Malaysia has completed school data collection for the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) despite many schools forced to close and reschedule testing due to a toxic haze over some states. Even with the challenges that the uncontrollable environmental situation presented, the team from the Ministry of Education charged with managing the regional learning assessment worked around the clock to see the assessment administered following correct protocol and within the planned timeline.

Malaysia is the sixth and final country to conduct data collection for the first assessment round of SEA-PLM, with 160 schools from sixteen states participating in the assessment. Unlike other countries Malaysia is administering the test in not one but three languages. Primary schooling in Malaysia uses a multilingual language approach with students attending three different types of schools depending on their mother tongue and family preference: National schools teach in Malay, Tamil schools in Indian and Chinese schools in Chinese. Data collection began on September 17th and finished on the 11th October.

hazeHowever, with the country having experienced the worst haze in five years the schedule of testing was severely affected. Measured by the Air Pollution Index (API), schools must close and send their students home if levels rise above 200, deemed to be an unhealthy level. Sadly, many schools, particularly in the states of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Pulau Pinang and Putrajaya and have seen just this. Some 1659 schools were closed in these states for the 19th and 20th of September. This included SEA-PLM sample schools.

Despite the difficult conditions the Technical Team from the Educational Planning and Research Division were highly organized with Plans A, B and C in place and ready to go. The coordinating central and district officers, along with school principals constantly checked government updates on school closures, making fast and efficient decisions around testing.

This was no easy feat. With a plethora of people involved in the coordination and implementation of the large-scale learning assessment, including government officers at the central, provincial and district level, school principals, test administrators, school coordinators, teachers and parents, communication needs to be swift and clear ensuring that all parties are informed on decisions.

school team malaysia

Zahirah Zulkefli, Assistant Director of Selangor State Education Department, a state badly impacted by the haze, explains how she regularly checks her phone, often staying up past midnight for updates on the Air Pollution Index (API). Once it is announced that a participating school will be closed she begins the process of contacting the relevant people and identifying a time to re-schedule the test. This process is often repeated multiple times.

As the haze slowly cleared, the team were hopeful that all sample schools would complete testing within the planned timeline. And they were correct – all tests were administered and questionnaires collected by the 11th of October as originally planned. There will be little time for rest for the team, with data set to be coded almost immediately. In early November a data coding workshop will be held in Malaysia that provides training delivered by the Australian Council of Educational Research on SEA-PLM coding standards. With Malaysia coding their tests booklets from three different languages it is essential that the guidelines are applied consistently.

Without the dedication and hard work of all people involved in SEA-PLM Malaysia, the hazy conditions might have disrupted the final data collection, potentially impacting an already tight regional schedule. As it were the Malaysian Technical Team set the bar high in ensuring that smooth implementation of all assessment procedures, even when it was at times difficult to see ahead.