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Assessment of Transversal Competencies: Perspectives from Malaysian teachers and school leaders

The Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) launched a regional study on “Assessment of Transversal Competencies (also known as 21st century skills)”, with an aim to explore different approaches or practices that countries adopt in assessing these skills and competencies, the challenges encountered in the process, the lessons we could draw from the existing practices in the Asia-Pacific region and recommendations for future directions in this area. The study covers nine countries/jurisdictions in the Asia-Pacific region including Malaysia.

In line with the Malaysian National Philosophy, education policies and curricula have been developed to incorporate a broad range of skills and competencies necessary for students to successfully navigate today’s changing global landscape and to meet the needs of the 21st century. It is crucial to produce a new generation of students that are critical and creative thinkers, morally upright, and globally competitive. In this regard, transversal competencies (TVCs), including higher order thinking skills, inter- and intra-personal skills have all been integrated into existing curricula in Malaysia. Exploring perspectives of the teachers and school leaders on assessment of TVCs is particularly interesting given that in Malaysia, assessment of such competencies is well reflected in school-based assessment both within and outside the classroom.

This study employed a qualitative approach using structured interviews with the teachers and school leaders from six high performing schools: three secondary schools and three primary schools. These schools are recognized as the best schools in the country in terms of their outstanding performance in both academic and non-academic domains, including in co-curricular activities.

The findings revealed that most school leaders were aware of the mandates on TVCs from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and they recognized the importance of assessing TVCs. The school leaders had also taken initiatives through trainings, curriculum meetings, and workshops to enhance knowledge among school teachers on the assessment of TVCs. However, two different cases emerged with regard to implementing assessment of TVCs at school level. Schools that were well-prepared for the implementation of TVCs had taken initiatives to support teacher professional development such as peer coaching, exchanging of ideas with colleagues, engaging with experts from local universities and research centers. School leaders also reported that they were seeking professional guidance in implementing assessment of TVCs from a local university or training center in addition to an effective monitoring system from the local authority. In contrast, in schools that were not ready for the implementation of assessment of TVCs, more guidance and initiatives from the authority level needed to be provided.

The study found that, as in the case of the school leaders, teachers were also aware of system-level mandates on TVCs assessment. Most teachers understood the importance of assessing TVCs and including TVCs as part of their teaching and/or assessment activities. This had not only resulted in changes in their teaching approaches, but also changes in the way that they assess students’ learning outcomes, especially related to students’ communication and thinking skills. TVCs assessment was included in both academic and non-academic subjects, in particular Malay language, Science, Mathematics, History, Physical Education, and Extra-curricular activities. Teachers also received training from the MOE to guide their practice in implementing assessment of TVCs. Most of these trainings involved lectures, school visits, peer coaching, and exchanging of ideas among colleagues. The major areas covered included definitions and the nature of development of TVCs, information about specific tools for assessment of TVCs and methods of assessment.

The case study also revealed that materials and further guidance related to assessment of TVCs were accessible at school, yet were not sufficient. Due to this limitation, most teachers had to independently seek specific guidelines on assessment of TVCs from other schools. In addition, the role of ICTs in the implementation of TVCs assessment was not emphasized during the trainings. Teachers reported that either schools or the government should support in-service teacher training and provide assessment materials to better assist teachers in assessment of TVCs.

While the case study in Malaysia provides useful background information on assessment of TVCs, the implementation of assessment and where improvements can be made, further in-depth analysis is required to generalize the findings on the country level. 


Written by  Lei Mee Thien [], [SEAMEO RECSAM]

Dominador Dizon Mangao [], [SEAMEO RECSAM]

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