Results for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exercise were released on December 6. The results are instructive, not only because of what they tell us about the science, mathematics, and reading knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds around the world, but also in terms of how they compare to the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results, which were released a week ago (click here to read my blog on key takeaways from the TIMSS results).
Europe and Central Asia
The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released the results of its latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) yesterday, November 29. TIMSS 2015 assessed more than 600,000 students in grades four, eight, and the final year of secondary school across 60 education systems.
Amidst the risk assessments, results frameworks, and implementation arrangements of any World Bank-financed project, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact that education projects can have on individuals, especially students and teachers. To launch our higher education project in Tajikistan, we used a youth contest to tie the project to personal success stories.
We asked young people in Tajikistan between the ages of 18-25 to tell us in an email of 100 words: why is higher education important to you? How is it impacting your life? Entries could be submitted in Tajik, Russian, or English.
Since the contest was the first of its kind in Tajikistan, we didn’t know what to expect. To spread the word, we engaged the leader of a youth-oriented NGO in Tajikistan to email, telephone, and visit higher education institutions. Different universities posted contest details to their websites and social media pages.
Investing in people starts by ensuring that graduates leave school with strong basic/foundational skills, such as in reading and mathematics. Such skills are critical for subsequent study, for quickly finding a first job, and for adapting to continuous technological change. But are countries in the EU ready to face that challenge?
In Europe, the year 2015 will be remembered as the year of the “refugee crisis.” Hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed treacherous waters and borders to flee war and persecution in Syria and the wider Middle East and Africa in search of protection in the European Union. Transit and destination countries have been struggling to manage the refugee flow and to register and shelter the new arrivals. At the same time, the EU is debating how best to tackle the sources of forced displacement and is stepping up support to Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, who host the lion’s share of Syrian refugees. But largely missing from the frenetic activity so far, except in Germany, has been a thorough discussion of the next step: how to manage the integration of refugees in host countries beyond the initial humanitarian response of shelter and food.
Anyone working in education is familiar with the story of Finland’s remarkable evolution into one of the world’s top-performing education systems. The country ranked fifth in science and sixth in reading on the 2012 PISA assessment, second on the 2012 PIAAC (the new OECD test of adult literacy) , and is routinely in the top five of practically every other international measure of education quality. To visitors from standards-and-accountability-heavy countries such as the UK and the US, or from low-performing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Finland’s formula can seem like magic. All teachers have a Master’s degree. There is no student testing. There are no school inspections or rankings. Students have little homework and teachers work few hours. Teachers are trusted professionals with full autonomy in the classroom.
My study tour to Finland in September 2015 convinced me that this formula is indeed magic. Why? Because the popular version of the “Finnish story” neglects elements of the institutional context that are so hard-wired into the system that the locals hardly register them. Three crucial elements, in particular, create an accountability framework that makes it possible for the “magic” to work.
Every moment- but most especially today- we should celebrate young people and the great potential they have. Happy International Youth Day!
I’ve been fortunate to meet and talk to several bright young people in my work. Last May, on the sidelines of the Bologna Ministerial Conference in Armenia, I had a chance to visit the (World Bank-supported) Simulation Center at the Yerevan State Medical University. My colleagues from Armenia and I observed how mannequins connected to a computer simulated medical situations where students would work on a dummy and it would ‘respond’ to them by closely mimicking the reactions of real-life patients. The university rector, Professor Narimanyan, explained that this innovative method allows students to upgrade their practical skills and reduce the number of mistakes they could potentially make in their medical careers.
Are we effective in presenting education data to help tackle the real issues that developing countries are facing? The education community continues to be puzzled by two realities: (1) crucial data is often not available and (2) available data is often hard to digest.
Turkey’s remarkable economic growth over the last decade has been a much quoted success story. One often hears that the country trebled its per capita income, and has become the 16th largest economy in the world. One hears less often that this economic growth has been inclusive, accompanied by reduced poverty and expanded access to social services in health and education. And yet even these debates on expanded social services rarely move beyond quoting the headline numbers to look at the dynamics of change in the sector(s). This omission is unfortunate because the dynamics of change in the social sectors can be a harbinger for future progress. I want to draw the reader’s attention to the unheralded progress in the education sector.