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  • Jul 23, 2014
  • Updated: 6:25pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 3:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 3:20am

Pisa 'politics' of no concern to parents

What should we make of the ranking results of Pisa?

Should we in Hong Kong and Shanghai, which consistently come out on top in the Programme for International Student Assessment gloat about it; worry the results may be too one-sided and thus papering over the obvious defects in our education systems; or just ignore them?

What I observe over the years is that there is rarely any neutral reporting of the results in the news media of the major countries tested. Most of the reports and commentaries they generate tend to reflect the fears and biases of the people writing them. So western media such as those in Germany, Britain and the US would focus on how badly their youngsters have performed. Countries in Asia that did well such as Singapore and China would proudly report the results.

A public debate in Hong Kong will inevitably ensue between those who defend our competitive, exam-centred education system, and those who are critical of it.

This is despite repeated warnings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which runs Pisa, that the results are not reliable or accurate enough to present as ranking tables. But, of course, they inevitably do.

Despite the tests being standardised, the assessment of 510,000 15-year-olds' proficiency in reading, maths and science every three years administrated in 65 countries and economies is still far from being an exact statistical science. Interpreting Pisa results has become a cottage industry in academia. They are used by policymakers of different political persuasions to push for their educational agendas.

But the one reason Pisa attracts so much attention may have little to do with education but national rivalry, especially between East and West. The US and countries in western Europe have consistently achieved mediocre scores.

Countries in East Asia's so-called Confucian belt inevitably top the rankings. Those labelled emerging markets such as Turkey, Brazil and Indonesia are consistently improving. This simply feeds into the geopolitical narrative of the decline of the west and the rise of the rest.

But as parents in East or West, we probably don't need to worry too much about Pisa.


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This article is now closed to comments

Pisa is costly and necessary
But its real significance is overlooked
Just see how most expats tend to avoid this topic
those at a loss as how to file a sour note
Why has AL missed Pisa’s significance
so clearly discerned by skywalker?
Education is a public / private joint venture
for social and personal purposes that can’t be conterminous
Students, teachers and schools differ in abilities and resources
But they follow more or less the same syllabus
Their performance is measurable by similar standardized tests
that refer only to the syllabus and are by no means comprehensive
Critics of standardized tests should develop a new syllabus and test
to teach and appraise performance not covered in the existing system
America’s “No Child Left Behind” objective
shouldn’t be misapplied to misguide social priorities
where standardized scores are unquestionably high
The real political questions of Pisa are
Why is the unquestionable success of Confucian countries
not accompanied by unquestionable acclaim?
How come Pisa achievers “under-achieve” in the “real” world?
You ask a very intriguing question. I suppose the Pisa achievers nurtured in oriental countries eventually all flock to the United States and a handful of OECD countries for career and immigration opportunities, resulting in the situation where the top western nations still dominate in science and technology. The strong attract the strong and finally set in place a deeply entrenched pyramid structure with the US perched at the top, condemning the world's other regions to a perennial 2nd- and 3rd-class status.
I am also under the impression that if based on "scores" only, "Asian" students will represent a even more disproportionate share of the total student body at the Ivy League and elite institutions than they already do. Yet, I wonder, when will I ever see a US president with an Asian face? The Asians with a Confucian cultural heritage do not seem to possess the same leadership influence as their white and black counterparts. Is there a natural racial difference there I wonder?
I agree with your observation
I don't think there is "a natural racial difference"
In the 60's it was generally believed that Cantonese was fit
only for traditional Cantonese operas
and not for Westerner melodies including hymns
The difficulties were believed to be phonetical and musicological
森森(?)’s 妹愛哥情重 was believed to be about the only exception
Such prejudice became history by the 80’s
when Canto pops overwhelmed the region
Just imagine how native English speakers may handle themselves
in an environment where polcymaking is in Chinese
Some see a positive aspect of Mao's GPCR
that it was to free the Chinese from cultural shibboleths
and make them more forthwith with their opinions
I do not want to hide my admiration for one aspect of Mao's mindset. Although I grew up in a China that cast grave doubts (if not outright contempt) on his heritage, he seemed to me to be perpetually aligned with the underdogs, deeply resentful of the establishment and perpectually on guard against social stratification gaining traction in society. That is the rationale behind his calling for "perpetual revolution" and "never forget class struggle." He was aiming for something new for China, and for that alone has my strong sympathy.
Very well said
No need to hide
that's the positive purpose of perpetual revolution
But I'd keep silent around bigots
rather than wasting my time responding to their rubbish
<<How come Pisa achievers “under-achieve” in the “real” world?>>
That would be a good question to investigate objectively and scientifically. Almost everyone who went to schools and universities made the same experience of the "real (work/business) world" shock. The challenges in the educational world are one thing to master, but how fit-for-life does the education system make our kids? Today I can see that many people are "successful" - and what this means does also need to be defined in this question - but they come from various schools and social backgrounds. Something what is perhaps better in European countries or in the USA than here in Hong Kong is the common exposure by parents, neighbours, classmates etc. to a much wider scope of "applied education". This means seeing and experiencing what one can really do with education and knowledge and what it really takes to be successful in life (however the individual interprets success).
I find “applied education” and “fit-for-life” good and workable ideas
I’d focus not just on what’s taught and fruitful application of what’s learnt
but also on appraising / developing the environment of application
Dear Mr. Lo. Sorry, but I really do not understand what you want to tell the reader with your comment here. Maybe I am too stupid and too uneducated, because I did not attend any school in the high scoring "Confucian Belt". Ok, one message I understand is, that the Pisa results reflect the decline of the West and the rise of the East. We are in Hong Kong and this city is in the East and is achieving highest Pisa scores. For my own kids I am happy to hear that the millions of dollars I am going to spend for their education here seem to be very good value for money. Why should I not care about PISA? Finally it shows that something - education at least - is outstanding and good here in HK. I always thought that success need no excuse.
I am not sure what AL's caption is all about. Parents in Hong Kong would have politics the last thing on earth to do anything with education for their offspring -- Pisa’s divide in achievements between East and West in particular. But AL is accurate at the end to surmise that Hong Kong parents don’t need to worry too much about Pisa which I would also add not only parents here but everywhere.
The high collation between high score and Confucius belt and traditionally low life achievements makes one wonders the value of Pisa’s test result. I highly suspect that the test is classroom drillable just as similar to the SAT. A student in China sank her teeth for hours daily for a year into preparation for her SAT and gotten unprecedented full scores. There is absolute very limited value of the test score. It is even harmful if educators and parents are drilling these children for the test with overtimes.
There should be a reform. PISA must take the amount of time spent both within and outside classroom for learning which children are subjected to into consideration for marking the scores. Obviously there will be a big change. The East hangs on after-school tutorial and the West don’t.
I am not really concern with the scores and rating but more the misleading notion of them. No less is the false security created by PISA upon those educators and parents along the Confucius’ corridor and classrooms. Asians need life achievers just like the West.


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