I am delighted to share our analysis of the latest PISA findings with you, and I am particularly pleased to do this in Japan, a country which has maintained its high levels of student performance, and which has seen important improvements in student engagement since 2000, an area that traditionally was one of Japan’s weaknesses.I want to start with a brief overview of the objectives and origins of PISA, then analyse where Japan stands on measures ranging from student performance up to student attitudes to learning and engagement with school, and then conclude with what we have learned about effective policies and practices that may help Japan to further raise its already impressive educational performance.
We started to develop PISA in 1998 with 28 OECD countries, but since then country participation has grown and our latest PISA assessment covers 74 education systems that make up 86% of the world economy. Coverage in China and India is still patchy though, in China we have now covered 12 provinces and in India we are working in two states only.One aspect that makes PISA stand apart from traditional school tests is that PISA puts less emphasis on whether students can reproduce what they were taught, but focuses on their capacity to extrapolate from what they know and creatively apply what they know in novel situations. Some people complain that PISA is unfair, because it confronts students with tasks they have not dealt with before, but if you take that line, then you should consider life unfair, because in this fast-changing world, that is precisely what will expect students later in life. You will see that in the callout box.Students also provided data on their socio-economic context, their schools and their attitudes and engagement with school and learning.In addition, PISA collected data from parents, principals and system leaders to yield insights on school policies, practices, resources and institutional factors that help explain performance differences.
The idea of PISA is to support governments in preparing students for life. In a sense, PISA provides schools and nations with a mirror in which they can judge their performance in light of what other systems show is possible to achieve.
With that introduction, let us turn to the results. The firstthingyou can do is to see how countries line up with regard to the competencies of their 15-year-olds.
An area in which further improvements can be sought is performance variation among students and schools. It is correct that Japanese 15-year-olds are in their first year of senior high school, which contributes to a relatively larger share of between-school variation, but it does not explain the fairly large performance variation overall. It also does not explain why the difference between high and low performers in reading grew since 2000, particularly that between schools.
Fortunately, Japan has a large share of students who succeed despite social disadvantage, we call them resilient students.In general, the accuracy with which socio-economic background predicts student performance varies considerably across countries. Most of the students who perform poorly in PISA come from challenging socio-economic backgrounds, and yet some of their disadvantaged peers excel in PISA and beat the odds against them. These students show that overcoming socio-economic barriers to achievement is possible. While the prevalence of resilience is not the same across educational systems, it is possible to identify substantial numbers of resilient students in practically all OECD countries. In Japan, 11% of students can be considered resilient, in that they are among the 25% most socio-economically disadvantaged students in the country yet perform much better than what would be predicted based on their background (Table II.3.3).
Reading a lot is not enough: students who read a lot but who do not understand how to learn effectively perform worse in reading than students who read less but understand how to learn in all countries including Japan (Table III.1.28). While enjoying reading is a necessary step towards becoming a better reader, it is not sufficient if it does not go hand-in-hand with a good understanding of how to use reading to learn effectively. In Japan, an awareness of strategies to summarise information plays an important role in closing the performance gap between boys and girls and between socio-economically disadvantaged and advantaged students. In general across OECD countries, girls and socio-economically advantaged students tend to have a better awareness of strategies to summarise information than boys and disadvantaged students, and, in turn, students with this better awareness tend to perform better (Table III.3.10). In other words, an awareness of these strategies mediates the impact of students’ background and gender on performance. This mediating effect is particularly strong in Japan: 22% of the total impact of students’ socio-economic background on performance is filtered through the different levels of students’ awareness of these strategies (the OECD average is 17%); and 38% of the total impact of students’ gender on performance is filtered through the different levels of students’ awareness of these strategies. This underlines the importance for parents, teachers and schools to provide students with the tools to become effective readers and learners. It is important for students to develop an awareness of the most effective learning strategies to summarise information, especially boys and socio-economically disadvantaged students. This can be fostered by letting students experiment with different approaches, discussing with students what they find helpful and unhelpful, and encouraging them to reflect on the different approaches they use to achieve learning goals.
Positive teacher-student relations can help to establish an environment that is conducive to learning. Research finds that students, particularly disadvantaged students, tend to learn more and have fewer disciplinary problems when they feel that their teachers take them seriously. One explanation is that positive teacher-student relations help foster social relationships, create communal learning environments and promote and strengthen adherence to norms conducive to learning. PISA asked students to agree or disagree with several statements regarding their relationships with the teachers in school. These statements include whether students get along with the teachers and whether teachers are interested in their personal well-being, whether teachers take the student seriously, whether teachers are a source of support if students need extra help, and whether teachers treat the student fairly. Students in Japan reported one of the weakest teacher-student relations among OECD countries (Figure IV.4.1). For example, 28% of students in Japan agree or strongly agree that their teachers are interested in their well-being (the OECD average is 66%), 63% agree or strongly agree that most teachers really listen to what the student has to say (the OECD average is 67%), 64% agree or strongly agree that teachers are a source of support if students need extra help (the OECD average is 79%), 73% agree or strongly agree that they get along with their teachers (the OECD average is 85%) and 74% agree or strongly agree that teachers treat the student fairly (the OECD average is 79%). There is a positive relationship between teacher-student relations and student performance in Japan. For example, the quarter of students in Japan reporting the poorest student-teacher relations are two times more likely to also be among the quarter of the poorest performing students, which is the highest likelihood among the countries and economies that participated in PISA (Table IV.4.1). Differences in student-reported teacher interest in their well-being may reflect either different student expectations of their teachers’ level of involvement, or different roles that teachers assume with respect to their students. A low percentage of agreement with these statements suggests a possible mismatch between student expectations and what teachers are actually doing.
Let me briefly summarise the influences that we have measured in PISA.
You have seen very large performance differences among schools and countries, but how predictive are these for the success of students and nations?
To what extent is performance in school predictive of success in later life?The best way to find out whether what students have learned at school matters for their life is to actuallywatch what happens to them after they leave school. This is exactly what we have done that with around 30,000 students in Canada. We tested them in the year 2000 when they were 15 years old in reading, math and science, and since then we are following up with them each year on what choices they make and how successful they are in their transition from school to higher education and work.The horizontal axis shows you the PISA level which 15-year-old Canadians had scored in 2000. Level 2 is the baseline level on the PISA reading test and Level 5 the top level in reading.The red bar shows you how many times more successful someone who scored Level 2 at age 15 was at age 19 to have made a successful transition to university, as compared to someone who did not make it to the baseline PISA level 1. And to ensure that what you see here is not simply a reflection of social background, gender, immigration or school engagement, we have already statistically accounted for all of these factors. The orange bar. …How would you expect the picture to be like at age 21? We are talking about test scores here, but for a moment, lets go back to the judgements schools make on young people, for example through school marks. You can do the same thing here, you can see how well school marks at age 15 predict the subsequent success of youths. You see that there is some relationship as well, but that it is much less pronounced than when we use the direct measure of skills. What this tells you how important reliable measures of student performance are, an area where the UK is leading the field since some years.
First, there is no question that most nations declare that education is important. But the test comes when these commitments are weighed against others. How do countries pay teachers, compared to other highly-skilled workers? How are education credentials weighed against other qualifications when people are being considered for jobs? Would you want your child to be a teacher? How much attention do the media pay to schools and schooling? What we have learned from PISA is that in high performing systems political and social leaders have persuaded citizens to make choices that show they value education more than other things. But placing a high value on education is only part of the equation. Another part is belief in the possibilities for all children to achieve success. In some countries, students are separated into different tracks at an early age, reflecting a notion shared by teachers, parents and citizens that only a subset of the nation’s children can or need to achieve world class standards. Our analysis shows that systems that track students in this way, based differing expectations for different destinations, tend to be fraught with large social disparities. By contrast, the best performing systems deliver strong and equitable learning outcomes across very different cultural and economic contexts. In Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai-China and Hong Kong-China, parents, teachers and the public at large share the belief that all students are capable of achieving high standards and need to do so, and they provide great examples for how public policy can support the achievement of universal high standards.
High-performing education systems also share clear and ambitious standards across the board. Everyone knows what is required to get a given qualification, both in terms of the content studied and the level of performance needed to earn it. Students cannot go on to the next stage—be it in work or in further education—unless they show that they are qualified to do so. They know what they have to do to realise their dream, and they put in the work that is needed to do it.As discussed in the 2009 edition of OECD’s Education at a Glance¸ over the past decade, assessments of student performance have become common in many OECD countries – and the results are often widely reported and used in both public and more specialised debate. However, the rationale for assessments and the nature of the instruments used vary greatly within and across countries. Methods employed in OECD countries include different forms of external assessment, external evaluation or inspection, and schools’ own quality assurance and self-evaluation efforts. One aspect relating to accountability systems concerns the existence of standards-based external examinations. These are examinations that focus on a specific school subject and assess a major portion of what students who are studying this subject are expected to know or be able to do (Bishop, 1998, 2001). Essentially, they define performance relative to an external standard, not relative to other students in the classroom or school. These examinations usually have a direct impact on students’ education – and even on their futures – and may thus motivate students to work harder. Other standardised tests, which may be voluntary and implemented by schools, often have only indirect consequences for students. For teachers, standardised assessments can provide information on students’ learning needs and can be used to tailor their instruction accordingly. In some countries, such as Brazil, Hungary, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland and the Slovak Republic, such tests are also used to determine teachers’ salaries or to guide professional development (for data, see the 2009 edition of Education at a Glance ). At the school level, information from standardised tests can be used to determine the allocation of additional resources, and what interventions are required to establish performance targets and monitor progress.Across OECD countries, students in school systems that require standards-based external examinations perform, on average, over 16 points higher than those in school systems that do not use such examinations (Figure IV.2.6a). Among OECD countries, there are standards-based external examinations for secondary school students in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Turkey and the United Kingdom. In Australia, these examinations cover 81% of secondary students, in Canada 51% and in Germany 35%. In Austria, Belgium, Chile, Greece, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, such examinations do not exist or only in some parts of the system (Table IV.3.11).In PISA 2009, school principals were asked to report on the types and frequency of assessment used: standardised tests, teacher-developed tests, teachers’ judgemental ratings, student portfolios or student assignments. Some 76% of students in OECD countries are enrolled in schools that use standardised tests. Standardised tests are relatively uncommon in Slovenia, Belgium, Spain, Austria and Germany, where less than half the 15-year-olds attend schools that assess students through standardised tests. In contrast, the use of standardised tests is practically universal in Luxembourg, Finland, Korea, the United States, Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, where over 95% of students attend schools that use this assessment at least once a year (Table IV.3.10). In Japan, 65% of students are in schools that use standardised tests.
Third, the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals. Just like companies, high quality school systems pay attention to how they select and train their staff. They watch how they improve the performance of those who are struggling; how structure teachers’ pay packets; and how they reward their best teachers. They provide an environment in which teachers work together to frame good practice. That is where teachers conduct field-based research to confirm or disprove the approaches they develop, and they judge their colleagues by the degree to which they use these practices in their classrooms. Listen to what the Finnish Minister had to say about that.To determine the extent to which teacher behaviour influences student learning, school principals in PISA were asked to report the extent to which they perceived learning in their schools to be hindered by such factors as teachers’ low expectations of students, poor student-teacher relations, absenteeism among teachers, staff resistance to change, teachers not meeting individual students’ needs, teachers being too strict with students, and students not being encouraged to achieve their full potential. Japan is slightly below the OECD average on these measures, and the reports from school principals highlight a number of challenges: 39% of students in Japan are enrolled in schools whose principals reported that learning is hindered to some extent or a lot because students are not being encouraged to achieve their full potential (OECD average is 23%), 37% are enrolled in schools whose principals reported that this is the case because staff resist change (the OECD average is 28%), 29% are in schools where, according to principals, teachers do not meet individual students needs (the OECD average is 28%) and 24% are in schools where teachers’ low expectations of students hinders learning (in contrast, in Finland that proportion is just 6% and the OECD average is 22%) (Figure IV.4.5). But only 3% of school principals see teachers’ absenteeism as a problem (the OECD average is 17%).
Fourth, as you have seen, success has to do with incentives and accountability, and how these are aligned in the system. It has also to do with how vertical accountability to superiors is balanced with horizontal or professional accountability towards peers, how knowledge is shared and spread. Forstudentsthisaffects: How gateways affect the strength, direction, clarity and nature of the incentives operating on students at each stage of their education; as well as the degree to which students have incentives to take tough courses and study hard and the opportunity costs for staying in school and performing well.It also means providing incentives for teachers to make innovations in pedagogy and/or organisation, improve their own performance and the performance of their colleagues, and to pursue professional development opportunities that lead to stronger pedagogical practices.High performing systems tend to provide a balance between vertical and lateral accountability and have effective instruments to manage and share knowledge and spread innovation – and that means both communication within the system and with stakeholders around it.
The most impressive outcome of world class education systems is perhaps that they deliver high quality learning consistently across the entire education system so that every student benefits from excellent learning opportunity. To achieve this, they invest educational resources where they can make most of a difference, they attract the most talented teachers into the most challenging classroom, and they establish effective spending choices that prioritise the quality of teachers. Let me come back to the example of Shanghai once more here. Let us have a look at the struggling schools six years later.Research usually shows a weak relationship between educational resources and student performance, with more variation explained by the quality of human resources (i.e. teachers and school principals) than by material and financial resources, particularly among industrialised nations. The generally weak relationship between resources and performance observed in past research is also seen in PISA. At the level of the education system, and net of the level of national income, the only type of resource that PISA shows to be correlated with student performance is the level of teachers’ salaries relative to national income (Figure IV.2.8). Teachers’ salaries are related to class size in that if spending levels are similar, school systems often make trade-offs between smaller classes and higher salaries for teachers. The findings from PISA suggest that systems prioritising higher teachers’ salaries over smaller classes, such as those in Japan and Korea, tend to perform better. The lack of correlation between the level of resources and performance among school systems does not mean that resource levels do not affect performance at all. Rather, it implies that, given the variation in resources observed in PISA, they are unrelated to performance or equity. A school system that lacks teachers, infrastructure and textbooks will almost certainly perform at lower levels; but given that most school systems in PISA appear to satisfy the minimum resource requirements for teaching and learning, the lack of a relationship between many of the resource aspects and both equity and performance may result simply from a lack of sufficient variation among OECD countries.
Some of the most successful systems are also actively looking outward, realising that the benchmark for success is no longer simply improvement by national standards, but the best performing systems internationally. Whether Singapore is interested in designing a better sewer system, retirement system or school system, it sends key people in the relevant sector to visit those countries that are the world’s best performers in those areas with instructions to find out how they do it, and to put together a design for Singapore that is superior to anything that they have seen anywhere.
Last but not least, in high performing systems these policies and practices are aligned across all aspects of the system, they are coherent over sustained periods of time, and they are consistently implemented. And PISA shows, success is within the reach for nations that have the capacity to creating and executing policies with maximum coherence in the system. Of course, the path to reform is not easy and it can be fraught with political controversy. Moving away from administrative and bureaucratic control toward professional norms of control can be counterproductive if a nation does not yet have teachers and schools with the capacity to implement these policies and practices. Pushing authority down to lower levels can be as problematic if there is not agreement on what the students need to know and should be able to do. Recruiting high quality teachers is not of much use if those who are recruited are so frustrated by what they perceive to be a mindless system of initial teacher education that they will not participate in it and turn to another profession. Or if they become school teachers, but are so turned off by the bureaucratic forms of work organisation they find there that they leave teaching for some other occupation. So this is all about alignment.
Whether and how long students are enrolled in pre-primary education is also an important resource consideration. Many of the inequalities that exist within school systems are already present once students enter formal schooling and persist as students’ progress through school. Earlier entrance into the school system may reduce these inequities. On average across OECD countries, 72% of today’s 15-year-old students reported that they had attended pre-primary education for more than one year. Attendance in more than one year of pre-primary education was practically universal in Japan (97%), and in the Netherlands, Hungary, Belgium, Iceland and France, over 90% of 15-year-old students reported that they had attended pre-primary school for more than one year. More than 90% of students in 27 OECD countries had attended pre-primary school for at least some time, and 98% or more of students in Japan (99%), Hungary, France and the United States reported having done so. Pre-primary education is rare in Turkey, where less than 30% of 15-year-olds had attended pre-primary school for at least a year. More than one year of pre-primary education is uncommon in Chile, Ireland, Canada and Poland, where less than 50% of students attended pre-primary school for that length of time (Table IV.3.18).PISA 2009 results show that, in general, students who had attended pre-primary education perform better in reading at the age of 15 than students who had not (Figure II.5.9 and Table II.5.5). In 32 OECD countries, students who had attended pre-primary education for more than one year outperformed students who had not attended pre-primary education at all – in many countries by the equivalent of well over a school year. This finding holds in most countries even after accounting for students’ socio-economic backgrounds. However, across countries, there is considerable variation in the impact of attendance in pre-primary education and reading performance when students are 15 years old. Among OECD countries, in Israel, Belgium, Italy and France, students who attended pre-primary education for more than one year perform at least 64 score points higher in reading than those who did not, which corresponds to the equivalent of roughly one-and-a-half school years. This was the case even after accounting for students’ socio-economic background. On the other hand, in Estonia, Finland, the United States and Korea, there is no marked difference in reading scores between those who attended pre-primary school for more than one year and those who did not attend at all, after accounting for students’ socio-economic background. In Japan, the students who had attended pre-primary education for one year or more scored an average of 39 points higher on the PISA reading scale than those who did not – roughly the equivalent of one school year – and after accounting for students’ socio-economic background, the performance advantage is 24 score points. These results underline the importance of pre-primary education, and international comparisons of primary-school children show high pre-primary enrolment rates among both advantaged and disadvantaged Japanese children. The next challenge will be to increase the positive impact of pre-primary education on performance later on in students’ school careers.One factor that may explain the variations in the impact of pre-primary education on later school performance is the quality of pre-primary education. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the impact tends to be greater in education systemswhere pre-primary education is of longer duration, has smaller pupil-to-teacher ratios or benefits from higher public expenditure per pupil (Table II.5.6). When this impact is compared according to socio-economic background, in most OECD countries, there is no significant difference in the impact between students from socio-economically disadvantaged and advantaged backgrounds (Table II.5.8). Students benefit equally from attending pre-primary school in 31 OECD countries including Japan and 25 partner countries and economies. The United States is the only OECD country where PISA shows that disadvantaged students benefit more from pre-primary education. Part of the difference in the impact of attendance in pre-primary education on the performance of students from different socio-economic backgrounds may be due to the fact that many factors other than pre-primary education (e.g. education in and out of school that students received between the ages of 6 and 15) may influence 15-year-olds’ performance.
I want to conclude with what we have learned about successful reform trajectories In the past when you only needed a small slice of well-educated people it was efficient for governments to invest a large sum in a small elite to lead the country. But the social and economic cost of low educational performance has risen substantially and all young people now need to leave school with strong foundation skills.When you could still assume that what you learn in school will last for a lifetime, teaching content and routine cognitive skills was at the centre of education. Today, where you can access content on Google, where routine cognitive skills are being digitised or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, the focus is on enabling people to become lifelong learners, to manage complex ways of thinking and complex ways of working that computers cannot take over easily.In the past, teachers had sometimes only a few years more education than the students they taught. When teacher quality is so low, governments tend to tell their teachers exactly what to do and exactly how they want it done and they tend to use Tayloristic methods of administrative control and accountability to get the results they want. Today the challenge is to make teaching a profession of high-level knowledge workers. But such people will not work in schools organised as Tayloristic workplaces using administrative forms of accountability and bureaucratic command and control systems to direct their work. To attract the people they need, successful education systems have transformed the form of work organisation in their schools to a professional form of work organisation in which professional norms of control complement bureaucratic and administrative forms of control.