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OECD moots adding ‘global competence’ to PISA assessment

On June 16, the 80 member countries of PISA, the programme for international student assessment, will meet in Paris to discuss a new ‘assessment of global competence’ to be rolled out for its 2018/19 study. If adopted, the initiative will diversify the cross-national test away from its core areas of mathematics, reading and science.

Results of global competence assessments are unlikely to published in the country league tables because of the “self-reported” nature of the answers. Photo: Juan Carlos Mejía.

Global competence is a game-changer according to Andreas Schleicher, director of the OECD

Broadly defined as the ability to critically analyse global and intercultural issues to aid social cohesion, global competence is a game-changer according to Andreas Schleicher, the director of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which oversees PISA.

In a recent BBC online piece, Schleicher said that education has moved from “teaching people something” to being about “making sure that children develop a reliable compass, the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.”

The new arm to the PISA test will evaluate students’ comprehension of a range of global and inter-cultural issues

PISA has already been mandated by its members to look at ways to measure global skills and competencies in 15 year old pupils around the world as part of its next ‘innovation domain’, however, three countries have since dropped out of the venture, one that looks set to be challenging to implement.

A PISA spokesperson said the three countries could not be named.

The new arm to the PISA test will evaluate students’ comprehension of a range of global and inter-cultural issues such as the environment, poverty, economic integration, education, inequalities, discrimination, tourism, and migration.

The students will be asked how much they know about these topics and then given some source material to exercise their critical and analytical skills, for example opinions on whether sources are reliable.

Meanwhile, attitudes to issues will also be sought, though the results are unlikely to be published in the country by country rankings because of the “self-reported” nature of the answers, and PISA is are aware of the “social desirability” of answering questions on sensitive issues such as immigration.

Furthermore, questions on exposure to other cultures are likely to vary for countries where that is inherently limited and could be scaled back to contact to other socio-economic groups.

“The assessment has to be 100% reliable because PISA rankings are politically important”

Mario Piacentini, from PISA/OECD Directorate for Education and Skills, explained that all PISA questions undergo a series of checks and balances, with member countries deciding on whether certain questions might disadvantage their students.

He recognised the daunting task of maintaining some kind of quality control overall and the implications of that: “PISA has a strong technical and methodological foundation and so scope for experimentation is always a bit constrained because of the need for integrity, quality and comparability, which is much easier on a subject which has a more-or-less clearly defined curriculum across countries.”

Nevertheless, with the benefits of the test perceived to be employability and social cohesion, Piacentini views the political willingness overall as “high”, but recognises that the stakes are equally so.

“The assessment has to be 100% reliable because PISA rankings are politically important; policy makers want to know what’s in the tests and how they will be interpreted.”

After discussion this month, the decision to go ahead with the initiative could be taken at a PISA meeting in October, starting a short time-frame to implementation in 2018.

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