Reported by Sari Sulkunen, board member Elinet. You can download the PDF version here
The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture organized a one-day conference PISA and Beyond building on the publication of the new PISA results. The conference took place in Helsinki on December 9, 2019. The conference aimed to present the new PISA results and discuss what we can learn from them. Most of the participants came from European ministries and other governmental agencies.
OECD senior analyst Miyako Ikeda summarized the main results in PISA 2018. She pointed out that there have been no big changes in the OECD average for reading over the years while the spending on education has increased by at least 15 % during last 10 years. Top performers in reading in PISA 2018 come from economies in China and from Singapore. Countries that have improved their performance include Poland, Estonia, Singapore, and Portugal.
There is a concern for low-performing students. In the OECD, 23 % of students do not reach the proficiency level 2 (in 2009 share of these students was 19 %).
Many top countries succeed in achieving both good learning outcomes and equity, such as Estonia, Poland and Finland. However, for instance in Finland the score point difference between advantaged and disadvantaged students has increased from 61 to 79 points (from 2009 to 2018) because disadvantaged students’ performance has decreased.
Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills in the OECD, raised the following points in PISA results:
1) Only 9 % of students can distinguish fact from opinion although this is a relevant reading task for us all in our everyday lives.
2) While there are huge performance differences between advantaged and disadvantaged students, poverty need not to be destiny. In some countries (e.g. Finland and Norway), disadvantaged students have a good probability to high learning opportunities.
3) In some countries, such as Finland and Estonia, the closest school can be the best school due to small between-school variation, but this is not the case in many countries.
4) Learning time is not equal to learning outcomes: for example, students in Finland spend relatively little time at school, but productivity is still high.
5) Looking beyond reading, math and science, there are huge differences between countries also in the mindset of students. Students with growth mindset have a lower level of fear of failure.
Moreover, countries with high share of growth mindset students tend to perform better than others.
PISA offers also information about students’ reading engagement. Researcher Kaisa Leino from the University of Jyväskylä presented these results. In general, there is a significant increase in the number of students who read only if they have to in EU and in the OECD. There is a similar trend in other items measuring interest in reading. Interest in reading shows a clear gender difference. Moreover, share of students reading for enjoyment daily has decreased in EU and in the OECD. Overall, there is a decline in print reading, particularly magazines and newspapers, while many online activities have become more frequent in students’ everyday lives.
Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot, the Director for Youth, Education and Erasmus+ from the European Commission, commented on the PISA 2018 results from the European perspective. She stated that it is evident that EU has not met its EU2020 benchmark objectives, and there is no real progress in learning outcomes at the European level. There is a stable share of underachieving students in math, and in reading and science the share of underachievers has increased.
Good news is that some countries have increased their performance significantly, such as Estonia, Ireland, and Poland. Moreover, PISA shows that equity and excellence are possible to achieve at the same time. Ms. Eriksson Waterschoot emphasized that currently there is a positive political context for education in the EU, and Ursula von der Leyen’s commission has set an aim of making the European Education Area a reality by 2025. However, EU needs to strive for more in terms of social equity. Key measures are the Framework for Key Competences for Life-Long Learning and re-doubling efforts in this area, providing high quality ECEC for all children, exchanging good practices in language learning which is a key issue for migrant students, and preventing early school leaving. Another key issue for the educational policy in the EU is the quality of teachers as this is the basis for the quality of educational systems.
Michael Teutsch gave the final comments from the European Commission. He stressed that EU-level performance has been a cause for deep concern in the Commission. However, PISA also shows that it is possible to do something about it. A positive signals were received from the recent joint meeting of the European ministers of finance and ministers of education. According to Michael Teutsch ministers agreed that it is worth making wise investments in education, and particularly invest in quality ECEC and quality teaching.