There is growing need to improve the present SPN21 system today.

Such need is reflected by the mixed anonymous feedbacks posted by teachers recently in both the national newspaper and social media. While SPN21 may have its alleged shortcomings, we must not dismiss the programmes’ intent which is to prepare our students for the 21st century. With this, the government’s initiative must be applauded. Nonetheless, in the efforts to ‘perfect’ and improve SPN21, it is probably best for the Ministry of Education to consider in reviving back three components of the pre-SPN21 educational system.

The first component of the pre-SPN21 system is that it makes it mandatory for our students to pass their exams in order to progress to the next stage of their education. If a student fails their core exams, he or she has to repeat his or her year. This is final. We need to revive this merit-based component once more. This component will drive home the message that there is no such thing as “free lunch” or automatic success in our society. Let parents sulk or get mad all they want if their children fail and repeat. This is the best for them and best for our long-term national interest in creating a meritocratic society.

This component which puts the fear of failing (repeating another year) as a central element of our educational process also ensures that our students will always be ever alert and vigilant in their studies. They will also be better mentally equipped for subsequent O-level and A-level examinations, both exams which are objectively marked in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, the system places central emphasis on teachers to teach and not to become administrators. Teachers are there to provide lessons to students, not to deal with extensive administrative works. “Let the admins do the admin duties, and let teachers teach,” as many teachers would quietly express today. This approach on how the central government sees and treats the teachers needs to be revived.

There are lesson plans, homework checking, exam markings, and a thousand other teaching-related activities that need to be addressed by the teachers. Heavy and unnecessary administrative duties imposed on the teachers under the SPN21 system must be continually reviewed, reduced and, if possible, eliminated. Unless of course if the teachers are given overtime pay and/or are keen to become senior government administrators, then the government can offer these extra administrative duties as options for them to take up on.

Third, principals (and school leaders) in the pre-SPN21 system are empowered to govern and have the final say on how their schools should be run. This includes planning and carrying out their own extra educational programmes to improve their students’ performance, rather than to be “forced” to follow straight-jacketed programmes and administrative standards that are continually and sometimes unnecessarily being imposed on them by the cluster officers under the present system. To this, SPN21 should empower schools to govern their own schools once more.

Empowering school leaders today to control their own schools is highly crucial in producing policy innovation to drive up our country’s educational performance. The cluster officers, on the other hand, can be relegated to become advisers to the principals/school leaders instead. The cluster officers must in principle intervene only when the results of the school have gone down dramatically. Even then, their interventions must be moderate in their approach.

To conclude, the Ministry of Education are highly encouraged to consider reviving these three specific components of the pre-SPN21 system into the present SPN21 system today. SPN21 is a brilliant initiative that just needs adjusting to produce the results it aims to achieve. I also like to point out that three components were formulated based on postings offline and online by anonymous teachers in the country (credit goes to them), whose intents are also set at ensuring our younger generation succeed in their education. Their sincere intents and suggestions must be considered too.

We are, after all, talking about our students’ future here. And their future, as I am sure many would agree, is a very serious subject indeed. Let us all consider and debate the different ideas put forth, whether they are positive or negative, from every section of our society, so we can all work together in improving SPN21, and hence prepare Brunei’s future generation in braving the 21st century and beyond.