Learning Mandarin in Brunei’s Chinese Schools: Practical Considerations

Learning Mandarin in Chinese schools in Brunei is less a project of Chinese soft power, but more a matter of practicality.

The global and regional growth of Mandarin learning attests to China’s soft power. China’s agency in promoting Chinese culture and language is clear Southeast Asia, an area in response to China’s rise as an economic superpower due to China’s integration into the Belt and Road Initiative. Culturally and linguistically, China’s focus on establishing ties with Southeast Asian countries has led to the increased development of Mandarin in the region, where 41 Confucian Institutions (CIs) are active. It is against CIs USA, UK and AustraliaConducted in a suspicious manner and experienced scrutiny, restricted funding or closure.

However, unlike the experiences in other ASEAN countries, the case of Brunei Darussalam shows that Mandarin’s learning – its spread, sustainability and strength – is driven less by the Chinese soft power agenda, but more by a set of local and regional factors. Our study Chinese schools established by the Chinese community in Brunei indicate that parents’ and students’ choices to learn Mandarin in these schools are based primarily on the academic rigor and opportunities the schools represent, rather than an inherent attraction to the language or its origin.

Elsewhere, the growing enthusiasm for studying Chinese, sometimes „Mandarin fever”, often associated with China’s rise and attributed to China’s concerted efforts to promote the Chinese language through CIs and scholarships to study in China. However, in Brunei, CIs may not exist due to religious sentiments, but Chinese-government scholarships are available for high school and university graduates. Efforts to promote China’s soft power are evident through various activities conducted by the Chinese embassy. China Day Event, donation of books to local schools and universities, sponsorship Painting competitions Provide support for Chinese language programs in schools and Chinese schools. However, when it comes to learning Mandarin, China’s soft power efforts play a secondary role compared to the intrinsic appeal of Chinese schools.

Far from being the result of China’s cultural diplomacy, the learning of Mandarin in Brunei is motivated by immediate concerns of academic success and the development of worldviews through a different language and culture.

Since Brunei’s independence in 1984, the use of language in the education system has seen two major changes: the first is the introduction of the Malay-English bilingual system in 1984, and the second is the national education system for 21.St century (SPN-21) since 2009. SPN-21 prioritizes English as the medium of instruction, especially for STEM subjects. Mandarin is only included as an elective subject in the national curriculum followed by public and private schools in Brunei. Chinese schools are an exception, as Mandarin is the main subject and English is used as the medium of instruction for other subjects.

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Chinese Schools in Brunei a History There are currently eight Chinese schools in Brunei, three of which offer comprehensive K-12 education and the other five are elementary schools. Although the use of Mandarin as a medium of instruction has been discontinued since the mid-1970s, these schools continue to teach Mandarin as a separate subject alongside English and Malay.

Chinese middle schools are substantially supported by the Chinese community, which today constitutes 9.6 percent of the total population. In contrast, primary schools, often located in rural areas, have seen higher enrollments in recent years among non-Chinese people. The urban migration of ethnic Chinese has created more vacancies for non-Chinese, including Malays, Dusans and Ibans, in Chinese primary schools located in various villages.

Chinese secondary schools in Brunei have a strong reputation as educational institutions. Their students often achieve Higher positions Nationally ranked for their excellent academic performance in high level public examinations. Academic discipline, rigorous training and high performance of students ensure the credibility of these schools. This is track record These schools precede, and parents believe that Chinese schools instill strong academic ethics and values ​​in their children and have a positive influence.

Another important aspect is that the Mandarin language classes at these schools provide excellent opportunities for non-Chinese students to learn an additional language and gain insights into a different culture. Chinese schools often organize Chinese language fun fairs, cultural dances, and other activities to promote students’ cultural immersion. Mandarin language teachers maintain students’ interest levels through practices of linguistic diversity, such as using Malay translations in their teaching to enrich the learning of Mandarin vocabulary. A multicultural school environment also helps equip young people with the experience they need to thrive in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

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Contributing to the global production of Mandarin fever, Chinese soft power plays a supporting role in promoting Chinese language learning in Brunei. Chinese language education is dictated more by the practical concept of academic rigor found in Chinese schools. Far from being the result of China’s cultural diplomacy, the learning of Mandarin in Brunei is motivated by immediate concerns of academic success and the development of a worldview through a different language and culture. As economic relations between Brunei and China have grown in recent years, it will be fascinating to observe the impact of this development on Chinese language learning and enrollment in Chinese schools.


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