The Brunei Government takes education very seriously and is committed to developing a highly literate and suitably skilled work force to meet the future needs of the nation as it continues to diversify the economy away from a heavy reliance on gas and oil.
This policy engenders high standards across both the public and private education sectors.With a literacy rate of 96%, Brunei gives its citizens free education from kindergarten through to secondary school and optional tertiary education beyond that.
However, the state sector is neither readily available nor appropriate for most expat children.
International School Options
In the Capital..
Of the private sector schools, only four can be classed as truly international – on the basis of curriculum, exams and range of expat staff. The largest two, open to anyone, are Jerudong International School (JIS) and the International School Brunei (ISB), both situated in what is called the Brunei Muara District (i.e. close to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan).
Both follow the English curriculum up to the age of 18, are authoritatively inspected (by Penta and CIS respectively) and are members of the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA).
…And in Kuala Belait/Panaga/Seria
At the other end of the country, at the kindergarten and primary level, are Panaga School, only for the children of Shell families; and Hornbill School, pretty well only for the children of UK forces families in the country. At that end of the country, only ISB’s kindergarten and primary branch campus in Kuala Belait is open to all.
One option for some expats is the Seri Mulia Sarjana International School (SMSIS) in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) which claims to be both “a uniquely Asian International School” and the only “Cambridge Primary School” in Brunei. Another is Chung Hwa Middle School if you are looking for a Chinese school that provides a tri-lingual learning environment to secondary level but with largely a local curriculum and exams.
For younger children, where curriculum is not yet an issue and the convenience of location more important, then there are the mission schools - up to primary level, like St. Georges and St. Andrews in BSB and several more in the Belait District.
There is also a handful of good private kindergarten and primary schools taking children up to Year 6, like Jigsaw, Stella or DES. For a few parents these are an acceptable alternative to starting their children that early at JIS or ISB, particularly if one is conveniently nearby. The fees will be lower and the basic curriculum, set by the Brunei Government, allows add-ons e.g. Montessori.
International School Standards
Standards at JIS and ISB are high but both will supply additional coaching if required. Although both schools will take SEN children, ISB has a more inclusive approach and the trained staff to provide more comprehensive support.
All schools follow a secular curriculum. Religious schooling is only mandatory for Bruneian Muslim students, carried out separately in the afternoons. Most expat children will use this part of the day for extra-curricular activities or private study time.
Precious little use is made of school busing in Brunei. This is because there is a very strong car culture, underpinned by amazingly cheap fuel prices, easy car finance and a still limited public transport network.
So, most parents will ferry their children to and from school, fitting these duties around their own day. This causes traffic jams at peak hours in and around many schools but it’s an inconvenience you just have to get used to!