Essex graduate wins British Council Innovation Award

  • Date

    Wed 21 Aug 19

British Council winner Dr Ho Sook Wah

A pioneering force in English language education in Malaysia has been awarded the 2019 British Council Innovation in English Assessment Award.

Dr Ho Sook Wah and her team at Gamuda Berhad, a leading Malaysian engineering and construction company, were awarded the prize for the design and development of four innovative online English diagnostic tests.

Dr Sook Wah, who graduated with a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Essex in 2014, is now Head of the English Language Unit at Gamuda Berhad.

Her team was recognised for developing the Gamuda English Tests (GET), a collection of in-house diagnostic tests designed to measure English language abilities of employees at the company, and inform a targeted training syllabus.

The tests were created to identify gaps in current employees’ language abilities and assess those of potential employees during the recruitment process.

Dr Sook Wah joined Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) as an English Language Instructor in 1991 and went on to become Head of the Language Proficiency Division at the Centre of the Advancement of Language Competence in 2012.

Within her role, she became the chief designer of the English Language Experience (ELEx) package, which aims to develop undergraduates’ English proficiency by providing them with increased use of the English language in and beyond the classroom.

Dr Sook Wah’s dream to improve the education and opportunities of young Malaysian learners from disadvantaged backgrounds was realised at Essex.

She said: “One of my long-term goals is to be able to help and support children from disadvantaged families in Malaysia in their educational development and opportunities. My PhD thesis on vocabulary acquisition for Malaysian pre-school children from low income families was the first step in achieving this goal.”

Dr Ho Sook Wah with parents and teachers at the Reading Rocks Club)
Dr Ho Sook Wah with parents and teachers at the Reading Rocks Club

At Essex, Dr Sook Wah was able to study, socialise and look after her young family.

She said: “I was delighted I could indulge in reading very recent publications made available by the Essex Library! I had very enriching friendships with fellow PhD students, both local and international. I was also happy I could have more time with my two young daughters as my research programme gave me the flexibility to balance studies and family.”

In 2015, Dr Sook Wah organised the Reading Rocks Club Project for a high performing primary school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

The project, a collaboration between the school and the Parents-Teachers Association was a huge success and motivated the Year 4 children to read more to develop their English language skills. 

In 2016 Dr Sook Wah set up the English Language Unit at Gamuda Berhad whilst on a three-year academic-industry secondment from UPM. Gamuda Berhad is now the first construction company in the corporate sector in Malaysia to receive the British Council 2019 Innovation in Assessment Prize.

“People who inspire me are sacrificial individuals who contribute to the well-being of others, and people of integrity and passion.

“I try to live out the motto ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them’ (from Proverbs Chapter 3 verse 27). I believe if we have the ability to help others, we should, particularly those in need.

“If I could see one big change in the world, it would be the inclusion of the poor and marginalised.”

The British Council Innovation in Assessment Prize celebrates innovation in the area of language testing and assessment. A panel of language assessment experts judge a group of nominees and the chosen winner receives £1,000.