OECD’s PISA international league tables

PISA, the  OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, according to the Irish Times shows some “improvement” in the Irish performance in the OECD league table of international assessment but have we improved or is it that others have disimproved? We have improved while spending less on education and reducing teachers’ pay so better education, it seems, is not dependent on money. Likewise, while Britain has been spending more on education, they have slipped down the tables. Ireland’s improvements in reading, the Irish Times tells us, are due to “changes to the curriculum since 1999” – thanks then to a Fianna Fail government, not this one!

The tables are presented here in a very readable way: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/leaguetables/10488555/OECD-education-report-subject-results-in-full.html

For a case study on Ireland (not objective as it’s presented by the head of a teaching union, Gerard Craughwell) and many of the other countries go to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10489337/OECD-education-report-case-study-Ireland.html

The test and interpretation can be confusing and I’m not sure these quotes from the Irish Times clarify it fully: (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/above-average-performance-for-irish-15-year-olds-in-tests-1.1615492) “Ireland was well above OECD averages for print reading in 2012, ranking 4th out of 34 for OECD averages and 7th of the 65 countries taking part. And in digital-based reading literacy we were 5th of the 23 OECD countries providing theses tests and 9th of 32 countries doing so.

‘There was a sharp rise in science literacy for Irish students, a performance that ranked us 9th of 34 OECD and 15th of all 65 countries involved in Pisa.

‘Ireland was 13th among the 34 OECD countries and 20th of the 65 countries taking part for performance in print maths. And in computer-based maths we were ranked 15th of the 23 OECD countries providing these tests. ‘These results leave behind the deep disappointment of the 2009 Pisa results which saw our rankings well down in comparison to these results. There was a downside to the performance for 2012 however.

‘While hovering above OECD averages, there is little evidence of a gradual improvement between test years. Our print maths performance for example has not changed significantly since 2003 nor has the figures for print reading scores going back to 2000”.

and at: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/analysis-teacher-s-report-would-say-satisfactory-progress-but-could-do-better-1.1616173 … “One major problem relates to the fact that our results “flatline” (he means stagnate!) over time, the graph showing our performance over the past few cycles of Pisa remaining stubbornly horizontal. If the underlying educational performance of our 15 year olds who took part were genuinely improving, the graph line should be slanted upwards.

‘Unfortunately, it is not… This can be seen, for example, by looking at our performance in print reading (as opposed to reading on a screen). This was apparently an area of particular strength with a seventh of 65 countries ranking.

‘The OECD average score was 496.5, and at 523.2 we were well above that. Yet the gap is much wider between us and the 569.6 score achieved by first-placed Shanghai- China, with Ireland 26.7 points above the OECD average but 46.4 below the top echelons.

‘Pisa measures in proficiency levels and print reading have seven levels. Level two is considered the minimum needed for work, education and society, while five or higher is considered to be for the higher-achieving students.

‘While Ireland has been making strides in reducing the numbers in level two or below, the numbers in level five and above are below what they should be.”

Some comments from the various Daily Telegraph article, some of which are mentioned above, are as follows:

“The study said: ‘Top performers, notably in Asia, place great emphasis on selecting and training teachers, encourage them to work together and prioritise investment in teacher quality not classroom sizes. They also set clear targets and give teachers autonomy in the classroom.”

“Children whose parents have higher expectations perform better.”

Children perform better the more their parents get in touch with teachers. This is more significant than the quality of teaching, class sizes and financial spend.

What is interesting is the huge improvement in Germany’s and Vietnam’s performances.

Labour minister Aodhain O’Riordain surprisingly gives credit to pastoral care rather than teaching, despite his position and having been a teacher himself. Perhaps labour will now keep school chaplains..? (Visit here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10489543/OECD-education-report-Irelands-emphasis-on-pastoral-care-keeps-standards-high.html).

Teachers meet with some ambivalence as to their contribution. Only in China are they accredited for a positive role but the demands on them are very different. For an explanation for China’s success and the teachers’ contribution and training in Shanghai look here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10494678/PISA-education-tests-Why-Shanghai-pupils-are-so-special.html

But would we like our children to be like the Chinese?: Be Glad for Our Failure to Catch Up with China in Education, an article by Prof Peter Gray; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201305/be-glad-our-failure-catch-china-in-education

An interesting and informative book, The Smartest Kids In the World and How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley might explain all this better;

The Irish national PISA website: Educational Research Centre http://www.erc.ie/?s=PISA

An interview with the South Korean minister of education, Seo Nam-soo, in The Economist will bring some perspective to the situation. Less people are now going to university and probably only went to compensate for their parents’ missed opportunity to go to third level. More are opting to work or work first then go to university. Children are also spending less time in hagwons, private cram schools. Parents now think their children should do things that make them happier. This is a normalisation, he says.

Another change is that universities are not selecting students on academic ability alone but on a variety of criteria such as talents , potential and aptitude. In conclusion, the minister says,

…recently the social mood is that we respect people who do best in their field. For example, we believe that people who do their job better than others, whether they are craftsmen, musicians or entrepreneurs, can be happier than others. So we know that happiness is not related to earning lots of money or social standing. And the overall perception in the society is that people have to do what they like and what they enjoy in order to be happier. This perception is very strong among young people. And I believe the trend is accelerating and Korean society is rapidly changing with this trend.

Simon Kuper, writing in the Financial Times, quotes Minister Nam-soo as saying the stress of narrowly seeking achievement in education caused much stress and led to high rates of suicide. “Our goals now are how to make people happier.” Unfortunately Ireland and the U.K. are seeking to go down the path South Korea has just started to leave…

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