What is PISA and How Is It Changing the World?

What is PISA and How Is It Changing the World?

By Muhammad Shoaib

It was December 4, 2001 there a crowd of people standing in the grand Rothschild Mansion in Paris. Reporters from countries like America, Germany were gathered there for a report to broadcast it all over the world. They were desperate to get the news because so many governments around the world were waiting for the results.

After some time the team came and started the press conference. They presented the ranking of education system of countries. It was the ranking based on two-hour test of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) attended by thousands of students from 43 countries. But the results surprised everybody out there. The education system of Finland was ranked first, which even surprised the Finnish officials who were not expecting it. One of their education experts was asking if there had been some kind of mistake.

Meanwhile, when Finland was rejoicing, many other countries were in deep shock with the rankings.  The Germans who considered their education system best in the world were shocked. The Chairman of Bundestag Education Committee called these results a tragedy for them. At that time America was under the presidency of George W. Bush and his new law of “No Child Left Behind” was the only answer that was hiding the actual thoughts of American educationist about their rankings.

How PISA developed?

A German scientist, Andreas Schleicher who studied Physics and Mathematics at university level, was the man behind PISA test. As a student, he had felt bored at many times in his classes and obtained average scores on test. Some of his teachers had a real impact on his motivation for studying science and numbers. One day he was attending a debate of Professor Thomas Neville Postlethwaite, an educationist who was talking about global statistical data of students. The debate fascinated Schleicher, and the rest is history.

Since Schleicher was actively participating in debates, his Professor Postlethwaite asked him to help him in his research. After so many attempts, Schleicher and his team succeeded in developing a test, which they named as PISA.

This test followed non-conventional way of questioning. Instead of asking the factual knowledge and memory of students, its main aim was to analyze the thinking ability of students. Schleicher said that they were not looking for answers to questions or to multiple choice questions. He emphasized that we were looking for the ability to think creatively.

Amanda Ripley, the author of the book “Smartest Kids in the World” appeared in PISA test to have the better understandings of test. She wrote in her book that PISA was more like a test of life skills rather than school skills. She further wrote that PISA checked the competency level of basics skills of life; the problem solving and communication skills and these skills have a real impact in one’s life.

“PISA can’t assess everything, but it is one of the best systems that assesses global education systems,” she concluded.

After PISA rankings, countries began to review their education systems. They started visiting the top ranked countries and began to analyze the differences in their systems. Some of them reasoned high education budget of these countries, some reasoned the culture and some talked about the quality of teachers.

But there were a few reasons that were making the differences. In Finland, teaching is considered a prestigious profession and only top 10% of the graduates are able to choose teaching after a rigorous training. In Korea, students have to spend more than a 12 hours in studying a day. In Singapore, the quality of teachers and overall culture of compulsory education with meritocracy are among the vital differences.

Another important difference is parental involvement. In 2009, Schleicher and his colleagues conducted a survey of parents of those students who were appeared in assessment. The main theme was to know parental involvement in student’s education. The most effective technique that emerged with this survey was not only asking question about school, food and homework but also the intriguing questions about the world, society, politics, music and many other things that enhance the ability of a student to think is among the best practices.

In 2012, China secured the first position in all three (reading, mathematics and science) tests while Singapore was at 2nd position in mathematics and ranked 3rd position on other two. Hong Kong secured 2nd position in science and reading and 3rd on mathematics. In 2015, Singapore attained top position in all three tests. While Finland was at 5th position in science, 10th in mathematics and 4th in reading.

Where Pakistan stands?

There is a world map on website http://www.oecd.org/pisa/ which shows the countries in colors who participated in PISA 2015. The alarming situation is that there are many countries in Pakistan’s neighborhood who took part in PISA, but we have not participated yet. For instance, Vietnam ranked 8th in science and 68th in reading. Turkey got 60th position in reading. Lebanon secured 64th position in science, 61th in mathematics and 69th in reading. The UAE secured 63rd in reading.

Although all these countries didn’t perform well in comparison to top ranking countries, they have at least participated and start taking measures to improve their rankings. Some of these countries have many similarities with Pakistan like average education systems and average national income levels. But they have worked hard in improving their literacy rates and this is where Pakistan has left much behind.

The world has realized that the only thing that can bring lifelong changes is education. It is education that has real means to increase the efficiency and output of individuals as well as nations. If we as a nation wants to prosper then we need to compete with the world. There is no other option.