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08 Jan 2014

PISA for Development and the Post-2015 Agenda By Michael Davidson, Michael Ward and Alejandro Gomez Palma

By Michael Davidson, Michael Ward and Alejandro Gomez Palma, OECD.

PISA1As part of its contribution to the post-2015 education framework, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is attempting to enhance its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to make it more relevant to developing countries. These ideas, outlined in an OECD brochure released earlier this year, are up-dated here by Michael Davidson, Michael Ward and Alejandro Gomez Palma of the OECD.

Although large numbers of children have been able to enter school over the past two decades in many developing countries, many young people — especially the disadvantaged, young girls, those living in rural areas and ethnic minorities — are still leaving school without the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in society and find decent livelihoods. This learning crisis has led to a general consensus that the post-2015 development goals for education should focus more strongly on the quality of learning and should be expanded to include education at the secondary level, not just primary.

There is no doubt that learning, not schooling, should be the main goal of education policies, yet the challenge is how to measure learning for improvement. While it is straightforward to set targets for – and then measure – the number of children enrolling in and completing school each year, assessing the extent to which learners across the world have acquired a specific set of competencies and knowledge is extremely difficult. Three fundamental questions need to be answered:

  • How do we set universal learning goals that can be measured and tracked over time?
  • How do we identify and collect the evidence needed to measure progress towards these goals?
  • What targets can be defined to guide progress towards these goals?

To help the global education and development communities respond to these challenges, UNESCO, with UNICEF, is  leading the Post-2015 Global Thematic Consultation on Education and has held consultations in every region of the world together with a Global Meeting in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2013 involving Member States, youth groups, the private sector, civil society and UN agencies to confirm the education priorities for the post-2015 framework. The goal of providing quality education and lifelong learning that is emerging from these consultations is quite broad. UNESCO and UNICEF are leading a process to clarify this goal by identifying clear and measurable targets, especially for learning.

The OECD is engaging in the post-2015 forums convened by UN agencies such as UNESCO and UNICEF. In supporting the post-2015 process, the OECD aims to help establish a set of measurable, globally relevant education goals that are focused on the quality of learning, and that enable all countries to set meaningful targets that can be tracked over time. The OECD is well placed to contribute to this effort, based on its experience with the highly collaborative Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). First conducted in 2000, PISA provides comprehensive and rigorous international assessments of learning outcomes (primarily in mathematics, reading and science). Every three years, about half a million 15-year-olds from around 70 countries are tested under the PISA programme. PISA also collects student, school and system-level contextual information, which allows it to identify factors associated with quality and equity in learning outcomes.

Twenty-eight low-income and-middle-income-countries have participated in PISA. Countries such as Brazil, Peru and Vietnam have shown how valuable PISA can be by using the surveys to set quality-of-learning benchmarks and monitoring progress against these over time. As the latest results of PISA 2012 show, the programme has not only helped to identify some of the world’s top performing and most equitable education systems; results also show that diverse countries have managed to raise the quality of educational outcomes substantially, despite starting from different points.

The OECD is currently enhancing the policy relevance of PISA for a broader set of developing countries through its PISA for Development initiative. The initiative is developing enhanced PISA survey instruments, methods and analyses that are more relevant to developing countries but that produce scores that are on the same scales as the main PISA assessment. This initiative will enable future PISA cycles to offer developing countries more tailored and relevant policy analysis and insights. The plans for the project are now complete and OECD is about to initiate activities in Ecuador, Guatemala, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Zambia with the support of several development partners, including the Inter-American Development Bank, United Kingdom (DFID), Germany (GIZ), France (AFD), Korea, Norway (Norad) and the World Bank. The OECD is also working in partnership with UNESCO, UIS, UNICEF and regional assessment programmes such as PASEC, LLECE and SACMEQ to build on and complement the experiences and expertise of others.

In this context, PISA could provide significant benefits to the post-2015 global learning agenda:

  • A single reference point against which to rigorously gauge progress towards targets for the quality and equity of learning outcomes.
  • A robust measure of progress allowing all countries – regardless of their starting points – to set targets for improvement that are referenced to common international goals.
  • Credible and comparable results, as PISA requires that participating countries follow common technical, institutional and administrative standards.
  • An opportunity for participating countries to improve their ability to assess learning through increased institutional, technical and analytical capacities.

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[Editor: This is the first of a series of NORRAG blogs on PISA which will be posted over the next 10 days. ]

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