Comparing countries, another PISA-discussion

PISA have been around for almost 2 weeks now, but the discussions are far from over.

Andreas Schleicher published a blog post to answer rumors doing the round on China cheating. He denies, but the closing paragraphs going into the difficulties one can meet when comparing educational systems from different countries:

And even those who claim that the relative standing of countries in PISA mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that educational improvement is possible: In mathematics, countries like Brazil, Turkey, Mexico or Tunisia rose from the bottom; Italy, Portugal and the Russian Federation have advanced to the average of the industrialised world or close to it; Germany and Poland rose from average to good, and Shanghai and Singapore have moved from good to great. Indeed, of the 65 participating countries, 45 saw improvement in at least one subject area. These countries didn’t change their culture, or the composition of their population, nor did they fire their teachers. They changed their education policies and practices. Learning from these countries should be our focus. We will be cheating ourselves and the children in our schools if we miss that chance.

International comparisons are never easy and they aren’t perfect. But PISA shows what is possible in education, it takes away excuses from those who are complacent, and it helps countries see themselves in the mirror of the educational results and educational opportunities delivered by the world’s leaders in education. The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. And the task for governments is to help citizens rise to this challenge. PISA can help to make that happen. (Read the whole blog post here)

But I’m afraid mr. PISA, Andreas Schleicher will have to write another post, now to defend Vietnam, as the Economist states that this country is maybe only good on paper

A chorus of Vietnamese education specialists say that Vietnam’s PISA score does not fully reflect the reality of its education system, which is hamstrung by a national curriculum that encourages rote memorisation over critical thinking and creative problem-solving. “Every child in this country learns the same thing,” and nationwide tests merely reinforce the intellectual homogeneity that results, in the lament of To Kim Lien, the director of the Centre for Education and Development, a Vietnamese non-profit in Hanoi. Ms Lien reckons that instead of catalysing educational reform, the score might provide a convenient excuse for complacency in matters of policy. And the old-fashioned, inward-looking Ministry of Education and Training, she adds, is a past master at complacency.

Another systemic problem is a general lack of “integrity” in Vietnam’s education sector, in the words of Nguyen Thi Kieu Vien of the Global Transparency Education Network, a new initiative of Transparency International, a watchdog based in Berlin. In a recent survey the organisation found that 49% of Vietnamese respondents perceived their education sector to be “corrupt” or “highly corrupt”. The percentage was higher than that found in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. Corruption is plainly evident at elite Vietnamese schools, where slots for pupils are routinely sold for $3,000 each. Yet it also exists on a smaller scale, in subtler forms. Many Vietnamese teachers hold extra tuitions, outside of regular school hours, for a small fee of between $2.50 and $5 per lesson. Not all parents can afford to pay these fees, and so the practice tends to exacerbate inequality. (Read more here)

If you want to compare the educational systems in different countries, these sources can help too. I wrote also this post.

3 thoughts on “Comparing countries, another PISA-discussion

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