Professor Zhao, a top US-based academic, has stated that countries should ignore the international Pisa league tables – which provide a comparison of how well 15-year-olds in different countries perform in reading, maths and science – because they fail to measure what really matters.

Pisa league tables have been the globally accepted comparison tool for measuring the education ‘success’ of different countries for almost two decades.

Recently league tables have come under fire for favouring countries that successfully instil rote learning techniques into their students but don’t accurately measure either academic success or the very important life skills. Although Pisa, when established, significantly raised the bar for education comparator analysis across the globe, and the outcome remains a useful measure of relative performance, it is still just a statistic, or a ranking device. Who actually benefits from reading these reports: the learner, the teacher, the parents, or the policy maker?

In previous blogs I’ve spoken about the need to develop creativity in students. In many schools the current system doesn’t provide the space and opportunities that learners need if they are to be able to develop these necessary skills for life after the school gates. As long as teaching, and not the learning experience, remains the focus, the model is inapt.

Unfortunately, creativity is often seen as something maverick and to be feared, instead of being the spark for developing students’ evaluation and critical thinking skills. Creativity equally doesn’t fit within the current system of standardised testing and league tables, where schools become admissions centres focussed on improving their current league position. This exam culture needs a complete overhaul, moving the focus from reciting answers, to asking questions.

Policy makers are so consumed by outcome – comparison, success, and failure – and the results of league tables and comparisons such as Pisa, that they are almost missing the point of education entirely. If we shift to focus on the process of learning, with creative and critical thinking skills developed through self-directed study, we stand a greater chance of preparing the next generation for the globalised society they are part of – rather than equipping them with an impressive set of exams results, a moment in time, with little or no understanding of how to apply their knowledge. Such is the focus that less academic students seem to get dropped or disappear altogether from reporting and comparative data.

Do these league tables actually take into account the diversity of cultures around the world? A question that is easily understood by children brought up in one culture may not be so easily answered by those brought up in another, so we can’t assume the difficulty of tasks is the same for all students globally.

Another point to consider is that schools, and countries, that perform best in the international educational rankings can equally sit at the bottom of rankings pertaining to the happiness of a school’s pupils.

Much like other league tables or tools for comparison, a process that focusses on standardised testing can create a culture that is obsessed with short term fixes that are intended to engineer a rise up the league table, which is at odds with what is actually needed – long lasting and well-thought out changes in education practice to prepare learners to learn, work and live.

It’s time we considered a move away from one test or measure, to a broader set of measures, than a simple set of numbers, assessing the extent to which young people in different education systems are innovative, creative and entrepreneurial, rather than assessing how proficient they are at passing tests.


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