Data Must Inform
Exams must inform and guide future action. This is true not only at the policy level. It equally applies to a student. An exam must not discourage but instead inform a student of what steps need to be taken to improve future performance. The usefulness of the information depends not only on the exam score but also on a knowledge of factors that come into play. Correlations are necessary to pinpoint what factors are important. A poor exam fails to inform if a student is unable to see beyond the score. International standard exams carry the important objective of informing countries of the strengths and weaknesses of their educational systems. To achieve this goal, the exams are combined with other pertinent data that define factors that may influence learning. International exams, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), all share this goal. It may look like a contest, but in reality, it is an assessment. Looking at the scores and seeing where one's country places in the rankings is not informative, except for those who equate patriotism to cheer leading. Where a country sits in the ranking is only a small piece of the data. A country which does not examine what future steps must be taken in light of the results is equivalent to a student who simply receives a graded exam back without contemplating on what future steps or actions the score is recommending.
Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), explains in a TED video how PISA results can be used by a country as a guide to improve public education.
Photo downloaded from OECD.
|Photo captured from TED video|
Schleicher is able to place more information on the figure above, by drawing bubbles to represent the countries within a quadrant, with the size of the bubble being proportional to how much is spent on education.
|Photo captured from TED video|
The red dots represent the level of education spending of a country compared to the mean spending. South Korea, highlighted in the above figure, spends the most on teacher salaries and instructional hours. These add significantly to the costs of education in South Korea, but in terms of total spending, South Korea only spends as much as Luxembourg. South Korea saves by having a relatively high pupil:teacher ratio. It is therefore a question of priorities. Luxembourg spends as much as South Korea does, but the reading scores of students of Luxembourg are not even that close to those of South Korea. South Korea spends wisely. South Korea has set priorities that work to their advantage.
Schleicher, of course, reminds everyone that reforming schools is not a "copy and paste" deal. Simply copying what Finland, South Korea or Singapore do is not a guarantee for success in education. However, there are general features among countries in the green quadrant. These features are perhaps key elements for a successful educational system. One of these features is respect for the teaching profession. How does one measure respect for the teaching profession? Salaries speak volume, of course. Schleicher asks:
Everybody agrees that education is important. Everybody says that. But the test of truth is, how do you weigh that priority against other priorities? How do countries pay their teachers relative to other highly skilled workers? Would you want your child to become a teacher rather than a lawyer? How do the media talk about schools and teachers?How does the Aquino government in the Philippines treat the teaching profession? The answer perhaps lies in the following:
ACT TEACHERS Party-List Representative Antonio Tinio today called on the Aquino administration to immediately pay public school kindergarten teachers, some of whom have not been paid for nine months.
“Unpaid labor is slave labor,” said Tinio. ”The usual saying is that public school teachers are overworked and underpaid. But in the case of these Kindergarten teachers, they are not paid at all. We call on Malacañang to ensure that all Kindergarten teachers are paid immediately.”One can read the entire statement in "Teachers’ solon calls for immediate payment of Kinder teachers unpaid since last year."
It is true that the Philippines is not a wealthy country, but so was South Korea decades ago. The same is true for Singapore and Finland. These countries simply understand the right priorities.
The following is the TED video of Andreas Schleicher: