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Brunei Darussalam, which is usually referred to as just “Brunei,” is a sovereign country situated on the northern coast of Borneo, a large island in Southeast Asia. Save for its broad expanse of coastline on the South China Sea, the country is completely surrounded by the nation of Malaysia. It is separated into two distinct regions; regions that are divided by the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. Brunei is the only sovereign nation that is completely on the island of the Borneo, an island it shares with both the aforementioned Malaysia and Indonesia.
As of the summer of 2011, the population of Brunei was just over 400,000, with the majority of people living in the more urbanized sections of the country. Economic growth, especially from 1999 to the present, has been steady and has transformed Brunei Darussalam from a largely agricultural state into a newly industrialized country. Ethnically, people of Malaysian heritage account for nearly 65 percent of the population, followed by Chinese at 10 percent, indigenous people at 4 percent and smaller minority groups which comprise the remainder. The official language of Brunei is Malay, although there is a strong push to make Brunei official as well. Locally, a combination of Brunei and Malay, called Malayu Brunei, is the most commonly spoken language. Two-thirds of the country adheres to the Islam religion, but Buddhism is also fairly common, particularly among the Chinese descendants living in the country.
Brunei’s current culture reflects heavy Malaysian and Islamic influences. It can be traced back to four dominant periods in the country’s history, periods in which animism, Hinduism, Islam and Western beliefs were the emerging doctrines. Of these, only Islam established deep roots within the country, and today it continues to be the state ideology and philosophy. One example of this Islamic influence is that Brunei is and has been for some time a “Sharia” country, meaning, among other things, that the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Brunei Darussalam and punishable by law.
Education in Brunei Darussalam
Education in Brunei Darussalam is overseen and governed by the Ministry of Education. School is free at each level and compulsory for children of primary school age (6-14). The formal school structure in the country is modeled after that of the British, of which Brunei was formally a colony. This structure can be written as 7-3-2-2, representing 7 years of primary school, 3 years of lower secondary school, 2 years of upper secondary, vocational school or technical school and 2 years of pre-tertiary education.
At the primary and lower secondary levels students receive instruction, first in basic reading, writing and counting, followed by teachings throughout a broad curriculum that includes mathematics, science, Malay language and literature, history, geography, arts and sport. At the upper secondary level students are placed according to how they scored on the “Penilaian Menengah Bowa” (PMB), or Lower Secondary Assessment Examination. Students are channeled into the Science, Arts or Technical education track, all spanning two years at the conclusion of which they must sit for the Brunei Cambridge General Certificate of Education, also known as the O-level examination.
Students who score well on the O-level test can proceed to pre-tertiary education—a 2-year pre-university course that students must attend prior to university admission. Students who do not qualify for the pre-tertiary program can opt for immediate employment or increase their employability by undertaking training through occupational classes offered at the various post-secondary technical and vocational colleges.
Map of Brunei Darussalam