Technical and vocational education is set to get a major reboot

Complementing the broader restructuring of the primary education system to redirect its focus towards meeting the needs of a modern, knowledge-based economy is a separate reboot of the technical and vocational education subsector (TVE). Given its importance in reducing unemployment and placing more Bruneians in key growth industries, the overhaul of the TVE subsector is a key component of both the National Education System for the 21st Century Plan (as one of its the three core priorities) and Wawasan Brunei 2035 (Brunei Vision 2035), which calls for greater development of technical skills. If successful, the reforms should allow the Sultanate to maximise the potential of its limited labour pool and reduce its reliance on foreign workers in many sectors ranging from offshore oil and gas rig engineering to travel and tourism services.

Restructuring

Much of the current transformation as laid out in a recent white paper is being carried out according to recommendations made in a 2012 review of the sector by Singapore-based consultant Law Song Seng, which calls for a more nimble, independent structure able to better adjust to today’s dynamic economic environment. This fundamental shift in policy is embodied in the retiring of the existing Department of Technical Education in favour of a new, autonomous post-secondary educational institution called Brunei Technical Education (BTE). “The department needs to be more autonomous,” Chin Wei Keh, the director of technical education for the Ministry of Education, told OBG. “One good thing that will come about because of this transformation is that we can be more responsive, whereas the previous system was slow to change and respond to the needs of industry.”

Running in parallel to the reorganisation of its administrative structure, the private sector is also becoming more engaged in the educational process by providing assistance such as instructor training, input into curriculum development and evaluation of students' capabilities. By shifting the focus of curricula towards the demand side (the real world needs of the private sector) as opposed to the supply side (curricula developed at higher levels of the public sector), it is hoped that TVE institutions will be able to better match students’ skills with the needs of the private sector, as well as promote a more diverse array of occupations.

New Priorities

Capitalising on the Sultanate’s core competencies, some of the early focus of TVE programmes has been on linkages within the oil and gas sector. In conjunction with energy companies such as Brunei Shell Petroleum, Total, PetroleumBRUNEI and others, a new wave of training programmes is being rolled out to prepare the next generation of plant operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, instrumentation and control engineers, and other professions.

Another priority under the new system, which also presents a unique challenge, is that of altering social and cultural perceptions of how technical and other skilled labour vocations are viewed. With many parents encouraging their children to pursue careers in engineering, finance or medicine, proving the value of other technical jobs such as welders, aircraft maintenance engineers or aquaculture and fisheries technicians can often prove difficult. In order to counter the preconceptions that TVE graduates will have limited and undesirable professional opportunities, new programmes are being introduced to educate potential students – as well as their parents – on possible career paths and opportunities for advancement Finally, a consolidation of the country's seven TVE institutions is also being planned to increase efficiency, capacity and synergies, while cutting down on waste and duplication. This will involve the creation of two much larger mega-campuses at a cost of BN$170m ($133.3m) each. Scheduled for completion by 2018, the first of these will serve as the main campus and incorporate the new BTE headquarters, while the second satellite campus will open in 2020. The latter will house a variety of new vocational training programmes, including the Brunei Maritime Academy, a new aircraft training centre and various agricultural programmes.

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The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2014

Education chapter from The Report: Brunei Darussalam 2014

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