Pinoy Kasi

The importance of Pisa

/ 04:30 AM December 13, 2019

Not the food, not the tower.

That’s the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which made headlines last week when the 2018 results were released—the Philippines coming out second to the last in math and science, and the last in reading, among 79 countries and regions (Hong Kong and Macau had separate ratings even if they are part of China).


Note that Pisa is not new for the Philippines. We participated in the early rounds but stopped, I suspect in part because it was becoming so embarrassing with our poor scores.

We should commend Education Secretary Leonor Briones for having agreed to return and participate. This time around, Briones said the Philippines intends to use the results of the study to improve our educational system.


There is much more to the study than the scores. I downloaded all the reports plus the tests themselves, because I see them as must reading for education planners and administrators, from preschool to tertiary (undergraduate and graduate) levels. Colleges of education should also require the reports to be studied; they offer lessons on everything from how to construct tests to the application of findings for policies and the practice of the teaching professions.

The international study, conducted once every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is the product of meticulous planning and study—with the OECD already issuing a call for bids for the different production phases of the 2021 tests!

The assessment is important for many reasons. First, it compares 15-year-olds across countries with large samples. In the 2018 study, we had 7,233 Filipino students from 187 schools who took the tests.

Second, the tests are the same across all the participating countries, translated into local languages.

Third, because the tests have been administered since 2000, we have what is called a longitudinal study, one that extends across several years and allows us to look at trends in students’ performance, globally as well as locally.

Fourth, the study included looking at the wider contexts for academic performance, including the students’ family background and the larger environment, particularly the schools.

Finally, the tests were designed to assess “the ability to use their reading and mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges.”


Real-life challenges. That’s what we need to be identifying for the Philippines. In one of the Pisa reports, we read about the new challenges in education, which is “. . . no longer just about teaching people something, but about helping people build a reliable compass and the navigation tools to find their own way through an increasingly volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.”
Instead of talking about abstract “values education,” we find a reference to the need “to help students develop a strong sense of right and wrong, a sensitivity to the claims that others make on them, and a grasp of the limits on individual and collective action.”

Think about how the rhetoric of “values education” can be made more concrete through more critical classroom discussions around something like “pakikisama,” and looking at how we might be able to think of pakikisama beyond a narrow sense of loyalty to a barkada or a fraternity. Pisa talks about education’s objectives to include developing “a deep understanding of how others live, in different cultures and traditions, and how others think, whether as scientists or artists.”

The Pisa report explains what it means to be a low performer, for which the Philippines had the most numbers as a percentage of the students who took the tests: “Low performers in reading struggle with recognising the main idea in a text. In mathematics, they cannot compute the approximate price of an object in a different currency or compare the total distance across two alternative routes. In science, low performers are unable to use basic or everyday scientific knowledge to interpret data and draw a valid scientific conclusion.”

Think now: Without such basic competencies working together, how can we hope for more critical citizens who won’t get fooled by con artists, marketing gimmicks… and cunning politicians?
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TAGS: Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Philippine education, Pisa, rogramme for International Student Assessment
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