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PISA, strong on equity, but weak on positive teacher policy
Education unions worldwide have acknowledged that the latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment contain a range of strong and positive proposals on equity, tackling disadvantage and on the promotion of science teaching, but fail to adopt a coherent narrative on positive teacher policy.
Education International (EI), the global confederation of 401 national education unions and organisations in 172 countries, representing 32.5 million individual members, has commented on the outcomes of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
“There is much in the latest PISA from the OECD which affirms just how important it is for countries to have strong thriving public education systems,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “Many of its proposals for improving equity are vital for the future of all young people.”
The EI General Secretary welcomed the proposals for targeting additional support for children of immigrants and disadvantaged backgrounds, and urge all governments to support them. The report's condemnation of gender stereotyping in Science rightly highlights how society's attitudes towards girls and Science can limit ambition, he said. Boys from lower socio economic backgrounds were also more likely to repeat years of schooling.
Students in advantaged schools have access to better materials and resources whereas students in disadvantaged schools have less teaching time and are more likely to be required to repeat grades, the report says, also emphasising that targeted additional resources will make a positive difference for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Positive policies towards supporting the learning of young people from immigrant backgrounds can lead to major increases in students’ learning, although the majority of students from immigrant families have lower levels of achievement.
However, Van Leeuwen admitted his disappointment with the report's conclusions and tone around the use of resources for schools. “Higher public expenditure on education has not always delivered better results. This directly contradicts the need for sufficient resources. The best experts on resources are teachers themselves,” he said, adding that their voice is largely silent in this edition of PISA. Leaders are referred to again and again, but the teachers survey has barely been used. This is a missed opportunity.
Many school systems are still seriously underfunded, he deplored, stressing that it is to teachers themselves that governments should turn if they want to know what resources schools need and how to spend them wisely.
Education International strongly believes that the OECD must be very careful not to promote a false dichotomy between ensuring sufficient resources for schools and quality education. This contradicts OECD’s own proposals for targeted resources for immigrant students, education in the early years and disadvantaged students and equity in resource allocation. For EI, sufficient resources enable teachers to do their jobs, and a wise use of resources comes both from engaging the teaching profession and their unions in evidence informed policy development and evaluating the effects of education reforms.
The OECD urges that the priority must be to, “attract and retain qualified teachers, and ensure that they continue to learn throughout their careers,” yet the OECD seem more confused than ever about the relationship between class size, teacher qualification and student achievement. Again, this goes against their own data where it unequivocally says, “in schools with smaller classes, students report that teachers can dedicate greater attention to individual students’ needs and knowledge, provide individual help to struggling students, and change the structure of the lesson if students find it difficult to follow”.
Education International also regrets that the OECD has a narrow view of education systems, e.g. when it investigates the results of Shanghai students or Singapore’s students.
Education International clearly supports the focus on equity, disadvantaged students and the fact that the teachers in the public sector are for the first time acknowledged as the best in the world, gaining better results than their private counterparts when socioeconomic data is accounted for. However, the writing team has failed to take a nuanced view of the impact of qualified teachers, small classes and adequate resourcing on the development of quality education.
Education International is organising a post publication webinar for affiliates whose countries have participated in PISA 2015 on 14 December 2016 from 1:30 – 3:00 pm (GMT). The purpose of the webinar is to brief affiliates on key messages from PISA 2015 and enable affiliates to discuss its outcomes. PISA Senior Manager Peter Adams and PISA Senior Advisor Michael Stevenson from the OECD PISA Team will to take part and present key findings from PISA 2015.