Anticipating Pisa results on Dec. 4: Will self-flagellation follow? | Inquirer Opinion

Anticipating Pisa results on Dec. 4: Will self-flagellation follow?

/ 05:01 AM December 01, 2023

The 2022 results for the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) will be released anytime soon. After being apprised of the initial results, education officials have preemptively tempered expectations, announcing that the Department of Education (DepEd) “is not expecting high scores.”Like the Pisa 2018 results, the Philippines will most likely remain at the bottom. Pisa is held every three years and intends to assess 15-year-old school pupils’ performance in mathematics, science, and reading. We also join similar international studies like the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM). The results are pretty much the same.

Notably, the SEA-PLM results formed the basis for asserting that 91 percent of Filipino children are grappling with learning poverty, a condition when one cannot read a simple text by the age of 10. Curiously, these assessments, including Pisa, were conducted in English, even though English is the home language of only 6 percent of the Filipino test takers. The choice of English as the medium of testing is reminiscent of the 1925 educational survey by the Paul Monroe Commission. The study found that the reading ability of high school graduates was equivalent to that of a fifth grader in the United States.

A critical question arises. What precisely are our educational planners aiming to measure? Is it proficiency in math, science, reading, or English? If the goal is to produce English-speaking graduates for global employment, language proficiency tests like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or the locally administered DepEd’s Teacher English Proficiency Test would be more fitting.


If we are serious about developing science, math, and reading skills, then the government should invest more in education (among the Pisa 2018 participating countries, the Philippines has the lowest spending per learner).


Decentralized intervention is also recommended. Each region should have a strategy with defined goals and milestones based on its performance and resources. The regional strategy must define what pedagogy, languages, materials, and testing modalities to use based on its context. Recent studies show that what works well with multilingual children is multilingual and multimodal pedagogy and assessments.

If we persist in participating in international tests, there are models to consider. Vietnam, a low-income developing nation, ranked fourth in science and 13th in reading, surpassing wealthier Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Vietnamese students took a paper-and-pencil test with questions contextualized in Vietnamese. It must be noted that in the 1970s, Vietnam decided to let go of French and used the Vietnamese language in all subject areas across all educational levels (with a provision for the mother tongue for ethnic minority groups). China was another topnotcher but they selected participants from four wealthy cities only. Multicultural Malaysia utilizes Bahasa, Mandarin, Tamil, and English.

Most likely, when the new Pisa results come in, we will go through another cycle of self-flagellation. At some point, I was resigned to the thought that we had the worst system, but I found it incredible that 91 percent of our fourth-grade pupils could not read a simple text. True enough, the basis was an English reading test. Despite decades of bad news, we should remain hopeful that things can change, but we should find the appropriate way to measure what our children really know. In the first place, Pisa was meant for wealthy OECD countries, and only less than 40 percent of the countries participated. India abstained from joining Pisa for the past 12 years because they felt that it was not culturally appropriate. And yet India has been instituting massive educational reforms through its New Education Policy 2020, shifting the focus from rote learning to holistic, relevant, and problem-solving education. I hope that our policymakers, through the Second Congressional Commission on Education, will do no less.

Maria Mercedes “Ched” E. Arzadon, LPT, Ph.D., associate professor, University of the Philippines Diliman

READ: Our education disaster


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TAGS: education, Pisa, results, student

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