PISA Results Show Need to Address Inequity in Education

Andreas Schleicher and a panel of global education leaders from North America and Asia discuss the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results. (1 hr. 52 min.)

The results from the latest round of Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing were released this week. The assessment — which tests 15-year-old students around the world on science, math, reading, and collaborative problem-solving — aimed to gauge equity in education, in addition to academic performance, by asking students questions related to their socioeconomic background.

“The good news is inequality is diminishing — social inequality in education at least,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducts the PISA testing. “The bad news is the remaining inequality makes much more of a difference for people.”

Schleicher, who was speaking at Asia Society in New York Thursday, said that the test results suggest inequality in education has been diminishing overall among the OECD countries tested. But those at the bottom will continue to suffer even more as technological development and globalization create demands for broader skillsets among workers. “Never before have the people who are well educated had the life chances that they do today,” he said. “And never before have people at the low end of the skill spectrum paid the price that they’re now paying.”

He pointed to Hong Kong and Singapore as examples of places that have made large strides toward both performance and equity among their students. Also speaking at the event, Lee Sing-Kong, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and managing director of the National Institute of Education International, said that Singapore has focused a lot on students in the lowest 5 percent cohort of the socioeconomic ladder. It has done this by recognizing that students in this group often come from “dysfunctional families” that aren’t able to provide much educational support at home. So special “student care centers” have been established to give them extra care and attention.

Schleicher said that establishing systems to improve equity isn’t just a matter of economic outcomes for students. Surveys have shown that those at the low end of the skills distribution tend to “see themselves as objects of political processes” rather than active participants with a voice in society. This is already leading to backlash, as seen in recent anti-globalization movements like Brexit in England. “I think equity is no longer an agenda of social justice alone,” he said. “I think it's an agenda for social cohesion. But I must say I was encouraged by this year's PISA results in that there is progress on that front. It's translating into tangible policies and practices.”

In the above video, Schleicher details the results of this year’s PISA testing, followed by a panel discussion with education leaders from the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.

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Eric Fish was a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and is author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.