Trilin­gual school val­ues roots

Strong com­mu­nity ties, mul­ti­cul­tural learn­ing at­tract­ing more stu­dents

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan, Brunei zhaosheng­nan@chi­

At first glance into the class­room in Brunei it is dif­fi­cult to dis­cern the school’s “na­tion­al­ity”. “Save the Planet” is writ­ten in English on the black­board; “Stay hun­gry, stay fool­ish” is writ­ten in Chi­nese above the board and pho­tos of the monar­chy adorn the wall.

Girls with and with­out head­dress and boys speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages en­joy their time to­gether dur­ing a break un­der the sun.

For Kho Guik Lan, prin­ci­pal of the Chung Hwa Mid­dle School, mul­ti­cul­tural in­te­gra­tion was one of the rea­sons that the Chi­nese school, which only had 20 stu­dents and a few shabby classrooms nine decades ago, has be­come the largest of eight Chi­nese schools in Brunei.

“No mat­ter where the stu­dents are from, be they Chi­nese, Malay or In­dian, they are here be­cause they want to learn Chi­nese. We val­ued the Chi­nese cul­tural in­her­i­tance, while at the same time lo­cal­iza­tion is an in­evitable path for us,” said Kho, who was a stu­dent at the school from 1969 to 1974 and be­came its prin­ci­pal in 1997.

Grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity

Es­tab­lished in 1922 by Chi­nese im­mi­grants, Chung Hwa Mid­dle School is a non­profit school sup­ported by do­na­tions. It does not re­ceive gov­ern­ment fund­ing like pub­lic schools. There­fore, it is more ex­pen­sive than mostly free pub­lic schools.

But money was not a hur­dle for the school’s grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity. Of the more than 3,000 stu­dents, the pro­por­tion of Malay stu­dents jumped to 25 per­cent from only 5 per­cent decades ago, ac­cord­ing to Kho.

“The school has strong roots in the com­mu­nity as more and more par­ents would like to send their chil­dren to learn Chi­nese, an as­set that can help them to go to or do busi­ness in China,” she said.

Lo­cal­iza­tion ac­cel­er­ated in the 1990s when the gov­ern­ment re­quired Malay and English to be com­pul­sory. Chung Hwa Mid­dle School fol­lowed the sys­tem, but also kept Chi­nese as a com­pul­sory lan­guage.

The cur­ricu­lum has changed. Chi­nese his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy are no longer taught even though Kho stud­ied them in the school. How­ever, Chi­nese lan­guage lessons touch upon those sub­jects.

For Rifa Jabeen, an 11-year-old In­dian-Bruneian, trilin­gual learn­ing may be more de­mand­ing, but it is also more re­ward­ing.

“Learn­ing Chi­nese is a bit dif­fi­cult, but I like it,” said the Mus­lim girl, who has a Chi­nese name like the rest of the non-Chi­nese stu­dents in the school. “The school is nice and big, and ev­ery­one here is friendly.”

As a mem­ber of the school’s cho­rus, she can sing a pop­u­lar Chi­nese chil­dren’s song Singing and Smile.

“I can­not to­tally un­der­stand the song’s mean­ing, but I can feel that it’s a happy song. I’ve lis­tened to it since I was in kinder­garten,” she said. “I want to learn more Chi­nese songs, and want to visit China one day, es­pe­cially Bei­jing.”

Dif­fer­ent back­grounds

The grow­ing num­ber of nonChi­nese stu­dents has led the school to fo­cus more on cul­tural diver­sity than be­fore. But it also val­ues tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.

“We have about 30 ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures, like Chi­nese chess, Western mu­sic and soc­cer. Stu­dents can learn and at the same time know how to get along with their peers from dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­grounds dur­ing th­ese pro­grams,” said Kho.

“But Chi­nese cul­ture is still the pri­or­ity; af­ter all, one of the most im­por­tant rea­sons why the school was es­tab­lished was to pro­vide a bet­ter life and ed­u­ca­tion for their kids. They don’t want their off­spring to for­get about their roots,” she said.

With a tra­di­tional Chi­nese prin­ci­ple of “Pro­pri­ety, Right­eous­ness, Mod­esty, Re­morse­ful­ness” as the motto, the school also named its build­ings from eight tra­di­tional Chi­nese virtues, in­clud­ing re­spect and fil­ial piety.

“Cul­tural preser­va­tion among the Chi­nese groups in Brunei is bet­ter than that in China,” said Xu Jian­ling, a Chi­nese lan­guage teacher from Guang­dong prov­ince.

“My fam­ily and I were sur­prised to see the Chi­nese com­mu­nity per­form dragon dances, which rarely take place on the Chi­nese main­land now, dur­ing the tra­di­tional Chi­nese New Year,” said Xu, who had worked in Guang­dong for about three decades be­fore com­ing to the school five years ago.

Xu is one of the 21 teach­ers from the Chi­nese main­land teach­ing in the school. Some of them teach Chi­nese mu­sic, dance and mar­tial arts.

“At home, we tend to take our cul­tural her­itage for granted. While over­seas Chi­nese, even the young ones, value Chi­nese cul­ture as proof of their iden­tify in a mul­ti­cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment.’’

Speak­ing of the school’s fu­ture, Kho said she hoped to see more im­prove­ment in teach­ing and in char­ac­ter build­ing of stu­dents.

“It’s not easy for a pri­vate school to com­pete with free pub­lic schools, so we must con­vince par­ents through our stu­dents’ per­for­mance,” she said.

The achieve­ments of the stu­dents were ev­i­dent and prizes are won reg­u­larly across a range of ar­eas.

The Sultan of Brunei has vis­ited the school on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

Xu, who taught Chi­nese in Thai­land for two years, said Brunei is a stan­dard-bearer of Chi­nese teach­ing in South­east Asia.

Cur­rently, she leads a panel to im­prove read­ing and writ­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. They are bring­ing in text­books from the Chi­nese main­land.

Three years ago the school in­tro­duced text­books from Suzhou, Jiangsu prov­ince, for grades one to three. It is now plan­ning to use Chi­nese text­books from a school in Bei­jing for the rest of the pri­mary school phase - grades four to six, ac­cord­ing to Xu.


Brunei Chung Hwa Mid­dle School stu­dents per­form dur­ing a tra­di­tional Chi­nese New Year gala in Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan on Feb 16. The school is fo­cus­ing on cul­tural diver­sity to at­tract more non-Chi­nese stu­dents.

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