BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A recent survey carried out by the Education Ministry (MoE) shows that students performed poorly following school closures due to the pandemic, the minister said on Monday.

Speaking at the Legislative Council, Education Minister Datin Hjh Romaizah Hj Md Salleh said the Students Learning Survey revealed that students from Year 1 to Year 11 showed “very low” achievement due to COVID-19 disruptions to the academic year, falling short of MoE’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI) targets.

As a result, the ministry’s priorities were revised to make learning loss recovery the main focus of its 2023/24 fiscal year budget.

The survey was conducted in May last year, following the reopening of schools after 185 days of closure. In a bid to assess the learning gaps faced by students during the temporary closure, its findings were then used to support MoE’s short and long-term learning recovery strategies.

The nationwide survey monitored students’ performance against the KPIs in three core subjects: English, Mathematics, and Science. While English scored the highest percentage with 32%, it falls far short of the ministry’s 80% KPI target.

Impact on higher education

Commenting on the O-level exams, the minister said that in 2021, the exam was replaced by school-assessed grades, where teachers would determine students’ final grades based on a portfolio of work.

However, there has been an overall decline in students’ performances. Last year, subjects like English, Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Chemistry saw a minor drop (less than 10%), but the subjects of Combined Science, Malay Language, and Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) were most affected, she said.

Last year’s A-level exams also saw an overall decrease in academic performance in Mathematics, Arts and Design, Economics, Physics, and Chemistry, while the most significant decline were in subjects like Travel and Tourism, Usuluddin, History, Malay language, and Physical Education.

Foreign teachers still needed

In her response to a question from Legislative Council member Hjh Rosmawatty Hj Abdul Momin on whether MoE has plans to replace CfBT teachers with local teachers, Datin Hjh Romaizah said the ministry believes that the collaboration and cooperation between local and foreign English language teachers can improve the quality of English language teaching and learning.

The minister acknowledged that the ministry has not yet achieved its national KPI target to ensure that Year 1 and Year 3 students reach minimum literacy standards.

“The literacy levels are still very low, with only 45% of Year 1 students and 53% of Year 3 students achieving the national minimum literacy standard in 2020. As a result, MoE is prioritising the recruitment of English teachers to help improve literacy levels among students,” she said.

The minister went on to say that there are currently a total of 940 English language teachers – both local and foreign – teaching in primary, secondary and sixth form, with 21% of them being CfBT teachers, making up a 20:80 ratio between CfBT and local teachers.

She added that the number of CfBT teachers has decreased by around 24% between 2015 and 2022, and that the ministry is taking action to recruit native-speakers to become English language teachers.

“However, the ministry is still facing challenges in its capacity and ability to recruit, and is considering recruiting through agents to ensure a cost-effective option. The ministry remains committed to improving the quality of education in Brunei and increasing literacy levels among its students,” Datin Hjh Romaizah said.

According to the minister, $27.6 million has been allocated for CfBT teachers in the 2023/24 budget.