Taking the PISA bait

It’s been difficult to ignore the recent post-PISA media coverage. And if you are to believe the loudest voices in the discussion, a return to ‘back-to-basics’ education will guarantee Australia’s future success in the rankings. Thankfully there are those like Professor Yong Zhao who continue to interrogate PISA’s ‘magical’ powers over policy-makers. Furthermore, PISA continues to measure a very ‘narrow aspect of education’ (still rooted in an industrial model), which may harm the broader purpose of education. Yong also cites research showing a negative correlation between high PISA scores and student wellbeing.

What is clear from the media commentary is that politicians continue to take the PISA bait as part of the quick fix mentality.

How do we ensure young people are equipped to meet the challenges of the future? By designing a new learning framework that speaks to what it means to be a learner and teacher in today’s world. As I have been suggesting, this learning framework must reflect the work of teachers as researchers, collaborators and, co-learners. It must also address the equity and resourcing issues to ensure that every child has pathways to success. It must also leverage strategic partners to help deliver the best learning opportunities and experiences in an ever-changing and digital world.

I believe the challenges facing schooling are more cultural than instrumental. Teachers working collaboratively, informed and directed by a unifying framework, are in the best position to respond constructively to the challenges and opportunities that accompany massive technological and social change. Teachers and students are best served by the type of cultural leadership that promotes and defines a new and relevant educational narrative. 

The task of the teacher is not just adding value; it is about knowing the learner and enabling that learner to take the next step on the individual journey. As educators in today’s world, we need to live up to the rhetoric of lifelong learning. It means continuing to build a robust profession that can critique and critically reflect as well as develop new ways of working that meets the needs of new generations of students.

Above all, there needs to be excitement as we collectively explore new ideas and issues – refusing to be distracted, mislead or deflated by concerns like PISA rankings that have never been part of the fabric of teaching or central to the professional task of teachers.





6 thoughts on “Taking the PISA bait

  1. Yes! A robust & excited workforce of professionals 🙌🏼 The future of work in every industry is & will be radically different from the past, and what an exciting time to be part of the revolution in education.

    Just like the students who amaze us every year with their potential & achievements (& deserve our best thinking & creativity in co–designing their future experiences) ….. our school workforces are, and should continue to transform. We all have the opportunity to contribute to make being a teacher, and working in a school, a truly fantastic experience, & the sector is only just starting to scratch the surface of what this might mean from a workforce perspective. I can’t wait to see where we go next …!

    1. Thanks for the really positive reply, I share you optimisum. I think we are on a tipping point, we just need to be brave enough to take the next steps. I’ve become even more convinced of the power of the role of the teacher but a teacher that is equipped with the 21st century skill set.

  2. Greg this is quite possibly your best post yet! Everything you write is spot on. Having been a Principal now for 13 years and someone who has invested heavily in thinking paradigms and inquiry design, I am often flabbergasted at the narrow minded way our quick fix politicians jump to rankings from PISA.

    The myth with CHINA also needs to be named and shamed for what it is. I was part of a recent AiTSL delegation of Principals from around Australia that visited Shanghai and Singapore schools and universities. All is not what it seems in Shanghai. The black market for test papers prior to official tests is just one of the anomalies. Another glaring omission from PISA reports, presumably silenced by the powers in charge is that China only ever provide samples from their high performing schools in Macau and Shanghai. If CHINA whom we are offered compared with, actually submitted school results for the whole of CHINA, then the country would never rank in the top 25!

    Australia as you well know provide a democratic sample of schools from all SES strata and every flavour from Catholic systemic, Government and Independent schools. If we actually just submitted the ACT or NSW like CHINA do with Shanghai, then we would compare very favourably.

    At any rate what I state is possibly the low hanging fruit. There are other issues bigger than PiSA, but calling it for what it represents is a good start. Well done Greg.

    1. I totally agree. This myth driven change agenda has to be called out. There are not simple answers to this problem, but it has to start with the reflections that you offer and then put some meat on those bones. The only way we will deliver for the kids in our care is to learn how to do it ourselves.

  3. Hi Greg, I couldn’t agree more. I’m frequently asked for reasons for the assumed slip in standards reflecting the latest PISA results. I usually quickly dismiss the suspicion that this is due to poor teaching and lack of attention to ‘basics’. Rather, it is a collective failure driven from the top, and reflective of public uninformed opinion. There is little consideration of good pedagogy (and by this I don’t mean teaching methods) and the learning environments we do or don’t create in schools. Teachers are so flooded with demands from all quarters, that they have little time and freedom to create learning environments conducive to learner centred approaches, that allow space for individual needs, abilities, interests etc. I agree heartily that we need “learning frameworks (that) reflect the work of teachers as researchers, collaborators and, co-learners.” Not deliverers of tests and the training of children to sit tests! Thanks.

    1. Trevor, appreciate your commentary on this. Agree wholeheartedly that there is a lack of consideration and understanding around teachers’ work. The agenda has been driven by the policy-makers, not expert practitioners. Time for the profession to reclaim the agenda and narrative!

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