The last week, a letter on the Borneo Bulletin, the nation's sole English newspaper published a letter in its Opinion page which calls upon the Bruneian Government to scrap off the currently existing GCE O' Level English Language to be replaced with a "locally designed" exam paper instead. The writer, under the pseudonym Liguist, had argued that every year a lot of students fail to pass the GCE O' Level English exams, which is a requirement to get to UBD and most Governmental posts because of the following:
"The O Level English exam seems to have been designed for academic, native speakers of English, not for Brunei students, who start learning English in primary school and whose use of the language outside the classroom is limited."
Liguist had termed the GCE O'Level English exams as "a relic of colonial times" and should be replaced with something "with an attainable goal which our students will enjoy reaching for".
The issue of the low passing rates of English O' Levels in Brunei is an extremely much debated about issue within the Ministry of Education. Pehin Dato Haji Awang Abdul Rahman, the Minister of Education has voiced out his concerns in a speech he delivered at the National English Language Teaching Conference saying that so called improvements in English language competence in the country are "not reflected in GCE `O' level results" (Borneo Bulletin: August 2005).
LSM, responded to Liguist in his blog OurLocalStyle by saying that, "accusing teachers of designing examinations solely to encourage students into an academic career is a claim that needs to be taken seriously". He agreed that the O'Level examination is indeed "a holdover from colonial times" and pointed out the fact that Britain, the originator of the exam has "moved to the GCSE". However, he spews his concerns that by "locally designing" the O'Level exam, might "set the bar lower" for Brunei students.
"An easier O-Level English paper is not going to do students any favours."
Turquoise and Roses had also responded by saying that the O'Levels is an "old-fashioned way to test language competence" and "its replacement to something more suitable and logical is long overdue" and asserted that it is designed to "encourage an academic career". She echoes Liguist's sentiments that it is a paper for first language speakers of English and Bruneians are by right speakers of English as a second language who "start being formally introduced to a limited amount of English at Primary Four and who do not have any absolute reason or obligation to speak the language outside of the school environment.
LSM's reply was that,
"If there is a need to re-tool the current O’Level exams then by all means. But if re-tooling means making it easier then I hope it is because the current standard of English assessed by the O’Levels is too high."
He again voices out his scepticism that it might "dumb down" the examination yet he is not against the idea of reformatting the exam.
Justin on the other hand does not believe in scraping of the O' Levels. He argues that "the whole point of the English-medium system of education in Brunei to require students to be able to speak, read and write both Malay and English as a well as a first language speaker of both those languages". He had said:
"Surely to dumb down – and don’t doubt this, a locally designed English language paper would be dumbed down – is to defeat this purpose."
He draws examples from Singapore, a country also using the GCE O' Levels, to illustrate his point. His views are agreed with in another comment by nottoshabby.
However, it must be remembered that Singapore and Brunei have vastly different educational system where English is technically a first language in Singapore, in Brunei it is very much a second and inferior language to the very dominant Malay and drawing comparisons on the two countries will prove to be unfair and one sided.
What will eventually happen to the GCE O' Levels? Should this examination, introduced in 1951, still be utilised in this day and age?
"Policies are made by politicians. Not academicians."