The following is an excerpt from an article in the August issue of Edudemic Magazine for iPad. The entire magazine is filled with authors from around the world, an in-depth look at education technology, and a lot of other stuff. It’s our pride and joy so please take a moment to check it out!
For those of you who didn’t catch last month’s edition, Adam Webster from the UK will join us each month to offer his perspective on what’s happening in the education arena in the UK. To learn more about Adam, check out his blog at Cageless Thinking
The Importance Of PISA Rankings For Countries
PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings are an international set of tests which 15 year old students take to allow comparison between different educational systems across the world. They measure ability in reading, maths and science. The tests began in 2000 and are taken every three years.
The results of the PISA tests will become important to a country’s government for two reasons: they’ve done really well and so can bask in the glory of being a leading nation, or they have under-performed in one, some, or all areas and thus need to come up with a complex series of excuses and polices which are going to immediately rectify the deficit that has been revealed.
The UK’s results in the 2009 tests were ‘disappointing’ but from the perspective of teachers on the ground, not remotely surprising. The UK was ranked 28th for maths, 25th for reading and 16th for science. This is a drop of 4, 8 and 2 places respectively from the 2006 tests. (Just for comparison you might like to know that the USA came in at 25th for maths, 14th for reading and 17th for science).
These results put the UK and the US in the middle of the pack, not somewhere we wish to be no doubt, but in the UK’s case entirely appropriate given the structure of our Victorian education system. Breaking down the data a little more you discover that the UK spends on average about $85k per child on education (the US spends about $105k).These figures are very much at the top end of money spent and is testament to the fact that in education, money doesn’t necessarily fix all your problems (Estonia came above both the US and UK in all areas and spends only about $42k per head).
At the top of the polls was the Shanghai district of China which came top in all 3 categories. But of perhaps more use as a point of comparison are two other top 5 performers: Finland and Singapore.
The Finland Situation
For a number of years Finland’s education system was heralded as the savior of our own faltering institution. Here is a country which takes a relaxed and positive approach to education, where students spend fewer hours at school than almost any other country in the world, there are fewer exams, grades are almost entirely non-existent, there are no league tables and education is free from the age of 7 right through to the completion of university. It sounds too good to be true…and for the UK it was.
It seems that the ambition of turning to Finland was too much and now the press and the education secretary have turned their attentions towards Singapore as being a model we are much more able to replicate.
The Singapore Situation
Singapore is a far more straight-forward system involving intense and rigorous teaching methods in strict environments where testing is frequent and extremely high stakes.
Singapore represents so much of what teachers pushing for change and revolution wish to turn their backs on and yet you cannot deny that what they do works.But, the same is true for Finland, so what to do?
There are two areas of common ground between these vastly different nations that separate them from the UK. The first is that they are less ethnically and socially diverse than we are. Interestingly the PISA report found that in the UK, social class and ethnic background played an unusually large role in determining academic success.
Thus we are in the difficult position of having an education system that is defined by socio-economic factors rather than one which overcomes them. (It’s worth pointing out that Finland and Singapore haven’t ‘overcome’ these factors, they are simply less of an issue). The second big thing that separates these countries from the UK is that in Finland and Singapore teachers are highly respected members of the community.
Until this is addressed, there is only so much that can be done. Equally the McKinsey report of 2007 which explored the world’s top performing school systems led with a chapter heading which stated ‘the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.’
Want to read the entire article? Download the Edudemic Magazine August issue right here!
About The Author
Adam Webster is a teacher in the UK. He teaches English and is also Assistant Director or Learning and Teaching at an independent school just outside of London. His primary responsibility is to oversee and overhaul the way technology is being used across the school, including introducing a class set of iPads. He too uses an iPad for teaching and records how this works along with other developments and thoughts on innovation and creativity in education on his blog Cageless Thinking. He also contributes to the TES and provides insight on creativity and technology in education.