How to overcome poor PISA results

The disaster in the PISA 2022 tests has generated a heated debate about the state of education in Catalonia.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
08 December 2023 Friday 03:52
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How to overcome poor PISA results

The disaster in the PISA 2022 tests has generated a heated debate about the state of education in Catalonia. Compared to a decade ago, classrooms are more diverse and inclusive, with an increase in immigration and vulnerability. Students are more technological and get bored if they have a passive attitude in class. Families participate more, but they also put pressure on teachers. And it's harder than ever to be a teacher.

Furthermore, the school has been impacted by a succession of events that are difficult to digest: after the process, a pandemic, with the stress it meant for the management, and the consequences in terms of the emotional well-being of the community and learning losses. The new curricula derived from the new education law, which force us to transform the “lifelong” way of teaching. The discomfort expressed in protests over the demands of Education, promoting measures (the calendar) that had nothing to do with the needs derived from the pandemic.

These are some of the causes outlined by experts. How can we now overcome data that places Catalonia below the OECD level? “It is so serious that we need a political and social consensus to implement a long-term plan,” responds Coral Regí, an education expert.

Here are some areas for improvement:

Resources to those most in need

To face the challenges of the future, an inclusive, equitable education is necessary that offers opportunities to all students. Investments have been made in this sense in recent years, some thanks to European funds, which will take time to bear results. Investment has been made in detecting vulnerable students, accompaniment, redistribution in centers and greater resources in schools and institutes with shock plans. The schooling of children from 0 to 3 years old has also been promoted. “However, the cohort born between 2006-2007 examined in PISA did their entire primary school under the cuts that depressed educational spending to 2.8% of GDP, at the level of Guatemala,” says sociologist and expert in educational equity Xavier Martínez-Celorrio. “40% of the cuts were to educational programs launched by the tripartite government (2003-2010) that had a positive impact on results. Therefore, that cohort was deprived of support from primary school,” he warns. The councilor has announced that she will present new measures to combat child poverty and school segregation.

Difficulty detection

For former councilor Irene Rigau, early detection of difficulties is key so that losses do not consolidate. And this is especially important in early childhood and primary education, in the first steps of reading and writing. The education law urges teachers to address difficulties as soon as they are perceived, at any educational level. “The basic problem is to work well from childhood because at 12 years old it is more difficult.” On the other hand, regarding the supposed relaxation, “we have the worst results and the highest level of repetitions, it seems that it is not a useful measure. On the other hand, we know that motivation does work,” says Jordi Mussons, director of Sadako.

Competency learning

The PISA tests require competitive skills, that is, knowing how to mobilize the acquired knowledge. It is surprising that a heated debate has been generated on social media about the need to return to teaching in a traditional way. For Mussons, it is strange to talk one day about artificial intelligence and another about blackboards and desks, and he questions whether any of the 50 institutes selected by PISA have a consolidated innovative project, given how little widespread competency-based learning is in secondary school. For Regí, it is not about children being “happy” but about having confidence in themselves to make an effort and learn. That is the mission of teachers. “It is not an education between cotton wool, it is based on trust and demand.”

Reading and math

“In primary school, 24% pass without adequate reading comprehension, a constant that has not been remedied either by the inspections or by the department,” says Martínez-Celorrio. In his opinion, basic competency tests should be used to encourage center improvement plans with evaluated program contracts and, if they work, transfer them and energize center networks. And encourage the habit of reading, for which school libraries are essential. And promote, according to Mussons, oratory, key in the future.

For the general director of the ministry, Mónica Domínguez, the educational system still has a path of improvement towards competency learning in mathematics. On the other hand, methodologies that do not work should be reviewed. Experts propose knowing what works in some centers and being able to share it.

The teaching profession

Teacher competence has a very high effect on student learning, according to Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education at the OECD. They must not only know their specialty well, but also how to teach it. Some areas of improvement that are pointed out, in addition to changes in teaching, are training in competency-based learning, co-teaching (two teachers in a classroom), training for the needs of the center. For Schleicher, it is more important that the profession be intellectually stimulating, that it is well valued and that there is a lot of interaction between teachers than that it is well paid. He gave Singapore, a leader in this edition of PISA, as an example. Teachers are trained to meet their needs, enter schools with mentors and have a defined career plan.