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Going digital: Brunei’s drive toward equitable education

Going digital: Brunei’s drive toward equitable education

Inequality remains a common scene in Brunei, whether economically or socially. The country sees prevalent poverty, educational disparity, and gender inequality. For example, women in Brunei these days still have less access to education than men.

Nevertheless, it could be said that Brunei is moving on the right track to improve the issue of gender discrimination in its education system.

Dr. Hajah May Fa’ezah binti Haji Ahmad Ariffin, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, told news outlet Borneo Bulletin early July that there have been increasing rates of female graduates in the country. With a rising number of women currently working in the traditionally male-dominating occupations, she hopes to see even more women taking a leading position in the future.

Her remarks correspond to Brunei’s national development strategy “Wawasan Brunei 2035” or “Vision Brunei 2035.” It aims to elevate the country’s international status by sustainably improving its education, quality of life and economy.

One of the main policies from this plan is focusing on developing digital knowledge among the citizens.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brunei has seen a range of issues occurring from students being restrained to online-based learning, including mental health problems and obstacles for students with special needs.

Dr. Siti Norhedayah Abdul Latif of the Universiti Brunei Darussalam proposed an initiative called School Operation Protocol Matrix (SOPM), which would support students with special needs to gain equal benefits from online education to other groups of students. The curriculum would be tailored to each student’s circumstances and allow their parents to assist them and prepare lessons with their teachers. It would also help improve teachers’ technological skills, enabling them to organize an online class that is both efficient and creative.

The Brunei’s government has promoted the use of online platforms since before the pandemic, therefore it could fairly handle the transition to online-based learning. The Wawasan Brunei 2035 has already been endorsing development in digital knowledge and integration to the education system.

In 2020, the country launched the Go Digital ASEAN initiative, starting at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. The program was implemented by the Asia Foundation with support from Google, aiming to equip small businesses and unemployed young people with digital knowledge, for them to be able to contribute to the country’s digital economy in the future.

The initiative is spearheaded by private organization advocating local development Big BWN, which is now working toward expanding access to online learning for disadvantaged people. It focuses on digital integration to literacy in underprivileged communities, especially among women and young people in the whole ASEAN region, to ease the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. It has received great attention from young people in Brunei.

Due to inequality that existed from before the pandemic, coordinated effort from all agencies greatly matters, so no one truly is left behind. The initiative tries to improve digital infrastructure, empower people from underprivileged groups, and organize panel discussions to elevate the body of knowledge in several aspects, therefore elevating equality in education.

Brunei’s attempt to develop infrastructure to support its digital transition shows that education is like an ecosystem. Students, institutions, the government, and the public all can be responsible in determining a path of education for each individual. In the digital era, more effort is needed for the system to be as inclusive as possible, in order to create a sustainable learning society where everyone always has equal access to education throughout their lifetime.

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