Language and education: The experience of the Penan in Brunei

Other title(s): Language and education: The experience of the Penan in Brunei

Author(s): Sercombe, Peter G.

Date: 2010

Pages: p. 625-635


Rurally situated minority groups in Southeast Asia, especially those with nomadic backgrounds, such as the Penan in Borneo, have received relatively little scholarly attention with regard to language knowledge and use, language education and levels of achievement in formal learning contexts. When individuals from these small, as well as socially, politically and generally economically vulnerable groups enter formal education, they are almost inevitably immersed in school settings where the medium (or media) of instruction are either second or foreign languages, and where they receive little or no second or foreign language support for their immersion or, rather, submersion experience. These minorities, in this case the Penan of Brunei, frequently attain (unnecessarily) poor academic results for reasons that are posited and discussed in subsequent pages. This article depicts the environment of Penan in Sukang, in the southern part of Brunei, and describes ways in which the Penan are affected by aspects of the context they inhabit, including national policies, in terms of language and social categorization. This is part of a larger consideration of ways in which Penan have been adapting to settlement, since they gave up a nomadic hunting and gathering existence (Sercombe, 2007), a significant aspect of which is processes of socialization and ways in which formal education has impacted on the lives of Penan in Brunei. The paper begins with an outline of the locality, physical and social, and goes on to describe the language ecology of this part of Brunei. It then considers more closely the local school and its role, as a conduit for the implementation of national policy, and ways in which this affects Penan children's educational progress, as well as suggesting strategies that might be implemented for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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