inherit their parents' occupations which were mostly farmers and fishermen.

Oil has yet to be discovered and the British Resident was quite pessimistic about the ability of a good education system. British Resident EEF Pretty in the Brunei Annual Report of 1923 stated that Brunei “is not ready for any elaborate educational schemes since there are practically no openings for a well educated Brunei in his native land and he is loth to leave it”.

In that year, despite the opening of a new school in Belait, attendance has actually fallen from 193 to 172. The poor attendance was attributed to the revival of the rubber industry — the children were taken by their parents to assist in the tapping and weeding of their small holdings.

English education did not begin until expatriate workers came to Brunei with the advent of the oil discovery. In 1931, the Anglicans opened up a school in Kuala Belait. Another English school was opened in Brunei Town in the same year funded by Brunei Shell and Brunei Government but run by a missionary. A few more English schools were opened by Christian missionaries in the following years.

HRH Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin funded a religious Arabic school in the early 1940s. It was a private school registered at the Education Department.

Prior to the outbreak of war in the region in 1941, the number of schools in Brunei had exceeded 30 including 24 Vernacular Malay, three private English and five private Chinese. The number of pupils enrolled was 1,746, including 312 girls.

It was during the post World War II era that Brunei’s education system really expanded into what it is today.

The writer runs a website at bruneiresources.com.

The Brunei Times


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