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ASEAN, Brunei Darussalam

Brunei: From Brain Drain to Brain Magnet?

(Pic credits to lowyatforum.net)

In order for our state to develop well and survive into the next fifty years, we have to ensure that a sense of continuity is in place. Such continuity is the result of having the state and its people shape itself forward through the adaptations needed so we can all succeed. However, the level of outflow migration among the Bruneian youth represents a massive loss to achieve these goals. After all, there is a strong correlation between national growth and human capital. It would therefore not bade well for our brightest and talented to simply leave our country. This is an issue that must not be ignored, rather it is something that we have to meet on, debate and discuss in hopes that we can find a common understanding on how those who left or those who are planning to leave can return and stay in order that our country progresses forward in the changing world order.

In the remarkable book ‘Exodus’ by Paul Colier, one of the biggest contributing factors on why people leave a country is that they want to change the social model they are in. With the thousands of people leaving the country every year, most of which are comprised of middle-class citizens who have both the wealth and skill-sets, we have to understand that there has to be a change in how the government and to an extent the old generation treat the Bruneian youths. Listed in this letter are four factors that have been conceptualised with the intent to building a social model that works for the youth in order to create an environment where they can not only stay or return, but are willing to contribute to nation-building effectively.

The first, the young talented individuals want to use English as the working language in the government sector. Most of these individuals or change-makers were trained abroad with all the skill-sets equipped for them to get things done. What tends to demoralise them is the constant pressure for them to use Malay as the working language – it would be a total waste of their education if they fail to use the language they learn in. Most of these talented individuals would also feel out of place. Next, there would be some people who would diss or even insult them because of their usage of the English language. As a result, our young people cannot contribute ideas as effectively. Working in this environment results in a loss of morale. When the morale is low, then they would do their best to get out from the government sector and perhaps leave the country, sometimes for good. We have to be pragmatic and ensure that young people can use the language freely as a form of expression and tool for their workplace.

Secondly, young people do not want to attend minor ceremonial activities. These ceremonial activities may end up wasting their time and energies. These are factors, which they could have otherwise invested in doing their work, may hinder productive output. Sometimes the youths are called in the evenings to do this and that activities. Most of them are compelled to do them because they want to “save face”. While certain traditions or policies are important, we must also be pragmatic as a country to adjust with the times. If such a ceremony does not lead to material results, then it would be best to re-debate its usefulness. If it is of no use, then it is better to make it optional. If such ceremonial policies are imposed without prior agreement given to our young people, then they will lose heart and may mull on leaving the country for good.

Third, young people expect the elder generations to be more tolerant and respectful of other cultures and races. It would not be good for the younger generation to observe how their elderlies being so disrespectful of other races and cultures. Such a reaction evokes shame on themselves and disappointment on their elderlies. We must work at ensuring that a culture of equality can be established, especially in regards on how respect is seen and operated in our country. Brunei, after all, is a multi-racial country. Again, we have to be pragmatic to realise that Brunei is not the centre of the universe and that whatever policies we do that may result in distress in others may affect us in a big way in turn. Let us keep it this way so we can inspire our younger generation to be more respectful of one another so we can inspire a successive generation of leaders who are culturally mature in outlook.

Finally, we must accept that Brunei’s young is undergoing a socio-cultural evolution. Some people may see it as a negative thing, but as our parents wore those funny long jeans and have those big hairs in the 70s, so too are young people slowly and gradually going through that adolescent phrase as affected by today’s globalisation. Rather than trying to inhibit them or globalisation, we should rather just have a “live and let live” approach when it comes to policy building. As SOAS was close to Lee Kuan Yew, it would be the latter’s advice for SOAS to carry out such a policy that ensures that young people can change with the times.  That is why SOAS placed trust in the younger generation of his day and are more accepting of changes that occur as time and cultures evolve.

Our young people are the key to nation-building. In order for our state to develop well and survive into the next fifty years, we have to ensure that a sense of continuity is in place. Such continuity is the result of having the state and its people shape itself forward through the adaptations needed to we can all succeed. On that note, our young people want English to be the working language of the state, they do not want to attend ceremonial activities, they want the elder generations to be more tolerant and respectful of other cultures and races, and finally they want the elder generation to accept the fact that Brunei is undergoing a socio-cultural revolution and that the state should have a live and let live approach to things. To become a brain magnet we have to, therefore, shape our social model differently.


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