The first regional assessment of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) entered its final stretch on the 28th January, with Myanmar being the first country to begin data collection in schools. This large-scale survey will take place in Myanmar, Philippines, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia during 2019 according to the different school calendars.
Led through the cooperative tradition among Ministries of Education in the region, SEA-PLM is a project jointly managed by the Southeast Asian Ministers for Education Organisation (SEAMEO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). With the shared vision of improving and redefining learning outcomes, SEA-PLM provides metrics that are founded within the regional context and inclusive of 21st Century skills.
The implementation of the first assessment is the culmination of 5 years' worth of research, capacity building, and field trials, all to develop a suitable set of assessment and survey instruments specifically designed for the region. For each of the participating countries, approximately 3500 grade 5 students enrolled in an average of 150 schools are randomly selected to represent their country. The Australian Council of Education Research (ACER) an independent technical operator is used to select schools and students, providing technical support to national teams as they prepare and implement the assessment.
Deputy Director of the Department of Myanmar Examinations Mr. Aung Htike has been working as a SEA-PLM Technical Team Manager since June 2015 and is highly experienced in the management of large-scale learning assessments. Leading a Technical Team made up of 35 members from seven different Departments and Universities across Myanmar, Mr. Aung with his team coordinated the first assessment in 202 schools across the country. To successfully achieve this huge undertaking, Myanmar uses the Six C approach; Commitment, Capacity, Communication, Collaboration, Consistency, and Coordination.
Over a three-week period, 5715 students undertook standardized tests in Myanmar language in reading, mathematics, writing, and global citizenship. One Myanmar teacher shared how she could not sleep the night before the test because she felt so nervous and excited to be chosen to participate. To paint a fuller picture of the factors contributing to learning outcomes the principals, teachers, and parents of selected students also complete background surveys. While all tests and questionnaires are anonymous and not designed to assess the individual performance of students or teachers, it is still a nerve-racking experience to be chosen to represent your country.
An important element of SEA-PLM is to ensure comparability and consistency of the meaning of test items between countries. Questions are similar in all participating countries and have been designed in collaboration with national and international experts, reflecting the disciplinary domains and cognitive processes considered important to have been achieved by students by the end of primary school.
The road to developing comparable and suitable test items and assessment tools have been a long and complex one.Â In order to design suitable metrics, surveys and assessment tools were trialed during 2018 in 7 different countries on reduced school samples. In Myanmar, Mr. Aung and his team participated in this process by joining in multiple capacity building workshops and implementing field trial assessments in 35 schools during November 2016.
Countries have committed considerable human and financial resources to this assessment because they can see that it has something very important to offer them. SEA-PLM will generate key data on each country's context on how students perform in school and what factors are affecting learning outcomes. From these gaps in national education policy and systems can be identified and improved.
What is impressive about SEA-PLM Mr. Aung says is that it both assesses the four different domains and that the items of these four domains are specifically tailored for Southeast Asian students, allowing them to apply their knowledge and learnings in real life situations.