In an open letter published in The Guardian this month, academics from around the world called for an end to the PISA test. In the strongly-worded letter, they argued that the PISA test, which ranks the education systems of different countries around the world, should no longer be taken by students. Here’s a quick review of the test, its advantages and its critics, to help you form your own opinions on the matter.
1. What is the PISA test?
The PISA test is an examination which is taken by 15 year olds from 65 different countries across the world. The results from these tests, which consider a student’s abilities in maths, problem solving, reading and science, are collated and analysed, and this data is used to rank the education systems of the 65 participating countries. In this way, an educational league table is produced every three years, giving a snapshot of each country’s education system and allowing them all to see how they compares to their neighbours.
2. What are the benefits of the PISA test?
Education is important. The quality of education that a student receives has a huge impact on their final qualifications, on their job prospects, and often on their happiness as well. The quality of education experienced by students can also have a big impact on a country’s prospects and economy as well. It is vital that governments and policy makers keep a close eye on the quality of education that their students receive. Comparing their current performance in the PISA test with that of other countries, and that of their previous performances, is one such way to do this.
3. Are there any criticisms of the PISA test system?
Critics argue that the difficulty of the test cannot be standardised across all 65 countries. They argue that a question considered difficult by a child brought up in one culture might not be considered difficult for a child in another. The league tables, if this is the case, would be significantly flawed– like comparing the racing performance of two runners over a set distance, but with one running across flat, smooth terrain and the other running off-road up a mountain.
Furthermore, critics argue the fact that these tables are produced every three years encourages short-term fixes in education policy, intended to improve a country’s ranking in the next published table. It is exactly these short-term, quick-fix policies that are considered by teachers to be detrimental to their teaching practices, and therefore detrimental to the education of their students.
Another criticism of the league tables is the fact that they concentrate on such a small range of skills and subjects, without taking into account the student’s creative or cultural knowledge. This narrows the curriculum, again reducing the quality of education that a student receives.
4. What do teachers and pupils think of PISA?
An informal, unstatistical analysis of my colleagues’ opinions of PISA reveals a significant level of disinterest. Either they are unaware of the publication of the league tables, or they are dismissive of the importance of the results. For students, already heavily tested throughout their school careers, the prospect of an exam which has no real impact on their lives or future prospects is, unsurprisingly, an unattractive one. It seems that the PISA test is beneficial only to policy makers and governments – but not to the students whose very education it monitors.