Is Reflective Practice Compatible with Malay-Islamic Values? Some Thoughts on Teacher Education in Brunei Darussalam

Article excerpt

This paper critically examines the compatibility of Brunei culture values with the assumptions of reflective practice. Cultural, political and educational institutions in Brunei are thoroughly embedded within a fusion of Malay-Islamic values. In an attempt to examine the issue of teacher effectiveness, reflective practice and allied concepts, such as action research, have been introduced into the teacher education curriculum at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. Based on a juxtaposition of Brunei values/culture with the assumptions underlying reflection, the paper discusses why the cultural distinctiveness of Brunei poses serious obstacles to the implementation of reflective strategies in teacher education. The paper also underlines the need for teacher educators in non-western cultures to take cognisance of contextual factors when importing educational ideas and concepts from the `west'.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to compare key assumptions of reflective practice with the major cultural values of Brunei Darussalam--a small but affluent Malay-Islamic Sultanate located on the northwest coast of Borneo. Culturally and politically, Brunei represents a fusion of Malay-Islamic values which makes it somewhat unique in Southeast Asia. The Sultan and his government have established a national ideology, Melayu Islam Beraja, referred to locally as Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB). This ideology justifies preserving the absolute monarchy and invokes Brunei's history and Islamic values in support of the Sultanate. Thus an indivisible nexus has been built between Malay ethnic identity, Islam and the Sultanate. As the dominant ideology, MIB permeates the small state of Brunei and governs institutional norms and behaviour.

Recently, reflective practice along with action research has gained impetus as key components of teacher education degree and sub-degree programs taught by the Institute of Education at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, the major teacher training agency in the country (Sim, 1996, 1997). In an attempt to improve teaching effectiveness and develop a sense of professionalism among preservice teachers, high priority has been placed on action research and reflective practice as a means for teachers to improve practice. Tire locally perceived need to improve teacher effectiveness is not unrelated to similar trends in the west. Crossley and Vulliamy (1996, p. 144) argue that such emphasis is due to the popularity and widespread influence of the constructivist paradigm--and in particular, its use on professional development award-bearing courses at the postgraduate level in Australia and Great Britain.

To some extent, Crossley and Vulliamy's observations ring true in Brunei. Many teacher educators are western educated and are committed to a constructivist epistemology, that is, one in which `knowledge is personally empowering and fulfilling and, through individual enlightenment, society is enriched' (Grundy & Hatton, 1995, p. 217). Within the constructivist paradigm, reality is perceived to be multiple and conflicting. These social realities in turn are constantly modified as individuals or groups become more informed. Despite the lack of academic discussion on the topic in Brunei, reflection and its offshoots appear to be taken for granted by teacher educators as an essential dimension of teacher education. Recently, however, many analysts have pointed to the pitfalls involved when western educational innovations and concepts are uncritically transferred to foreign cultures (Crossley & Vulliamy, 1997; Leach, 1994; O'Donoghue, 1994; Thomas, 1997; Walker, 1993).

Arguably, teaching methods and assumptions about learning must be filtered through the local culture if they are to be successfully adapted. This point is underscored in O'Donoghue's (1994) critique of the manner in which the concept of reflective practitioner was unsuccessfully transferred to the teacher education programs in Papua New Guinea. …