Oct 13, 2012

Brunei – US-Brunei Program to Unite Asean's Tower of Babel?

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School is in session for teacher trainers and government officials. Some 70 representatives from each of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries begin a series of 11-week English language courses this month as part of the US-Brunei English Language Enrichment Project.

The $25 million Brunei investment consists of a five-year strategy to bring together the various ASEAN states with English as the unifying language.

The first seven courses will be held at The University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD).  Here, the focus will be on teacher-training skills such as communication and educational training methods. The East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, will host the four remaining courses in culture and information technology.

While ASEAN members chose English as the operational language back in 2009, China may not be ready to accept its “non-speaking” role in the regional alliance just yet. It wasn’t long ago that China offered the Thailand government its own version of a linguistic crash course, proposing to send 1,000 Chinese teachers to Thailand and 1,000 Thai students to China – no strings attached.

In any event, ASEAN members appear unimpressed by China’s recent courting attempts. Last week, Vietnam revamped its 10-year English language program in the wake of a new $730 million investment in their National Target Program.  Thailand is embarking on its own English Speaking Year Project, designed to improve the conversational skills of some 14 million students.

Like many of ASEAN’s educational enterprises, the US-Brunei Project is certainly ambitious. The program will count on information technology sources to influence major changes in the near future. Currently brewing are plans for a regional forum that integrates ASEAN learning materials. Another is an online educational tool for teacher trainers.

As of now,  qualified American and Bruneian English teachers are being recruited to work at higher education institutions in several ASEAN countries.

So, we’re just getting started. Building a sound infrastructure takes time. Still, this “tower” may just serve as the prelude to more sustainable educational resources over time.

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