Defining student engagement in the Malaysian K-12 Education context: A Practitioner’s View

Year: 2018

Author: Tan, Katina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Student engagement in a school context has been widely accepted as a key element in predicting a student’s performance in school. Student engagement is broadly defined as students’ involvement with learning activities and once students are engaged, powerful learning outcomes often follow (Lawson & Lawson, 2013). In Malaysia, the concept of student engagement has also been widely accepted as an important factor which influences positive learning outcome. The literature in the Malaysian context commonly adopts the multi-dimensional definition advanced by Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris (2004) which covers three related components; behavioural engagement (such as time on task and attendance), emotional engagement (such as sense of belonging and feeling valued) and cognitive engagement (such as self-regulation and persevering in the face of challenging learning situations).
To-date, studies of student engagement in Malaysia is mainly focused on measuring student engagement, and whether it explains variance in student outcome. However, there is a lack of research done in defining the concept of student engagement in the Malaysian context. This paper seeks to explore the definition of student engagement in Malaysia through the eyes of practitioners; teachers who are engaged with learning and students on a daily basis.
Prefatory to a larger study of student engagement in Malaysia (including measuring it), this research is divided into two phases; the first phase is a systematic review of existing literature on the definition of student engagement in Malaysia and other similar contexts. The second phase takes a phenomenographic approach where individual interviews are conducted with a small sample of informed education practitioners in Malaysia to gather their thoughts on student engagement. The interviews take into account the Malaysian language component. For example, there is no direct translation for the term “student engagement” in Bahasa Malaysia, the Malay language; the term is often used interchangeably with “student involvement”. This subtle difference suggests that the conceptualisation of student engagement may be potentially different from the definition suggested by Fredricks, et al.
The articulation and insights from the interviews will be triangulated with existing literature to better understand how student engagement is conceptualised in a Malaysian school context. With a more nuanced understanding of student engagement that is sensitive to cultural differences such as language and worldviews, it is hoped that this paper will inform the differences in understanding the concept of student engagement in a Malaysian school setting, an area that is acutely under-theorised.