PISA 2018: How Network Partners Reacted to Results

The OECD’s triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which recently released it’s 2018 results of how 15-year-old school students performed on math, science, and reading across 79 countries and economies, is an opportune moment for Teach For All’s network partners to engage in communications activities that contribute to educational discussions and raise awareness of their work. 

Here’s how three European Teach For All network partners in Estonia, Lithuania, and Bulgaria chose to get involved in the media conversations around PISA, and what those organizations are thinking about the implications of PISA, and with the results out, particularly around the questions: How has your country fared in the latest PISA assessment results?; How do they feel about these results?; What gives them hope?: What concerns them?; And what did the data in the results make them think about their organization’s work as it relates to the state of education in their country?

The day before the results came out, Noored Kooli’s Community Manager Sandra Fomotškin wrote an opinion piece that was published in Postimees, one of the largest daily newspapers in Estonia.

The piece reminds readers that in 2015 Estonia was the best performer in Europe and the world on portions of the tests. Yet the data showed that one fifth of children who completed primary school in Estonia did not go on to graduate from secondary education.

While their nation’s overall PISA results were positive, Noored Kooli believes that top rankings in reading, mathematics, and science are not enough. Estonians must ensure that all students achieve upper secondary education, rather than meet the social exclusion, poverty, and unemployment faced by early drop-outs.

Noored Kooli teachers support each student's individual and social development, learning skills, creativity and entrepreneurship. The training and development they receive underscores the importance of  intervening early, when needed, to focus on developing positive attitudes towards learning and other key competences. To create sustainable, systemic solutions, Sandra Fomotškin concludes, Estonians need to put the same focus on early school leavers as they do on their top PISA performance.

The Founder of Renkuosi Mokyti (Lithuania), Eglė Pranckūnienė, published an opinion piece titled “PISA results in the shadow of conflict”, which was picked up by three different outlets – LRT, Vakarų ekspresas, Bernardinai.lt. In addition, participant Eglė Matulaitytė was interviewed on the radio and on the Lithuanian National Television morning show, one of the nation’s most popular broadcasts.

Lithuanian students' success is strongly determined by their socio-economic status and growing social disparities, the opinion piece asserts. Schools no longer provide the social lift needed to help students overcome the stigma of poverty and social status.

Renkuosi Mokyti believes that the underlying problem is that education is geared towards the standard learner, while too little attention is given to each child’s unique strengths. To help all children learn successfully, schools must prioritize inclusive education, where teachers understand their students’ diverse learning styles and intrinsic motivations. Schools need to view learner differences as a gift rather than a problem, and strengthen the school community's tolerance for diversity. Inclusive education settings can help learners at all levels of achievement. 

Schools should abandon ranking on academic achievements alone. They should support and add resources to set up specialist posts and develop teacher competences. Schools need to be flexible in their organization of education and support, in accordance with the needs of their pupils, without losing accountability for achieving inclusive education goals. Only then will Lithuania be able to enjoy equitable student learning progress.

Teach For Bulgaria’s comments on the PISA results were featured in several outlets in the country. Teach For Bulgaria’s CEO Trayan Trayanov was quoted in the in the business outlet Kapital; the Bulgarian daily paper Dnevnik featured two Teach For Bulgaria participants Veronica Todorova and Gergana Cholakova about their teaching methods; and the business outlet Iconomist and the Bulgarian language service of Deutsche Welle also interviewed Neli Koleva, Chief Officer of Public Partnerships for Teach For Bulgaria. All of them commented on the problems behind the low PISA rankings Bulgaria received. 

The results, and specifically the fact that Bulgarian students came in last for functional literacy among European Union Member States, were not a surprise because these students were educated in the system Bulgaria has been trying to reform for the last two to three years. This older system did not allow the development of competencies, as measured by PISA, relevant to 21st century success. 

What students studied in school is not meaningful or useful to them, and the system is one that stresses standardization, memorization and discipline over more creative ways of teaching. As a result, students cannot apply their knowledge, have difficulty comprehending and assimilating what has been read, and cannot think, sift through opinions of facts and ultimately form an opinion. 

Although educational reforms have been made, it is too soon to know if the new policies will benefit learners in the future – their effects won’t be clear until six to nine years from now. While the current PISA results can help point the direction forward for how the education system should be structured, it’s important that the system and reforms also meet the needs of each individual student; support their ability to see themselves going into good careers, stress functional literacy so students can connect subjects to real life; include development skills needed inside and outside school; and support decision-making, responsibility and leadership abilities so students become active participants in their own development. In addition, teachers' knowledge and skills must be strengthened, and teachers given the freedom to adapt the material, the teaching, and the order of lessons to the individual level and the needs of students.

Teachers also don’t have the time to meet the needs of the most vulnerable students, and feel overwhelmed by simply going through the teaching material, and they teach it without considering individual needs. But even where teachers have the freedom to do this, they need to be trained with the skills to do so.

Educators across the Teach For All network are helping students stay safe and continue to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic.