First and foremost, let me assert that my stance on the matter of the GCE O' Level English is not for. I feel that it is an extremely old fashioned form of examination to test language competence and its replacement to something more suitable and logical is long overdue.
Something suitable and logical would most probably be something that is not introduced in 1951, like the GCE O' Levels. When it was introduced, the GCE O'Level English Language, is designed specifically for a handpicked 20% of the student population who are deemed to be "high ability students". The rest of the population did another regional exam called the CSEs (Certificate of Secondary Education). Nowadays, everyone does another exam called GCSE and the last time anyone did a GCE O'Level was when *insert event that happened in 1985*.
Indeed that number of 20% is consistent to the fact that only a maximum of 16% of the student population in Brunei passes the English O'Levels exam every year. It was designed to be so. How can we expect all the 16 year olds in Brunei (who are speakers of English as a second language) to pass a paper which is designed for only 20% of the English-as-a-first-language, population in Britain?
Is it designed to encourage an academic career? Yes. Make no mistake.
That is why, we need a more "locally designed paper" as Liguist in BSB had put. We need a paper tailored for Bruneian students, or students who start being formally introduced to a limited amount of English at Primary Four and who do not have any absolute reason or obligation to speak the language outside of the school environment.
Another thing that needs to be addressed is that, probably only 3% of all English teachers are actually qualified to teach the subject anyway. See, the paper is designed for English as a first language speakers (I am refraining from using the word native speakers as it present to be politically problematic to me) and the majority of the English Language teachers in the nation was trained in/are being trained in *drumrolls* teaching English as a second language!
Let me not bring up the fact that no one under the age of 18 ever reads anything. But I digress.
The purpose of locally designing an exam is not to dumb it down. The purpose is to make it suitable in the context of a country using English as a second language and thus making it possible to actually pass with the help of hard work and solid determination.