Source: OECD PISA 2018
Source: OECD PISA 2018

PISA 2018: between performance and well-being

published 3 December 2019 updated 7 January 2020

The long-awaited PISA 2018 study is out today, with new data on students’ performance and a new focus on well-being and sustainable development.

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assesses students’ capacities in reading, mathematics and science, and their ability to apply this knowledge. It is a comprehensive international assessment of student learning outcomes and hence is important for both education systems and education professionals. Around 600,000 students in 79 countries and economies completed the test in 2018, representing about 32 million 15-year-olds.

Results: looking beyond performance

The results published today in Paris for the 2018 edition of the report assess the quality and equity of learning outcomes attained around the world, and allow to draw lessons from the policies and practices applied in several countries.

According to the study, over ten million students were not able to complete even the most basic reading tasks. In many countries, the quality of the education a student acquires can still best be predicted by the student’s or his or her school’s socioeconomic background, the findings show. In fact, the 10% most socioeconomically advantaged students outperformed their 10% most disadvantaged counterparts in reading by 141 score points, on average across OECD countries. This adds up to the equivalent of over three years of schooling in the countries which were able to estimate learning progress across school grades, and this gap has essentially remained unchanged over the past decade.

Education as key for development

Commenting on the content of the study, Education International (EI) General Secretary David Edwards stated that he welcomed PISA’s focus on highlighting the importance of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly regarding the need for qualified teachers. Edwards showed concern over using the results of China Mainland’s system of education as a model. “It may well be that China can enforce an exclusive focus on outcomes but it is failing to foster young people’s social and emotional well-being,” he regretted. On the lines of well-being, Edwards highlighted the need to extend PISA’s perspective on students’ well-being also to their teachers and educators. This would be a welcome and necessary next step according to EI.

Edwards pointed out that PISA made it clear that countries had to “make education their top political and financial priority and not waste resources on damaging and ineffective reforms which undermine teachers and their schools.” He also highlighted PISA’s findings about staff shortages and the need for greater teacher support as one of the key takeaways of the 2018 edition.

Fake news, a threat to democracy

Edwards showed particular concern at  the implications of PISA’s finding that fewer than one in ten students were able to distinguish fact from opinion, especially in social media. “The OECD is quite right to highlight the threat to society and to young people’s futures of false facts and populist lies promoted particularly on social media,” Edwards said. “In democratic systems teachers and their schools are at the forefront of promoting respect for learning and the truth.”

Insights and highlights of the PISA 2018 study can be found here.

A snapshot of student performance as a graph is available here.

The full PISA 2018 results are accessible via the OECD's website here.