Engaging students in the ‘new normal’: A Malaysian Perspective

Year: 2021

Author: Tan, Katina

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Student engagement is widely accepted as a key predictor of schooling success. Engagement is broadly defined as students’ involvement with learning activities and a precursor to positive learning outcomes (Lawson & Lawson, 2013). To date, there are very few studies on engagement in Malaysia, particularly for students between the age of 10 and 15. Where studies have been conducted, they have largely adopted Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris (2004)’s definition and framework of engagement without first validating its appropriateness for the Malaysian context. Factors such as language, age and relationship with learning areas have not been adequately addressed in these studies.This study addresses the gap by firstly defining the nature of student engagement in Malaysia through a review of the broad literature on established engagement frameworks, a detailed interrogation of engagement studies in Malaysia and by interviewing Malaysian teachers to gain their perspectives on engagement. Using the findings from this phase, an engagement measurement was developed using a robust yet practical process involving teachers and students via an online student questionnaire. Before the questionnaire was administered, an item panelling process was employed where teachers’ feedback was incorporated to ensure clarity, comprehensibility, age appropriateness and context appropriateness. Students from seven public schools in Malaysia (aged 10 – 15 years, N = 199) completed the online questionnaire from October to December 2020. The item panelling and data collection process took place during the COVID-19 pandemic amid significant school disruptions and multiple shifts in learning modalities between face-to-face and remote learning. As this study is a precursor to a larger-scale study that will be conducted in a continually uncertain school environment, it is argued that this preliminary study is reflective of the ‘new normal’ for Malaysian schools. Currently, student engagement frameworks stem primarily from the United States and European contexts. This presentation will explore how student engagement is defined and conceptualised in a Malaysian context and provides empirical support for the perception that student engagement is more nuanced toward social and relational aspects of learning in a country such as Malaysia. This is significant in building the evidence base of context-appropriate engagement theories and provides a deeper understanding of how Malaysian students engage with school and learning, an area that is presently under-theorised. At the same time, the study provides an evidence base to explore contextual and cultural differences in the definition, nature and presence of student engagement often ignored in the current body of knowledge.