In the 21st century, producing a citizen body capable of commanding good English is vital in assisting the nation to navigate the intricacies of globalisation. All of the development or challenges which Brunei is currently or will be undergoing will be tied to how well its people speak the language.
English after all is the global lingua franca, and for Brunei to succeed in the global world, its citizens have to learn and use English as a way to adapt in dealing with the challenges posed in this century and beyond.
Gone are the days when Bruneians can afford to only work among themselves. It is time for its citizens to start to communicate actively with people aboard to bring in new businesses, ideas, innovation, and all the things which can contribute towards Brunei’s development.
The government can help in paving the way for the locals by giving them the education and environment they need from a very young age to learn and utilise the language well.
No stage in the learning process is more essential for the citizen body than in their primary and secondary school days. It is in those formative stages which presents a golden opportunity for the young child to digest, remember, and practise English. These would consequently enable them to utilise the language well later in life.
However, the quality output of English-speaking Bruneians in most public schools in the country are poor at best. Most students rarely use the language in their day-to-day communication with friends and family. Rarely do you find any children speaking in English to one another. It is not their fault, however.
The school environment, peer pressure, and parental or the child’s ignorance, made it feel as if it is “unnecessary” for the students to practise the language. It is quite unfortunate for this is a time where learning and practising the language is most crucial and enriching.
As a result, most students fail to capitalise in the learning opportunity, with many finding it difficult to learn later on in life to learn and practise the language. English classes are even held and organised in the university-level just to teach students who are unable to command the language well, thus adding cost both in time and energy for the students and the government.
As we can see, it is in the primary and secondary education level where the government must press in promoting the language.
English may be taught in public schools as a mandatory subject, but I implore the policy-maker in the country to put more effort in prioritising the language. Make it mandatory for the students to practise and use it among their day-to-day communications.
Let them learn and practise English from a very young age.
Most importantly, let them appreciate good literature. For the serious English teachers out there, have your students read literature.
I do not mean Peter and Jane elementary style books, though they does help in primary level education, but give them books like Twain’s Huckleberry and Finn, Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to read.
Most students might not understand any of the works listed. But there is no reason for them not to try. At least they would gain valuable vocabularies for their English. Then there is no harm in letting them have a taste in literature. Who knows they might just end up be a book lover later in life. Let the students progress from there.
As for policy-makers, who have in their fingertips the finite resources we need to build the citizen body, I implore you invest in building or restocking the already existing libraries in schools.
I do not refer to libraries where the books collections are old or useless, but libraries which have some of the best literature works out there.
The best choice for the policy-maker to do is to look our readings as listed in the Harvard Classics, a 51-volume anthology of classic works from world literature, compiled and edited by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot. A list from the Harvard Classics is a very good start to select which books to bring into the libraries of the schools in Brunei.
To conclude, producing a citizen body capable of commanding good English is vital in assisting the nation to navigate the intricacies of globalisation. The Brunei government therefore needs to proactively promote the usage of English in order to unite its citizen body to tackle the challenges in the 21st century.
One important suggestion is to have the government and teachers to encourage students to be active in practising English in their day-to-day communications, particularly students from public schools.
The second bit is to have the government to invest and restock libraries with good books across the different public schools in Brunei for the students to read.
In closing, let me quote Benjamin Franklin’s wise words on the value of education, “The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance.” With the finite resources Brunei has now, the government must work its hardest in investing its people’s skills. Their command of the English language is one of them.