A learning tour of PISA – send us your thoughts!

Pise1The triennial publication of the PISA test’s findings is the collective-anxiety-inducing results day for OECD governments. One likes to think of presidents and education ministers trembling as nervously as school pupils opening the brown envelope that contains their exam grades. For this is the single most widely accepted measure of relative education performance in the world.


Not that the test is without controversy. Criticism often focuses on its simplicity, using mathematics performance alone as a key indicator, inscrutability, in that the way in which results are processed is not openly available, and lack of scientific accuracy. The fact that billions in education spending hang on this “snapshot” of the abilities of 15-year-olds worldwide has also been a cause for concern.


What the test does do is force governments to look outside of their borders for solutions. The stars of PISA are the envy of the world, while countries that do unexpectedly badly will look to them for the inspiration for an education overhaul.


Back in 2001, the first ever PISA test caused a crisis of self-confidence in Germany. The country had considered itself a world leader in education; but when the test ranked it at the lower end of the scale, especially in literacy, the governments was forced to a fundamental rethink of education policy.


So who are the leaders this year, and what trends can we see?


Since 2001, Germany has risen to become one of the leaders in Europe,  alongside Poland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Estonia and Finland. Finland, however, the erstwhile champion in the PISA tests, has slipped down in the rankings.


By far in the lead, once again, are the powerhouses of Asia – Shanghai, Japan, Korea, Macau, Hong Kong and Taipei. This has been attributed to many cultural factors – amongst them, those countries’ long learning tradition, and the esteem in which they hold members of the teaching profession.


A newer element of the PISA test is the regional analysis, providing a more detailed look into the academic differences within countries. While Italy as a whole was ranked below the OECD average for Mathematics, the regions of Trento, Friuli Venezia Guilia and Veneto were among the top regions in the world.


Equally important is a characteristic shared by many of the higher scorers – Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein and Macao: namely, the weak relationship between economic status and performance that is a sign of social equality.


Meanwhile it must not be forgotten that Indonesian, Albanian and Peruvian 15-year-olds, though on the lower end of the academic rankings, were reportedly the happiest at school – while Korea, conversely, was right at the bottom of the wellbeing tables.


ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN attracts people from all over the world. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your own country’s PISA results. Do you think PISA is an accurate indicator? How could your government’s policies change to improve education? What do you value about your education system, and what good ideas could be imported from abroad? Send us your comments below!


See the PISA results here

14 Responses

  1. Francesco Bruno

    I think that it’s great that PISA is finally taking into account regional score differences. These will allow education ministers to have a more nuanced view of which areas of the country need the most help. But it’s worth remembering that in places with high scorers, like South Korea, many pupils are miserably unhappy. We must make learning fun, not just effective!

  2. Lilly Sweeney

    Wow, I’m amazed how well Vietnam did. They have a higher score than the U.S.! Actually, a lot of countries have a higher score than the U.S…..But the thing is, this doesn’t take into account higher education, in which the U.S. leads by a wide margin.

    • Lilian Nguyen

      As a Vietnamese teacher living in London I am also pleased to see the results! Vietnam takes pride in its education system, whereas the British papers are constantly undermining the work teachers do here. Britain must cherish its teachers more!

  3. David Reichenberger

    I think that it’s great that PISA is finally taking into account regional score differences. These will allow education ministers to have a more nuanced view of which areas of the country need the most help. But it’s worth remembering that in places with high scorers, like South Korea, many pupils are miserably unhappy. We must make learning fun, not just effective!

  4. Gregory

    It’s always interested me that two countries with polar opposite approaches to education — Finland and South Korea — end up having similar PISA scores. Cramming and more creative approaches have similar outcomes.

  5. Jean-Baptiste Auteuil

    I am worried that too much weight is given to the results of the PISA. After all, these tests only measure a few subjects, and then, only over a small group in one year every three years. They are not so scientific as they claim! And why do they not also measure the ability of the 2009 groupe in 2012, so they can see how those people have improved? that might render a far better picture of education as it actually is!

    • Martin F.

      sour grapes? people always criticise the test when they don’t like the results!

      • Muriel Macintyre AUSTRALIA

        I disagree entirely! It’s exactly now that we should be discussing the merits of the PISA evaluation, when it’s a hot topic in the media. And as an Australian, there’ll be no throwing accusations of sour grapes at me! There’s loads of criticism out there – this article I find particularly worrying http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6344672

  6. Monty Davenport

    Once again, Britain goes down, down, down. The politicians just muck around with the system over and over again, introducing quick-fix gimmicks that only mess up our children’s education more. We need to bring back selective secondaries, FAST!

    • David Hunt

      This is pure reactionary rubbish. Didn’t you read the results? PISA focuses on every learner, not just the good ones – Britain loses out precisely because it fails to help its low-achievers. Bringing back grammar-schools won’t help that! Equality is clearly what matters in these results – we need to remove the barriers kids from low-earning households face!

  7. Akilan

    I didn’t enjoy school in Singapore at all. But I have to say it gets the job done

  8. Fernando Tambor ESPAÑA

    PISA uses maths scores as its primary indicator, which is because they correlate best to a future salary of a student. PISA is really an economic survey disguised as an educational one – just what you would expect from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

  9. Marie-Claire

    I would love to see the French education system bringing in more ideas from elsewhere. We are too proud of our own traditions dating back to the revolution to consider changing it here. But seeing these results perhaps we should.

  10. Jeannette Schmid

    While I see that rankings have a certain visual impact and competition might be a good thing because it can increase government financing of education, I miss a comparison to the standards. Should this not be about how well children are equipped to master the intellectual challenges of their lives? What a child of one nation has learned is not influenced by the fact that average children of other nations have learned more or less.
    With this in view I would like for every country to have the highest rank and forget about comparisons with each other.


Leave a Reply to Lilly Sweeney Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.