A mixed report: How Europe and Central Asian Countries performed in PISA

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 Aigul Eshtaeva / World Bank
While more ECA program countries are participating in the PISA assessment of 15-year-old students' skills, education poverty in these countries has only slightly declined since 2000.  (Photo: Aigul Eshtaeva / World Bank)

Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).

Sustaining economic growth will require the participation of all available individuals in the labor market or enhanced productivity, given many aging populations. Better and more equitable education systems can increase the supply of skills in aging countries: essential not only for economic growth, but also for social inclusion and lifelong learning. We can draw a parallel between poverty and inequality—or shared prosperity—to monitor progress in skills acquisition across countries.
Poverty is a state where an individual’s welfare falls below a predefined standard of living. Drawing a parallel in the education context, we could say that “education poverty” is a state where a student falls below a basic level of proficiency. According to the OECD, these students are illiterate and innumerate. Since shared prosperity tracks the least well-off in every country, education inequality can track the skills of the bottom 40 percent of the student population accounting for a range of family factors i.e. economic, social, and cultural status.
So how did ECA fare in PISA?
Good News: More ECA program countries are participating in PISA 
Of our 31 ECA program countries, 22 participated in PISA 2015.  The average performance of ECA countries has remained stable since 2006—although the region still lags OECD and EU averages. This is good news for two reasons: First, there has been a remarkable increase in PISA participation by our program countries since its inception—more than doubling from 10 participant countries in 2000, to 22 in 2015. Participation in international assessments helps to facilitate evidence-based decision-making in education. And the World Bank intends to support more countries that aim to participate in future rounds of PISA (e.g. Belarus and Kyrgyz Reublic in PISA 2018). Second, maintaining comparative performance globally is a challenge, particularly in the face of constantly improving performance. Many countries in other regions, like in East Asia and the Pacific, are working to expand the proportion of their students with skills required for the 21st century economy.
Bad News: Significant education poverty and inequities persist
While more ECA program countries are participating in PISA, results show that overall, the education poverty in these countries has only slightly declined from 2000 levels. The region has mostly stagnated. Education poverty remains much higher in ECA program countries than in EU countries [38 percent of students in ECA scored below basic proficiency in Math compared to 24 percent of students in the EU]. In addition, large performance disparities exist among students of top and bottom income quintiles. Students from the top 60 percent learn, on average, the equivalent to almost 1.5 additional years of schooling in math when compared to peers from households in the bottom 40 percent (Figure 1). This difference in performance is much smaller in Russia, Kosovo, and Montenegro (equivalent to roughly one years of education). It is much larger in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary (equivalent to two years of education or more).  

Difference in math PISA scores between top 60 and bottom 40 socioeconomic quintiles.
However, performance gaps among ECA income groups are lower than the average differences among OECD and EU countries (close to two years of education on average). There are notable differences in equality of opportunity between countries in the region: In Hungary and the Czech Republic, socioeconomic status explains four times more variation in math performance than in Russia, Kosovo, and Montenegro. These differences suggest that in the former systems an individual’s background is one of the most important determinants for learning. Inequality of opportunity remains a challenge for both ECA and EU coutries, with about 12 percent of the variation in math scores explained by individuals socioeconomic background.

PISA allows us to identify transformative solutions to improve learning. While many countries need to reduce education poverty and inequality, some are able to deliver good quality education to their students—such as Estonia, Finland, Poland, and Russia. These education systems have managed to achieve higher integration of students and relatively higher student performance.
Solutions: How Countries Can Reduce Education Poverty
Here are three recommendations to reduce education poverty based on the most recent PISA data:
  1. Increase preschool access. Attending a high-quality preschool improves school readiness of children, giving them a head start.
  2. Improve the disciplinary climate in schools. In our ECA program countries, students in a positive school environment outperformed those students in a worse learning climate equivalent to more than one year of schooling.  
  3. Increase students’ motivation. In most countries, more motivated students outperform (by 1.5 years of schooling in our program countries) less motivated students.
For more information on PISA performance for our program countries in the ECA region, as well as a regional overview, and briefs for all regions click here . Click here for a summary of these results.
Follow the World Bank Group Education team on Twitter  @wbg_education


Cristian Aedo

Practice Manager for Education, East Asia and Pacific Region.

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