04 January 2011

New School Year

It is now the start of the new school year in Brunei and Malaysia, and it seems to be expected that the media should have lots of reports about how young children are coping with their first day at school, as well as coverage on how parents are managing to get hold of things such as textbooks and school uniforms. Both TV1 (the Malaysian TV channel) and Media Permata (the Brunei newspaper) have been full of such reports. It is a bit like showing pictures of fireworks around the world after New Year's Eve, or broadcasting the Queen's Speech on Christmas Day in the UK ‒ it is what we expect the media to include on those particular days.

One thing caught my attention from the report on page 1 of Media Permata: the intake to the first year of 118 national primary schools is given as 3,000 pupils, while that for secondary schools is 6,000 pupils. If these figures are correct, does that mean there has been a fall by fifty percent in the birth rate in just six years? If that is accurate, that is a stunning change. I would imagine that many smaller, less popular primary schools might have a vastly reduced number of students, and maybe some of them are threatened with closure.

Is there some other explanation? Maybe there are more educational options (for example, private schools) at primary level? In Chinese society, one might consider a surge in births for the Year of the Dragon or something like that; but I think that is unlikely to have much effect in Brunei.

Perhaps the real explanation is that the figures are misleading. Maybe the primary figures are only for government schools while those for secondary include all schools.