The Take Home Message from PISA 2012

With the release of the test scores, 2012 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) comes with preliminary analysis and reports. One of these reports is the following:

The above report alone is more than three hundred pages long. Figures alone number more than fifty. It The following are therefore highlights I have selected from the above report. These emphasize findings from the exam results that support the importance of providing opportunities for all children. I have also selected the figures drawn from the data that support such finding.

What the data tell us
  • Opportunities to learn formal mathematical problems at school and familiarity with fundamental concepts of algebra and geometry have a stronger impact on performance when the entire student population benefits from them.

  • Disparities in exposure to formal mathematics are more marked in school systems that separate students into different schools based on their performance – and, given the strong relationship between performance and socio-economic status, in systems where the unintended result of separation by performance is separation by socio-economic status.

  • Across OECD countries, students who reported that they had attended pre-primary school for more than one year score 53 points higher in mathematics – the equivalent of more than one years of schooling – than students who had not attended pre-primary education.
  • OECD countries allocate at least an equal, if not a larger, number of teachers to socio-economically disadvantaged schools as to advantaged schools; but disadvantaged schools tend to have great difficulty in attracting qualified teachers.

For the Philippines, a country that does not participate in this assessment, the applicable lessons perhaps are as follows:

  • Teach both algebra and geometry to all students. Avoid tracking students at an early age to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to learn math.
  • Schools that encourage the separation of children based on family income contribute to poor outcomes in basic education. In the Philippines, the presence of elite schools for basic education allows the wealthy and the powerful to send their children to these schools while the rest of the country, the weak and the poor, are sent to poor quality schools.
  • Children who are disadvantaged need preschool education. Providing universal kindergarten is a good first step but this needs to be of high quality to make a difference.
  • Effective teachers are so much more needed in disadvantaged schools. Incentives must be made to attract good teachers to teach where they are needed the most. The work load in disadvantaged schools is greater, thus, one way to balance this is to lower the pupil:teacher ratio in schools where students are struggling.. 
Equity is really a simple idea. Provide help where it is needed.