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Learning about learning assessments

Andreas Schleicher's picture
High school students in Latin America review their notes.  Photo: © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank

How do large-scale student assessments, like PISA, actually work? What are the key ingredients that are necessary to produce a reliable, policy relevant assessment of what children and young people know and can do with what they know? A new report commissioned by the OECD and the World Bank offers a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the largest of these assessments are developed and implemented, particularly in developing countries. 

Promoting equity in education to prepare for a greying Europe

Christian Bodewig's picture
PISA measures the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science.
Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank 

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?

Education is the key to integrating refugees in Europe

Christian Bodewig's picture
Syrian refugee students listen to their school teacher during math classes. 
Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank

​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.

The challenges of widening participation in PISA

Andreas Schleicher's picture
Photo: Nafise Motlaq / World Bank

Since 2000, the OECD’s Programme for International Assessment (PISA) has been measuring the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in over 70 countries. PISA does not just examine whether students have learned what they were taught, but also assesses whether students can creatively and critically use what they know.

The magic of education in Finland

Barbara Bruns's picture
Photo Credit: Barbara Bruns / World Bank

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. 

New landmark OECD PISA study on 'Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection'

Michael Trucano's picture
OK, I think I'm developing the outline of something pretty interesting here
OK, I think I'm developing the outline of
something pretty interesting here
The OECD today released a landmark report on students, technology and learning based on data from PISA, the international assessment of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. This new publication presents the most detailed set of data and analysis to date on student access to computers, their use of computers, and learning outcomes (as measured by PISA).
Students, Computers and Learning:
Making the Connection

 principal author: Francesco Avvisati
Paris: OECD, 2015
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of a related blog post by the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher:
"Totally wired. That’s our image of most 15-year-olds and the world they inhabit. But a new, ground-breaking report on students’ digital skills and the learning environments designed to develop those skills, paints a very different picture. Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection finds that, despite the pervasiveness of information and communication technologies (ICT) in our daily lives, these technologies have not yet been as widely adopted in formal education. And where they are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed, at best."
Press reports today have (unsurprisingly) not been terribly nuanced or sophisticated in their understanding or analysis of what the OECD report actually says. Witness the Irish Times: "Ireland has one of the lowest rates of internet use in schools in the world but, ironically, it may be doing students more good than harm, according to a global study published on Tuesday" or the BBC: "Computers 'do not improve' pupil results, says OECD". The Register concludes that the main message is "Don't bother buying computers for schools, says OECD report". More sophisticated and substantive takes on these findings will hopefully emerge in the coming weeks. (I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that a more relevant, and practical, directive might be to figure out how to make good use of all of this technology rather than simply to avoid it entirely, but maybe I am a biased observer here.)
My very quick summary take on a few of the key findings, for what it might be worth:

What explains Vietnam’s stunning performance in PISA 2012?

Christian Bodewig's picture
The results from the Program for international Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 show that Vietnam’s general education system is more successful than systems in many wealthier countries in providing students with strong basic cognitive skills such as reading literacy and numeracy. Participating for the first time in PISA, Vietnam’s 15 year-olds perform on par with their peers in Germany and Austria and better than those in two thirds of participating countries.

Closing the Gap in Turkey: Evidence of Improved Quality and Reduced Inequality in an Expanding Education System

Naveed Hassan Naqvi's picture



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.

e-Learning in Korea in 2011 and beyond

Michael Trucano's picture

seeking protection from all that cheap bandwidth!Each year the World Bank helps sponsor an annual global symposium on ICT use in education for senior policymakers and practitioners in Seoul, together with the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) and the Korea Education Research & Information Service (KERIS). This is one important component of a strong multi-year partnership between the World Bank education sector and the Republic of Korea exploring the use of ICTs in the education sector around the world. This year's event, which focused on Benchmarking International Experiences and was about half the size of 2010's Building national ICT/education agencies symposium, brought officials from 23 countries to Korea to explore how technology is being used in schools around the world (previous blog post: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From), with a special emphasis on learning about and from the Korean experience.

Specifically, there was much interest in learning more about two news items that appeared since last year's event: Korea's top place in an international digital reading assessment and the country's bold plan to move toward digital textbooks in all subjects at all levels by 2015.

Working Together, Governments and Unions of Top-Performing Countries Show that it is Possible to Improve the Teaching Profession

Emiliana Vegas's picture

Last week, I traveled to New York City to attend the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted by the US Department of Education, the OECD, and Education International, a global teachers union.  Of the 16 countries represented, all were top-performers in the international PISA tests, or rapid improvers, such as Poland and Brazil.  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the meeting to learn from what other countries are doing to improve teaching and learning, a sign that not only is this task complex and challenging, but that it is critical to countries at all levels of development.

So how do these top-performers and rapid-improvers manage their teaching forces to achieve high learning outcomes? The goal of the Summit was to have frank and open discussions about what works. Each country’s delegation included both government and teacher representatives, thus recognizing from the start the need for collaboration in the design and implementation of teacher policy reforms.