The OECD’s latest PISA Survey tests reading, mathematics and science performance by students in 65 economies worldwide. Aside from global rankings, the report discusses which educational systems are offering students the best training for entering the workforce of tomorrow, and why.
What is PISA and what does it tell us?
PISA is an innovative test instrument that measures the quality of learning outcomes, equity in the distribution of learning opportunities, value for money, and what place your country is in when compared to other countries in the OECD.
For example, Chile is number 44 in the world, but number 1 in Latin America. Is this cause for national celebration? Is this cause for national mourning? The answer to that question depends principally on what perspective you are viewing these results from.
To better understand the results, let’s rephrase the question. Can any country in today’s globalized world be content after finishing number 44? In Chile, the answer to that question is “No”. The country is taking steps designed to improve the quality of education. Number 44 in the world (1 in Latin America) is not considered to be, “good enough”.
Why not? Test results revealed that 1 out of every 3 Chilean students still do not understand what they read. That means somebody’s child is failing. That means a bright, shining socioeconomic future for 2 students and a dim, disadvantaged socioeconomic future for the other student. Most people would agree that this situation, inequity in future aspirations, future dreams, future hopes, future quality of life, is unacceptable.
The characteristic that the best performing education systems have in common is that they refuse to accept failure. Put another way, would you accept that your child could not understand what s/he reads? Not!
How does PISA test students?
15-year-old students are tested on whether they can extrapolate what they know. They are asked to apply knowledge to solve problems. Rote memory, or learning by heart, is not sufficient to make a good mark on this test.
If we refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy, rote memory is associated with the lowest order thinking skills, while applied knowledge represents a higher order thinking skill. Most people nowadays would accept that the world of the future will require our students to solve problems they have never encountered before. This means using what you know, collaboratively, to be successful.
What countries did well on PISA 2009?
China was number 1 in the world. Yes, China is now better than Finland. China scored 556 points while Finland dropped back to number 3. Finland scored 536 points. Finland’s methodology was known to everyone: High-quality teachers (Masters degree), high status, high prestige for teachers, high pay for teachers, small class size, high quality social services for children, and a society that highly values reading, among others. In sum, the Finnish system believes that, “No education system can be better than the quality of its teachers”.
However, what is China’s secret? I imagine that the world will be examining the Chinese pretty closely in the months and years to come, trying to answer that question. There are huge differences between China and Finland, and quite frankly, some interesting insights are sure to be valuable to those who are capable of discovering strategies which can be successfully replicated.
One fascinating result continues to haunt every single country, all 65, who were tested. Namely, in all 65 nations tested, girls read better than boys. In fact, this has been true of every PISA test from 2000 to 2010. Whoever can find the answer to this puzzle, and then apply the solution effectively, will surely earn a Nobel prize. The problem of boys underperformance in reading has long taken on mythic proportions…
To conclude, PISA has provided Chile with many reasons to be proud of our past efforts in education. Nonetheless, it is clear to everyone that we can only be satisfied when all of Chile’s sons and daughters can understand what they are reading, can apply what they have learned to solve novel problems, and are prepared for the scientific and technological world of the future. Their future, and indeed, Chile’s future, will depend on having a high quality education system, for all of Chile’s children…
Teacher of English