Jerudong International School combines British influence and academic rigor with a healthy dose of internationalism – in a unique setting
Brunei is something of an enigma – many people know little about the tiny nation of Borneo. But teachers, students and parents at Jerudong International School know it has a lot to offer. The country, covered in lush rainforest, is tiny (about 445,000 people live here on a landmass the size of Devon).
This might not be the place for you if you like shopping and clubbing. But if you love cafe culture, appreciate family, and are happy to get into the jungle and on the water, then this might be perfect.
As of July 2021, Brunei had not recorded any Covid cases since May 2020. Jerudong is nestled on the edge of the South China Sea, a short walk from the beach and around ten minutes from the international airport. It is surrounded by rainforest, which even extends beyond the perimeter in the form of the “Outdoor Discovery Center” – an area of tropical moorland that students restore.
The school was built in 1997 as part of a development program in Brunei to accommodate incoming expatriates. It would provide international quality education to the children of expatriates – something it continues to do today, while welcoming local Bruneians. There are about 1,680 students in Jerudong, with indigenous Bruneians accounting for about 45%. The remaining 55% include 54 other nationalities, with British passport holders making up the second largest group.
“We provide a British-style education to a diverse Brunei and international community,” says Principal Nicholas Sheehan. “The vibe is that of a large, diverse community.”
Jerudong’s student body ranges in age from three to 18 and is divided between day students and boarders, of which there are 231 (including 60 full boarders).
“We follow very similar patterns to what you would see at a UK boarding school,” says Sheehan. “The way the houses are built, the way the matrons work, the provision of after-school activities that go with it. And we make sure that this provision is outstanding.
“There’s this huge, sprawling, almost university-scale campus, but we maintain a sense of community there,” Sheehan continues.
Jerudong sits on a 120-acre site, which it uses to its full advantage – for example, children learning physics and geography will study the site’s solar panels.
There is plenty to take care of. Jerudong has a wide profile of facilities, including a 750-seat theatre, 27 well-resourced science labs, a dedicated music school with 15 traveling music teachers, a recording studio and a sports complex comprising the “best Brunei training ground”.
“A high school student will walk quite a distance in the day,” Sheehan says. “But they go from one world-class facility to another.”
The school operates the British National Curriculum, or its “own contextualised version”. Pupils take the GCSEs or IGCSEs in Year 11 and choose between A Levels and the International Baccalaureate in Year Six.
Jerudong Primary School, however, is a bit more “unique”. “There has been a significant shift from the traditional ‘eight weeks on the Incas’ and ‘eight weeks on the rivers’ etc. to a real initiation of children,” says Sheehan.
While everyone agrees on the outcomes they want for students, there is much more “student choice” and inquiry-based learning. Another unique feature of the primary school, according to the director, is “the large specialist offer”. The classroom teacher is responsible for teaching math, English and social studies, but other subjects, such as art, science, design and technology, music, drama, Physical education and languages are taught by specialists.
“We invest in all areas,” says Sheehan. The education provided by Jerudong is holistic, considering both academics and the development of students as people.
This is reflected in the unique rewards system that revolves around six core values in the school’s “student profile”: engaging in tasks, developing resilience, communicating effectively, integrating into community, critical thinking and leadership skills.
“Every time a child receives a full set of six vaccines, we donate $1 to UNICEF for a polio vaccine,” Sheehan says.
Jerudong is selective and requires students to pass a CAT (cognitive aptitude test), a written assignment and an entrance interview, although it generally admits children from the armed forces or government officials in Brunei. they meet a basic standard.
Therefore, the contribution is “broad and comprehensive”. Given this, Jerudong’s academic profile is very strong – “certainly the strongest in Brunei”, says Sheehan. Examination results have consistently exceeded UK averages, as well as those of FOBSIA (Federation of British Schools in Asia).
Jerudong’s goal, Sheehan says, is to “ensure that all children have the right qualifications to progress to the next path, whatever that may be.” Over the past ten years, he says, there has been a significant shift towards students heading to UK universities – particularly the Russell Group and Oxbridge – although Australia, Canada and America are also proved popular.
Whatever a student’s preference, Jerudong will provide a guidance counselor to help them achieve it.
“What’s on offer here is a high quality of life,” says Sheehan. “As well as a high-level international education that puts us in the forefront of Asian international schools.”