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A key distinguishing factor of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) is that it is entirely embedded into existing national and regional systems and structures. At the centre of its governance structure sits the Regional Steering Committee (RSC). Composed of core and honorary members, core being those countries participating in SEA-PLM, and honorary being non-participating ASEAN and SEAMEO Countries and key partners, the RSC is responsible for the strategic direction of SEA-PLM.

RSC photo outsideIn July 2019, the 10th Regional Steering Committee for SEA-PLM was held in Bangkok. 2019 represents a significant milestone for SEA-PLM with data being collected for the first assessment round SEA-PLM (SEA-PLM 2019). The meeting focused on preparing countries for the analysis, dissemination and use of results in 2020. Held over two and half days, countries and participants shared their experiences of using national, regional and international large-scale learning assessments to improve learning policy, looking particularly at the possibilities for analysis and ways to maximise use of data. Reflecting on and integrating these experiences are essential for a new regional learning assessment such as SEA-PLM.

Hosted by SEAMEO Secretariat and UNICEF EAPRO, the meeting was attended by represetatives from the six participating countries Cambodia, Lao PDR, Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, as well as honorary representatives from Brunei Darussalam, Singapore and Thailand, and key partners, the Australian Council for Educational Research, UNESCO Bangkok and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

SEA-PLM is designed to create regional dialogue around quality learning in Southeast Asia, the RSC provides the platform for this exchange.

RSC speaker 2RSC speaker 1As well as these members, joining the Committee for the first time were Co-Chairs of the newly created Technical Advisory Group (TAG). Established for the purpose of providing independent scientific and technical advice on SEA-PLM methodology and data, Co-Chairs and learning assessment experts Dr Andres Sandoval from the University of Bath and Dr Jimin Cho, Director of the Korean Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) proved themselves to be valuable additions to the discussion.

Along with other key partners, both Co-Chairs presented important insights into the realities of planning and implementing for the analysis, reporting and dissemination phases, supported countries to look towards the year ahead and deepen their understanding of the steps and issues that require national consideration and agreement.

SEA-PLM 2019 results will be captured in one main regional report and six country level reports. The process to developing, reviewing and releasing these reports is fraught with a multitude of variables with the potential to impact the use of results. It is vital to the success of SEA-PLM 2019 that all activities and potential barriers are mapped out and planned in detail.

As UNICEF Regional Education Advisor Francisco Benavides and Co-Chair of the Regional Steering Committee stressed, it is through the collective effort at the regional and national level that has both enabled the creation of SEA-PLM and will be central to its success. With 2020 to present increasingly more technical and logistical challenges on a constrained calendar, it is ever more important that these partnerships are maximized on to deliver the vision of SEA-PLM.

RSC podium

"Learning means knowledge, and getting a job", said 10-year-old Phoudthalith, sitting under the shade of a tree outside her small classroom in Vientiane.

For Phoudthalith, and many of her friends, the priority is getting good grades in Lao language and mathematics, learning by rote from the blackboard. When asked about what the most fun part of learning is, Phoudthalith looks uncertain about how to answer.

Across Southeast Asia, teachers, schools and governments are trying to move from a knowledge-based curriculum to one based on competency, with a focus on critical thinking and developing skills that can be transferred outside the classroom. Lao PDR is in the process of transforming its primary school curriculum, improving teacher training and placing resources where they can best help student learning outcomes.

But to do this, Governments need to know where they are at right now and how to develop strategies to improve.

One of the key tools for this is the Southeast Asian Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), being of UNICEF and Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO), in close collaboration with the Ministries of Education in the region. 

Put plainly, SEA-PLM is a regional learning assessment - the large-scale collection of data on student learning outcomes from schools across Southeast Asia, and the use of that information to inform curriculum development, teacher training and education policy.

Collecting this data in line with standardized practices in places like Lao PDR presents many challenges for the teams charged with coordination and communication.

From calling hundreds of schools to ask for up-to-date student lists to training and organising 216 test administrators to travel to schools across the country, the Lao technical team based at the Research Institute for Educational Sciences (RIES) in Vientiane have learnt many valuable lessons when it comes to planning and communication. These are skills that not only apply to SEA-PLM, but can be used in the design and management of national assessments.

SEA-PLM School Coordinator and Test Administrator Workshop

Just as a microscope is adjusted to the correct lens to see specific cells, so does the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) provide the tools and criteria to meet a more dynamic approach to learning. Students complete assessment booklets in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics and global citizenship, engaging in both knowledge and competency based questions.

But SEA-PLM goes deeper than this.

Test administrators also have parents, teachers and principals complete questionnaires to gain an understanding on the context in which children learn. What was the level of pre-reading before entering school? Is gender an issue? Are students being supported to do their homework and do they have access to learning material at home? SEA-PLM enables deeper level analysis of why students are and aren't learning well.

The Lao technical team have been working in collaboration with the UNICEF Lao Country Office and the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) to prepare for the collection of data for many months now. From the 30th April until 8th May Lao PDR implemented data collection for SEA-PLM.

Now, the Lao technical team members will begin marking and coding the written answers in the booklets into a code that can be compared against tests in other countries and other languages. The results from all six Southeast Asian nations involved will be compiled in one unique and complex regional database to allow reliable analysis on the level of student outcomes and equity at the regional, national and sub-national level.

The learning assessment will give an empirical snapshot of how countries, schools, pupils are faring in specific areas according to their environment for instance, type of difficulties in reading comprehension between socio-economic backgrounds or how girls and boys are learning. 

For each country, the data will provide the opportunity to make informed decisions on how to shape policy and where to place resources.

For the individuals involved in the data collection and analysis, there will be specific skills learned that can translate to other areas of research and hopefully, a broadening of their understanding about what education could and should look like in cities and villages across Lao PDR.

And for children like Phoudthalith, and perhaps her children in the future, the idea of learning might be less about remembering what gets written on the blackboard, but how to learn and where that might take them.

From June 10th until12th the Cambodian Technical Team organised the training of over 250 Test Administrators and School Coordinators at Battambang University, Battambang. All SEA-PLM participant countries implement a standardized training to those selected to coordinate and administer the tests to students and questionnaires to students, parents, teachers and principals. This is to ensure the same steps and script is applied consistently across all schools.

mr ung chinngLearning assessment, described by Director of Education Quality Assurance Department (EQAD) Mr. Ung Chinna as the current "pop-star of education" in Cambodia, is receiving increased emphasis at the policy level, promoting the better use of information generated through assessment to form the basis of education reform across relevant departments and key stakeholders. SEA-PLM plays an important role in this transition. Through providing capacity development to EQAD staff in how to manage large-scale assessments at international standards, the team are able to apply these standards to national and international assessments, and increasingly advocate for the need of assessment from the national to school level.

It is also through the support of major partners such as UNICEF that this growing focus and capacity in using learning assessments to identify gaps and inform educational reform is achieved. UNICEF Cambodia is a vital partner for SEA-PLM in Cambodia, contributing both funding and organisational support to its implementation.

The training, mostly delivered by Technical Team Manager Mr. Sar Sarin, was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, UNICEF Country Office, SEAMEO Secretariat and the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER).

During the 50th SEAMEO Council Conference, the 4th Strategic Dialogue of Education Ministers (4th SDEM) was convened on 24 July 2019 to provide a platform where Southeast Asian Education Ministers would discuss on the trends in education affecting the region in the digital era and Industry 4.0, as well as on how to make SEAMEO education goals more relevant and responsive to the changing contexts. The 4th SDEM focused on issues related to inclusive education and how to utilize technology, discussed new opportunities and challenges, identified the critical role of technology such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education as well as provided directions for SEAMEO towards its post-2020 Strategic Plan.

H E Dr Maszlee Malik, Minister of Education Malaysia and SEAMEO Council President welcomed the delegates to the 4th Strategic Dialogue for Education Ministers (SDEM) and invited them to listen to some expert perspectives on Sustainable Development Goals specifically on Inclusive and Equitable Education and Lifelong Learning, Technology and the Future of Education as well as Partnership and Collaboration for the Future of Education. In his remarks, he pointed out that the forum is directed to cover issues and progress that support the implementation of the SEAMEO Education Agenda and 7 Priority Areas toward the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 4. 

The 4th Strategic Dialogue for Education Ministers was led by the SEAMEO Secretariat in collaboration with UNESCO Bangkok Office.  There were roundtable sessions with highly respected speakers to deliver thematic keynote presentations. 

Session I Theme: Sustainable Development Goals and the Implications for the Inclusive and Equitable Education and Lifelong Learning in Southeast Asia

In this session, Mr. Shigeru Aoyagi presented UNESCO's views on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by outlining three key messages;

  • Southeast Asia (SEA) countries are not on track to achieve the SDGs.
  • SEA will not achieve the SDGs by 2030, particularly SDG4 with current practices.
  • SEA must change according to current times and trends.

He reiterated that the SDGs must be reinterpreted critically in light of the new challenges of current times and the shifting demands from the job market. He urged SEAMEO members to discuss, deliberate and determine the next key recommendations that will consider these issues.

This session was followed by a roundtable discussion led by Ms Azlina Kamal, an Education Specialist of UNICEF Malaysia as the moderator. The session aims to get the reflections, insights as well as experiences on the said theme from the panelists H E Dr Maszlee Malik, Minister of Education, Malaysia; H E Assoc Prof Dr Khamphay Sisavanh, Deputy Minister of Education and Sports, Lao PDR; H E Dr Leonor Magtolis Briones, Secretary of Education, Philippines; and H E U Win Maw Tun, Deputy Minister of Education, Myanmar.

Session II Theme: The Future of Education: Leveraging Technology in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning for Quality and Equitable Education

In this session, Dr Fengchun Miao, Chief of the Unit for ICT in Education, UNESCO Headquarters presented the future of education to address leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to achieve SDG  4 - Education 2030 by outlining the issues include:

  • How to ensure ethical, inclusive & equitable use of AI in education?
  • How can education prepare humans to live and work with AI?
  • How can AI be leveraged to enhance or reinvent education?

In this opportunity also, UNESCO extended an invitation to audience to participate in 2019 UNESCO ICT in Education Prize with the theme "The Use of AI to Innovate Education, Teaching and Learning", on 31 October 2019.

This session was followed by a roundtable session led by Dr Chantavit Sujatanond, SEAMEO RIHED Director as the moderator. The session aims to get the reflections, insights as well as experiences on the said theme from the panelists H E Dato Seri Setia Awang Hj Hamzah bin Hj Sulaiman, Minister of Education, Brunei Darussalam; Dr Totok Suprayitno, Head of Research and Development Agency, Ministry of Education and Culture, Indonesia; H E Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, Singapore; and H E Prof Dr Phung Xuan Nha, Minister of Education and Training, Vietnam.

Session III Partnership and Collaboration for the Future of Education in Southeast Asia.

In this session, Mr Francisco Benavides, UNICEF Education Advisor, UNICEF EAPRO delivered the topic of partnership focusing on how partnerships and collaborations will help us in the future. Instead of trying to stress on the importance of partnerships, he seeks to bring to the floor some elements or evidences of how some partnerships can lead to successful results or failures in educational reforms. The first part of the presentation is to link this partnership approach. The key points discussed are as follows:

  • Why partnerships and the SDG agenda?
  • Education challenges and evidence from successful reforms
  • Types of partnerships and examples in the EAP region
  • Some ideas for reflection

He spoke on governments with strategies that will benefit children. He underlined that clear vision and strong leadership from all sectors are crucial to create a strong partnership and collaboration. There is no question about the importance of having a vision that is embraced and led by a group of people leading which in this case are the ministers of education.

After the session a roundtable discussion led by Mr Hyun Mook Lim, Director, UNESCO APCEIU as the moderator. The roundtable discussion aims to get the reflections, insights as well as experiences on the said theme from the panelists H E Dr Maszlee Malik, Minister of Education, Malaysia and SEAMEO Council President; H E Dr Nath Bunroeun, Secretary of State, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Cambodia; Ms Duriya Amatativat, Deputy Permanent Secretary for Education, Thailand; H E Mr Maria Olandina Isable Caeiro Alves, Ambassador

Session VI Voices from Associate Member Countries

Ms Bernadine Caruana, Counsellor (Education & Science), Australian High Commission, Malaysia; and Ministry of Education and Training, Australia shared her perspective on the future of education and future work and the drive to build 21st century skills. She mentioned that bringing in technologies and innovations can only be done through partnerships. She added that the speed of change is so great that if we are not working together nor building on each other's knowledge would be a loss. Working together to gain faster outcomes is for the betterment of the nation.

Mr David G Ferron Priestley, Counsellor for Education in Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and India, Embassy of Spain in Canberra; and Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Spain talked about the aspects of EU Post ET 2020 which has similar goals like SEAMEO. He focused on the Post ET 2020 Strategy which is based on the Gothernburg Pillar of Social Rights. He identified five significant aspects that guaranty equality, quality, and equity. The five aspects include education, artificial intelligence, life-long learning, and languages.

At the end of the session, the SEAMEO Secretariat Director, Dr Ethel Agnes Pascua Valenzuela presented the Strategic Dialogue of Education Ministers of Education: Commitment to Action which had been presented to the ministers which testify the commitment of the SEAMEO members.

The document testifies the commitment of the SEAMEO Ministers of Education which contains the SDG goals presented in the conference as well as AI and situations in each member country.

The document also conveys a commitment to action among the SEAMEO member countries as well as affiliate institutions and partners on three key areas:

  • to work cooperatively to promote inclusive education driven by innovation and empowering a new generation of teachers and lifelong learners in the use of digital technology
  • to create a policy environment that will help bridge the digital divide and pursue digital transformation in a more systemic level through informed policymaking assisted by SEAMEO Centres research and development initiatives, promoting relevant and contextualized pedagogy for the digital era
  • to encourage partnerships and alliances that create and build an innovative SEAMEO educational ecosystem where mutual ideas can be created and promoted paving new ways of learning and teaching beyond teaching technological skills.

To close the 4th Strategic Dialogue for Education Ministers, H E Dr Maszlee Malik, Minister of Education, Malaysia thanked everyone for their participation and attendance. The keynote speeches and roundtables were presented highlighting three important themes. The first roundtable focused on the SDGs and the quest for more inclusive and equitable learning. He thanked the Deputy Ministers of Education from Lao PDR, the Philippines and Myanmar for sharing their educational programmes which moved towards universal access to free basic education. He closed his remarks by stressing that the success of SDGs hinges upon the ability to collect and analyse data successfully as well as ensuring that education is a collective responsibility from every level of society.

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.

Friday, 09 August 2019 14:19

SEA-PLM 2019 Begins in Myanmar

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.

Mr. Aung describes SEA-PLM as an innovative and very advanced assessment in the region, as well as internationallyThe 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.  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.

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