Pearson Publishers have just published a follow up to their 2012 Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment. This is mainly because of the new PISA-stats, but also updates to studies such as PIRLS and TIMMS as this Global index is an aggregation of these different comparative studies. PIAAC is now also included. This is the new Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies which looks at cognitive skill levels across the population.
You can check the new ‘league tables’ here. Still using all these different studies to make a new index, doesn’t solve some of the critiques one can have towards eg PISA. Actually it’s all a bit awkward that this new index is published a week after the open letter against PISA. The strong emphasis on the league table on the website is pretty painful in this respect.
I also couldn’t find that much of added insights compared with the original studies.
Still these are the insights from the executive summary:
East Asian nations continue to outperform others, while Scandinavia shows mixed results
In the latest edition of the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, South korea tops the rankings, followed by Japan (2nd), Singapore (3rd) and Hong kong (4th). The success of these countries highlights the importance of having clear goalposts for the educational system and a strong culture of accountability among all stakeholders.
Scandinavian countries, strong performers in international education rankings since the 1990s, display mixed results. Finland, the 2012 Index leader, has fallen to 5th place, due to its performance in the 2012 PISA tests. Sweden has also declined (from 21st to 24th), fuelling the debate over the country’s free schools policy. Denmark and Norway, however, have made gains (rising to 11th and 21st position, respectively).
Other notable improvers this year include Israel (up 12 places to 17th), which achieved major gains in PISA maths and science scores, Russia (up seven places to 13th) and Poland (up four places to 10th).
PISA results show the value of engaging all of society in education
Many of the messages about educational success from this year’s PISA reinforce those from earlier years. A wider range of survey questions accompanying the test, however, point to the importance of widespread engagement with the education system.
Schools in which principals work with teachers on school management, and thus can function autonomously, tend to produce better results; parental expectations have a measurable impact on student motivation; and student interest has an effect on outcomes in a variety of ways. Effective education requires a broad range of actors, which points to the benefit of having a broadly supportive culture.
Better adult retention of skills depends on how often, and the environment within which, they are used
All adults lose skills over time, but better skill retention depends on the environment in which they are used. The OECD’s PIAAC study found that from around 25 years of age, skill levels tend to decline, even when accounting for the quality of initial education. Skills need to be used in order to be maintained; greater levels of personal or workplace reading and mathematical activity lead to a slower decline in skill scores over time. An adult learning infrastructure, possibly outside the formal education system, is likely to facilitate this.
Lifelong learning helps slow age-related skill decline mainly for those who are highly skilled already
It is difficult to determine the impact of adult education and training on individuals because those who engage in it are almost always already highly educated and skilled. Teaching adults, therefore, does very little to make up for a poor school system; a strong foundation is important not just for inculcating skills in the first place, but also for maintaining them. Moreover, those with high skills continue to maintain them for a reason; adult education needs to find ways to convince low-skilled individuals of its value.
Before focusing on 21st century skills, developing countries must teach basic skills more effectively
Many, but not all, of the lessons of PISA and PIAAC for developed countries are useful for developing ones.
The unique needs of developing countries can differ widely from those in the OECD. As a result, nations such as Brazil and South Africa may be able to derive useful insights about investing in teachers and the status of the teaching profession, as well as the importance of accountability. But the 21st century skills debate will have less resonance in systems that often have difficulty teaching more basic skills successfully.