BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah on Tuesday grilled the Ministry of Education (MoE) on the progress of the National Education System for the 21st Century (SPN21) in improving students’ academic performance.

During an unscheduled visit to MoE, he questioned whether the abolishment of grade retention under SPN21 was a good decision.

“Under the system, students only need to reach a certain percentage in their attendance to avoid retention regardless whether they passed or failed their exams,” he said.

Since SPN21 was introduced in 2007, students are not required to repeat the same grade when their academic work do not meet standards.

However, pupils with less than 85 percent attendance cannot be promoted to the next grade.

The sultan further enquired whether there are plans to assess and improve the education system.

SPN21 was implemented to equip students with 21st century skills and realise the education ministry’s vision in raising the country’s quality of education.

His Majesty said the ministry needs to study whether SPN21 promotes civic awareness among students.

“To what extent has the system been able to incorporate civics and ethics of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy in primary and secondary school students?”

His Majesty delivers his titah during an impromptu visit to the Ministry of Education. Photo: Infofoto

HM questions effectiveness of education programmes

The monarch also scrutinised various education programmes, saying that some may have failed to achieve its objectives.

The ministry had introduced several projects to improve the quality of learning and administration, including the Integrated National Education Information System, Literacy and Numeracy Coaching Programme and School-Based Assessment for Learning.

“I want to know if these projects have created a positive impact or if it only adds to teachers’ burden,” His Majesty said.

There is also a need to look into the unsatisfactory performance of students who had been trained under CfBT Education Services, he added.

MoE partnered with CfBT to carry out the Literacy and Numeracy Coaching Programme across schools from 2017.

The programme aims to achieve the long-term goal of ensuring all students are highly numerate and literate in the English language by 2035.

His Majesty added that MoE needs to address the shortage of special education teachers.

The Special Education Unit is not able to deal with the annual increase in number of students as some pupils were placed in mainstream classes, posing an additional challenge to teachers.

His Majesty during an impromptu visit to the Ministry of Education. Photo: Infofoto

Call to review education loan regulations

Another issue raised was the ministry’s education loan facility for students to pursue higher studies at local or foreign higher education institutions.

Introduced in 2014, the Education Loan Assistance Scheme requires borrowers to repay their loans within 30 years, either in lump sum or monthly installments once they are employed.

However, the monarch said there are reports that the ministry has issued a new directive for borrowers to start paying their loans as soon as they graduate with a three percent interest rate.

“I want this new regulation to be studied in-depth,” he added.