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Global education leaders discuss PISA results and equity in secondary education

NEW YORK; December 9, 2016 – Educators and education leaders visited Asia Society New York yesterday to hear about the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which were released on Tuesday, December 6, with a focus on equity in education.

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), led a panel discussion with global education leaders from North America and Asia featuring former Japanese State Minister of Education Suzuki Kan, former Director of the National Institute of Education in Singapore Lee Sing Kong, and Chinese University of Hong Kong Professor Hau Kit-Tai. Asia Society Vice President of Education Anthony Jackson moderated the discussion.

The PISA is an international assessment that aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. To date, students representing more than 80 economies have participated in the assessment. PISA is unique because it develops tests that are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society. Beginning in 2018, the PISA will include a pilot of assessments of student global competence.

Singapore ranked 1st in the PISA results. Lee Sing Kong commented on Singapore’s commitment to teaching 21st century skills and global competence in a recent Asia blog post. In it, he reacted to the rise of nationalism and perceived disillusionment with globalization around the world with pragmatism, saying, “No matter how politicians are appealing to nationalism, the reality is that the world is getting more interconnected through technology and also by physical movement through travel.” Professor Hau Kit-Tai recognized the equity issues across China in a recent blog post, noting, “The rapid economic development in China has happened only in the past 20-some years, and admittedly there is still great disparity in the opportunity to obtain high-quality education in the less developed areas.” This disparity was reflected in the 2015 PISA results, as China fell slightly in the rankings—primarily because more provinces were included in the assessment. Professor Hau suggested exploring solutions to bridge the divide using technology and e-learning.

The PISA also measures equity in education alongside performance, and Andreas Schleicher said that, while there is still much work to be done, he was heartened to see several countries improve on equity measures over the last decade. “Comparing across countries, the PISA demonstrates that poverty need not be destiny.” Commenting on the United States’ performance in particular, Schleicher noted that, while American student scores were relatively stagnant with previous assessments, they had improved significantly on equity, and he said that was "one of the most encouraging findings from the 2015 PISA."

All of the panelists emphasized that providing teachers with quality training and professional learning was key to increasing equity in education and improving student outcomes overall.

Looking ahead to 2018, the introduction of assessments of global competence is critical to measure how well students are prepared for a global world, said Schleicher. “Globalization is everywhere. No one is exempt.” OECD’s planned assessments will be based on Asia Society’s work on global competence, but as Lee Sing Kong put it, it’s as simple as being open to new ideas. “We can all learn from one another, irrespective of our starting points.” Watch the full discussion here.