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The SEAMEO Secretariat Director, Dr Ethel Agnes Pascua-Valenzuela, and the Secretary of Education, Philippines, H E Dr Leonor Magtolis Briones, signed the Memorandum of Understanding to spearhead the implementation of activities under the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) 5-Year Strategic Plan, including the SEA-PLM 2024 Survey. The MoU signing ceremony took place in the Office of the Secretary Building at the Department of Education in Manila on Monday, 02 May 2022.

“SEA-PLM 2024 will provide new opportunities for engagement with countries and partners, as well as promoting capacity building in the region,” explained Dr Ethel Agnes Pascua-Valenzuela in her remarks. “Through the support from our partners, ASEAN Secretariat, and ASEAN-Republic of Korea Cooperation Funds (AKCF), the programme’s implementation will proceed in 2022, and trial testing will be conducted in 2023,” she continued. Dr Ethel Agnes Pascua-Valenzuela further emphasized that the MoU will provide significant support for the programme’s implementation, both in the top-level commitment and for mobilizing national activities.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education, Philippines is committed to join the next SEA-PLM cycle, as learning assessment proves to be critical in assessing the learning loss among 5th grade students brought by the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Furthemore, Dr Leonor Magtolis Briones expressed that the “involvement in SEA-PLM is an effort to continuously improve the quality of education in the country.” She hopes that the SEAMEO Secretariat, through the SEA-PLM Secretariat, will provide sufficient guidance to ensure the successful implementation in the country, especially to address challenges and recovery in the post COVID-19 pandemic era.

The momentous signing ceremony was held in the presence of key officials and partners such as the Assistant Secretary for Curriculum and Instruction, Undersecretary for Bureau of Human Resource and Organizational Development, Director of Bureau of Education Assessment, and Director of International Cooperation Office, Philippines, UNICEF Philippines Chief of Education, and SEA-PLM Secretariat Project Manager.

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The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) and the United Nations Child Fund (UNICEF), as well as the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), the technical consortium of SEA-PLM have spent many years working with participating countries to develop, trial and improve the technical and logistical procedures and roles needed to successfully implement the large-scale regional assessment.

This being said with SEA-PLM being embedded within national education systems the practicalities of preparing for the assessment differs slightly in each country, depending on its individual education structures and mechanisms.

So what does SEA-PLM actually look like at a country level?

To take a closer look at the in-country roles and functions of SEA-PLM we head to the Philippines who implemented main survey data collection during February. With the involvement of 16 regions, 119 Divisions, and 176 schools the archipelagic nation has had to be meticulous in its approach for preparing all relevant parties for the first round of SEA-PLM.

For each participating country, a Technical Team Manager (TTM) and Technical Team (TT) including positions such as school contact person, logistics coordinator, sampling coordinator, coding coordinator, data manager, and administration staff are appointed.

At the heart of SEA-PLM coordination in the Philippines sits the Bureau of Education Assessment (BEA) of the Department of Education (DepEd), with Chief Education Program Specialist Ms. Gretchen Cordero assigned as Technical Team Manager. Responsible for the coordination of all activities at the national level and the supervision of the Technical Team, Ms Gretchen is coordinating not one but three large-scale learning assessments. A priority of this year is to look into our system of assessment and see how our students are faring compared to other countries in the region.

Core tasks of the Technical Team include the selection and training orientation of School Coordinators and Test Administrators, the translation, review, printing, and distribution of test booklets and questionnaires, student sampling and quality monitoring.

Ms. Gretchen commented that overall the preparation process had run smoothly, a minor challenge however was that half of the test booklets had to be printed in-house due to procurement processes. This meant a lot of late nights for my staff to ensure that all booklets were printed in time!

So what about the school level?

Similar to the Technical Team there are multiple roles required at the front line of school testing. Two essential positions are that of the School Coordinator (SC) and Test Administrator (TA). In the case of the Philippines, the additional position of District Testing Coordinator (DTC) plays a significant role in supporting School Coordinators and preparing schools for testing.

DTC Ms. Remylinda T. Soriano explained to us how she had coordinated the orientation session with teachers, parents, and students ensuring they understood the purpose of SEA-PLM and what would be required from them on the testing day. With the testing day finally upon them, Ms. Remylinda shared what a happy day it was and how proud the school was to have been selected to represent the Philippines.

For security purposes test booklets and questionnaires are not delivered to the school until the testing day meaning that parents, teachers, principals, and students all complete the test and questionnaires on the same day. The task of assessment material delivery and collection is that of a National Quality Control Monitor (NQCM).  NQCMs are from the central level and also fulfill the purpose of school observation, filling out standard checklists and reporting back to the Technical Team. 

When the testing day finally arrives it is the Test Administrators moment to shine. Test Administrators are selected from different schools than those participating in the assessment and all undergo training to orient them towards their role. One Test Administrator Mr Benjamin Cruz Junior described the testing process to be straightforward, with the detailed instructions and script provided it is simply a matter of following it.

It is because of these people and many more that national data collection for SEA-PLM is made possible. A core priority of SEA-PLM is the capacity building of national teams to prepare and implement learning assessments at an internationally recognised standard. In the Philippines, the impact of the preparation, training and support process of these key roles, as well as the utilization of existing DepEd structures and mechanisms have all contributed to the strengthening of local capacity and the successful collection of school data for SEA-PLM.

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