Global perspectives on primary education
Global perspectives on primary education

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4.1 Comparing national achievement outcomes

PISA is a global education survey of more than half a million 15 year olds in over 30 countries. The purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of education systems, and how far children’s primary school education prepares them for educational success in post-primary education (bearing in mind that in many countries children can leave school at age 16).

PISA is carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). OECD has produced a video to explain what PISA is and how it is used, which you will watch. The video states:

PISA shows countries where they stand – in relation to other countries in how effectively they educate their children ... It shows similarities and differences between education systems around the world.

Activity 5

Watch the 12-minute video about PISA.

First, view it without making notes to get an overall sense of the content and the graphic mode of presentation and explanation. 

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Video 2: PISA explained
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Then, watch it again, and ask yourself some questions. You can, if you wish, write notes in the box below and save the notes.

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The video is about the purposes of PISA. It could be characterised as an unproblematic justification of PISA. Ask yourself how such data might be used by national governments and education policy makers. Would this data be useful, for instance, to a classroom teacher? Why or why not?

PISA tests are said to assess something more than the memorising of facts – they focus on how pupils use and apply the knowledge they have acquired. This is a commendable focus, but how far would you say that this is possible in a paper and pencil test? Give an example, if you can, of a paper test that measures the application of academic knowledge.

PISA brings together the educational systems of over 30 countries which are OECD members. But many countries are not included; these are the areas not coloured blue on the global map in the video – perhaps a third of the world.

The PISA finding that ‘home background’ is very significant for children’s educational success has a long-established research history. In countries where great numbers of children are disadvantaged in comparison to children in other countries, how far can schooling compensate or equalise for social, economic and cultural factors?

Next you will look at primary education with a close-up lens for a small-scale, qualitative comparison.

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