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Critical voices of PISA in Latin America

Rosa María Torres
(in process)

Critical voices of PISA proliferate in Latin America. At the same time, new countries are ready to participate in PISA 2015. Dissatisfaction and criticism are framed within the growing international criticism to standardized tests and to the growing importance given to educational evaluation worldwide and in this region in particular.

I compile here a few texts and statements referred to such criticism and to alternative proposals. Many more are probably out there (meetings, events, publications, fora, blogs, etc.) Please leave any additional information and comments in this blog.

The results of the last UNESCO's LLECE (Laboratorio Latinoamericano de la Calidad de la Educación) tests, applied in 2013 in 15 Latin American countries, were made public in December 2014 (TERCE: Third Regional Study on the Quality of Education). In April 2015 UNESCO will complete the information with an analysis of the "associated factors" that explain such results. TERCE results will be an important input to take stock of where we are as a region in terms of (primary) school outcomes in the three areas evaluated: language, mathematics and natural sciences in third and sixth grades.

An in-depth debate on educational evaluation, and on international tests such as LLECE and PISA, is essential vis à vis the post-2015 scenario. The what, how and what for of evaluation has decisive impact on the what, how and what for of teaching and learning, and on the overall way of doing education policy and education.

I am translating this post from the original one in Spanish, in this same blog (Voces críticas de PISA en América Latina). The texts remain in Spanish; I am translating only their descriptions.

Basic information on PISA

PISA is an international test proposed by OECD. It is applied every three years, since 2000, in public and private institutions, to 15-year-old students. It covers three areas:  reading, mathematics and science. 10 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have participated in PISA so far: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Perú, Trinidad & Tobago, and Uruguay. They have systematically occupied the last positions in PISA.

PISA 2000: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru.
PISA 2003: Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay.
PISA 2006: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay.
PISA 2009: Argentina Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Chile, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay.
PISA 2012: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay.

June 2013 

Meeting in Uruguay (14 June). Ministers of education of MERCOSUR (sub-regional grouping created in 1991, integrated by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, and Associate States: Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, and Surinam) drafted and sent a letter to Mr. Andreas Schleicher, PISA coordinator, expressing several concerns and the need to "LatinoAmericanize" PISA. Some highlights of the letter:
1. The particularities of Latin America and of its 15-year-olds, including high drop out rates.

2. Discrepancies with the culture of rankings and concern around their public exposure and use.

3. Proposal to include in the tests "situations that are relevant to the life contexts of young people in our region".  

4. Need to diversify the software used to apply the tests in digital format, including Free Software.

April 2014 

PISA, ¿para qué?¿El Ecuador en PISA?, Rosa María Torres, blog OTRA∃DUCACION

In February 2014, the Ecuadorian government announced its decision to join PISA (PISA for Development pilot project). This article discusses the importance (or not) of participating in PISA in the case of "developing countries" and in the case of Ecuador specifically. It recommends Ecuador not to join PISA. Topics dicussed include:

a) the growing international movement against standardized tests;
b) the growing international
concerns around PISA;
the enormous weight placed on evaluation in the country, at all levels and in all areas (Ecuador is one of the countries infected by GERM: competition, evaluation, standardization, standardized tests, excellence, titles). PISA would exarcerbate such tendencies, which contradict the spirit of Sumak Kawsay (Good Living) adopted in the new Constitution (2008); and
d) the fact that Ecuador already participates in a comparative regional evaluation: UNESCO's LLECE, which is closer and is more pertinent to the region than OECD's PISA.

The article provides also an account of recent criticism to PISA in and out of the region.

August 2014
Statement by the Working Group of CLACSO. No a PISA. Por una evaluación al servicio de una educación emancipadora. (NO to PISA: Towards an evaluation serving an emancipatory education).

In Salvador, Bahía, Brazil (11-12 August, 2014), at a CLACSO Working Group meeting (LatinAmerican Council of Social Sciences) “Education Policies and Right to Education in Latin America and the Caribbean", a large group of intellectuals linked to CLACSO expressed their opposition to PISA. They highlighted seven points: 
a) The assumption that good education is the one that confirms the acquisition by students of knowledge that is presumably universal, objective and apolitical, and that is measured by a Ministry of Education.

b) The alledged identity between the act of measuring and its capacity to reflect the learning processes and their improvement.

c) PISA's alledged condition of being a unique and infallible measurement instrument.

d) The relationship between the instrument and teachers' working conditions, inasmuch as it imposes orientations and incentives.

e) The impact of this correct-answer pedagogy on the subjectivity of teachers, students and families who live in constant pressure vis à vis the outcomes.

f) The mercantilization implied in an instrument that is administered globally. 

g) The association between the application of the tests and the evaluation of the quality of education, a concept that is not universal.
October 2014

One of the points raised at the Encuentro Nacional "Más y Mejor Educación para Todos: Desafíos para la próxima década", (National Congress "More and Better Education for All: Challenges for the Next Decade"), held in Buenos Aires on 30-31 October, was getting out of PISA. See note of Página/12 (Spanish).

The congress was organized by the two most important teacher unions in Argentina (CTERA and SADOP); two new universities (UMET and UNIPE), and CLACSO. The event was promoted also by Argentina's National Congress.

November 2014  

Salir de PISA, Pablo Gentili, Blog Contrapuntos, El País, 11 Nov. 2014.

The article elaborates the arguments behind the proposal of "getting out of PISA" presented at the national congress in Argentina (30-31 October). The proposal goes beyond Argentina and other Latin American countries engaged with PISA. University rankings are revised and questioned, as well as the overall ranking culture applied to education, PISA included. Criticism to PISA is illustrated with cases such as that coming from a group of intellectuals and academics in the US, Canada and other developed countries, the Statement by CLACSO Working Group, and the article by Rosa María Torres in Ecuador.

November 2014

Comunidad Educativa, the community of signatories of the Pronunciamiento Latinoamericano por una Educación para Todos (Latin American Statement on Education for All, containing critical positions on educational evaluation) discusses the issue and the possibility of a statement saying NO to PISA.

Related posts in OTRA∃DUCACION (in English)
Stop PISA!  |  ¡Paren PISA!
Sobre evaluación en educación | On Evaluation in Education
Take the Test!
Un GERMen infecta a los sistemas escolares | How GERM is infecting schools around the world

Cuba and Finland | Cuba y Finlandia

Rosa María Torres

(texto en español, abajo)

What do Cuba and Finland have in common? 

Two very different countries, one in the Caribbean, the other one in Europe, with very different histories and cultures, very different political, social and education systems, and yet both sharing high international recognition for educational and other social achievements. 

High Human Development Index (HID) 

Finland is number 24 in the world. Cuba - together with Chile and Argentina - is in the group of Very High Human Development Index in Latin America, and number 44 in the world. (HDI 2014).

Best countries to be a mother and raise a child - region/world

Cuba and Finland are the best countries - in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the world, respectively -  to be a mother and raise a child, according to Oxfam's State of the World's Mothers Report 2013 (Cuba ranked 33 worldwide).

High suicide rates 

Cuba and Finland have high suicide rates. Together with Uruguay, Cuba has the highest suicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. Finland has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe and in the world. (See list with WHO data here. See my post: Educación y suicidio).

Free education  

▸ Cuba's and Finland's education systems are public and free, from initial education to the end of higher education.

High investment in education

▸ In the Latin American region, Cuba is the country with he highest investment in education in relation to its GDP. Cuba invests 16,3% of its GDP in education, followed by Bolivia, Honduras, Costa Rica and Argentina. (Source: ECLAC)

Equity first: good education for ALL, nobody left behind  

▸ Both Cuba and Finland are egalitarian societies. Equity is the main concern. Nobody should be left out or left behind. "Every school a good school" is Finland's motto, and  Cuba's as well. 

Boredom and education   

▸ It is not rare to hear/read comments referring to both Cuba and Finland as "boring" places - Finland because of its weather; Cuba because of its political system and its precarious entertainment resources - and mentioning this as one of the factors that would explain people's dedication to education, studying, and reading. In the case of Cuba, we have seen this argument mentioned in reports by US academics and researchers. 

Top performers in education - region/world

Cuba and Finland are among the one third of countries that achieved 2000-2015 Education for All goals worldwide. Cuba was the only country achieving them in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Cuba and Finland have been top performers in student achievement tests in school: Cuba in LLECE (Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education - Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación), co-ordinated by the regional UNESCO office in Santiago, and Finland in PISA (OECD Programme for International Student Assessment).

Finland is well known for its high performance in PISA, which assesses competencies in Reading, Mathematics and Sciences
among 15 year-olds. PISA has been applied every three years since 2000. 

LLECE tests have been applied three times so far:

- The First Study (PERCE) was applied in 1997 - Language, Mathematics, and associated factors for third and fourth grade primary school students - in 13 countries. Cuba ranked first.

- The Second Study (SERCE) was applied in 2006 in 16 countries plus the state of Nuevo León in Mexico, to third and sixth grade students on Mathematics, Reading and Writing, and Natural Sciences. Cuba ranked first.

- A Third Study (TERCE) was applied in 2013 in 15 countries plus the state of Nuevo León (Mexico). Cuba did not participate this time. In Cuba's absence, Chile ranked first.

Everyone knows about Finland's remarkable performance in PISA. Few people know that Cuba has been number one in
regional LLECE tests. It is important to reiterate that LLECE tests are applied to both public and private schools (Cuba is the only country in the region that has only public, state-run, schools).

Cuba's results in LLECE showed a huge difference with respect to the other participating countries (including Chile, for many years considered an 'education model' in the region, and the Latin American country that has so far achieved the best results in PISA).

LLECE countries were divided in four groups according to their results in the Second Study (SERCE):
  • Leading: Cuba.
  • Above regional average: Uruguay, the Mexican state of Nuevo León, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
  • Average: Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.
  • Below regional average: Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic. 
Cuba is also the country with the highest "school life expectancy" in the region (16.2 years), followed by Argentina (16.1) and Uruguay (15.5). While many countries in the region are still struggling with universalizing basic education, Cuba is trying to universalize higher education. 

Finland, on the other hand, ranked second, after Japan, in PISA for Adults (PIAAC, 16  to 65 year olds, applied in 23 OECD countries), thus showing an educated society, far beyond a schooled society. PIAAC measures literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology rich environments. See graph here. 

In conclusion: Finland and Cuba are 'successful' school systems according to the instruments and indicators applied by international organizations - OECD and UNESCO, in this case - to measure desirable social and educational achievements. 

And yet, while Finland is internationally known and viewed as an inspiring "education model", Cuba does not enjoy the same type of recognition -- regionally or internationally. Questionable international indicators? Lack of information? Prejudice? Double standards? Something to reflect upon.  

 Cuba y Finlandia

¿Qué tienen en común Cuba y Finlandia? 
Dos países muy diferentes, uno en el Caribe y el otro en Europa, con historias y culturas muy diferentes, sistemas politicos, sociales y educativos muy diferentes, pero ambos compartiendo un alto reconocimiento social por sus logros en el campo de la educación. 

Alto Indice de Desarrollo Humano (IDH) 

Finlandia ocupa el lugar 24 a nivel mundial. Cuba - junto con Chile y Argentina - está en el grupo de Alto Desarrollo Humano en América Latina, y en el lugar 44 a nivel mundial. (IDH 2014).

Mejor país para ser madre y criar un niño - región/mundo
▸ Cuba y Finlandia son los mejores países - en América Latina y el Caribe, y en el mundo, respectivamente - para ser madre y criar a un niño, según el Informe sobre el Estado Mundial de las Madres 2013 de Oxfam (Cuba ocupa el lugar 33 a nivel mundial).

Altos índices de suicidio
▸ Cuba y Finlandia tienen altos indices de suicidio. Junto con Uruguay, Cuba tiene el índice más alto de suicidio en América Latina y el Caribe. Finlandia tiene uno de los índices de suicidio más altos de Europa y del mundo. (Ver aquí la lista de la Organización Mundial de la Salud - OMS. Ver mi artículo Educación y suicidio).

Educación gratuita 
▸ En Cuba y en Finlandia la educación es pública y gratuita, incluyendo todos los costos relacionados con el estudio, desde la educación inicial hasta el fin de la educación superior.  

Alta inversión en educación 

▸ Cuba es, en el contexto latinoamericano, el país que más invierte en educación en relación al Producto Interno Bruto (PIB). Cuba invierte 16.3% de su PIB en educación, seguida de Bolivia, Honduras, Costa Rica y Argentina. (Fuente: CEPAL)

La equidad primero: buena educación para TODOS

▸ Cuba y Finlandia son sociedades igualitarias. La equidad es la preocupación principal. Nadie debe quedar afuera, nadie debe quedarse atrás. "Toda escuela, una buena escuela" es la consigna en Finlandia, y también en Cuba. 

"Aburrimiento" y dedicación al estudio y la lectura   

▸ No es raro escuchar/leer comentarios sobre Cuba y a Finlandia como países "aburridos"  - Finlandia por la inclemencia de su clima; Cuba por su sistema político y su precariedad en términos de consumo y entretenimiento - y mencionar éste como uno de los factores que explicaría la dedicación de la población a la educación, el estudio, la lectura. En el caso de Cuba, hemos visto este argumento ... en informes de académicos e investigadores estadounidenses.  

Mejor desempeño educativo  - región/mundo

▸ Cuba y Finlandia destacan en las pruebas internacionales de rendimiento escolar: Cuba en las pruebas aplicadas por el LLECE (Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación), co-ordinado por la oficina regional de la UNESCO en Santiago, y Finlandia en las pruebas PISA (Programa Internacional para la Evaluación de los Estudiantes, de la OCDE).

Finlandia es conocida por su ubicación destacada en las pruebas PISA, que evalúan competencias en lectura, matemáticas y ciencias entre jóvenes de 15 años de edad. Las pruebas vienen aplicándose cada tres años desde el año 2000.

Las pruebas del LLECE se han aplicado tres veces:

- El Primer Estudio (PERCE) se aplicó en 1997 - lenguaje y matemáticas, a estudiantes de tercero y cuarto grados de primaria - en 13 países.
Cuba se ubicó en primer lugar.

- El Segundo Estudio (SERCE) se aplicó en 2006 en 16 países y en el estado mexicano de Nuevo León, en tercero y sexto grados de primaria. Se evaluó lectura y escritura, matemáticas y ciencias naturales.
Cuba se ubicó en primer lugar.

- Un Tercer Estudio (TERCE) se aplicó en 2013 en 15 países y en el estado mexicano de Nuevo León. Sus primeros resultados se dieron a conocer en diciembre 2014. Cuba no participó esta vez.
En ausencia de Cuba, Chile ocupó el primer lugar.

Todos saben del éxito finlandés en PISA. Pocos saben que Cuba ha obtenido los mejores puntajes en las pruebas del LLECE (1997 y 2006). Es importante reiterar que estas pruebas se aplican tanto a escuelas públicas como privadas (Cuba es el único país en esta región que tiene solo sistema escolar público).

En ambas pruebas del LLECE, los resultados de Cuba mostraron una enorme diferencia con respecto a los demás países participantes (incluido Chile, por muchos años considerado 'modelo educativo' en la región y el país latinoamericano que ha obtenido los mejores resultados en PISA). Asimismo, los resultados de Cuba mostraron la diferencia más pequeña entre escuelas urbanas y rurales.

Los países participantes en las pruebas del LLECE fueron organizados en cuatro grupos, según sus resultados en el Segundo Estudio (SERCE):

  • Lugar destacado: Cuba.
  • Por encima del promedio regional: Uruguay, el estado mexicano de Nuevo León, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica y México.
  • Promedio regional: Brasil, Colombia y Perú.
  • Por debajo del promedio regional: Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay y República Dominicana.  
Cuba es también el país que tiene la mayor esperanza de vida escolar en esta región (16.2 años), seguido de Argentina (16.1) y Uruguay (15.5). Mientras otros países de la región aún se debaten con el acceso a la educación básica, Cuba está empeñada en la batalla por universalizar la educación superior.

Finlandia, por su parte, se ubicó en segundo lugar, después de Japón, en PISA para Adultos (PIAAC, 16 a 65 años, aplicada en 23 países de la OCDE, mide competencias en lectura, cálculo y resolución de problemas en contextos tecnológicos), haciendo evidente que estamos frente a una sociedad educada, no solo escolarizada. Ver aquí gráfico comparativo entre países. 

En definitiva: los sistemas escolares de Finlandia y Cuba son 'exitosos' según los parámetros, instrumentos e indicadores aplicados por las agencias internacionales  - OCDE y UNESCO, en este caso - para evaluar logros educativos.

No obstante, mientras que Finlandia goza de reconocimiento internacional y es, merecidamente, vista como 'modelo educativo' a nivel mundial, esto no sucede con Cuba, incluso en el ámbito regional. ¿Cuestionables indicadores internacionales? ¿Falta de información? ¿Prejuicio? ¿Dobles estándares? Un tema para reflexionar y debatir.  

Related posts in this blog | Textos relacionados en este blog
On education in Finland
| Sobre la educación en Finlandia
Finland's education compared
| La educación finlandesa comparada
La voluntad cubana (a propósito de voluntad política y educación)
América Latina y las pruebas del LLECE

Glosario mínimo sobre la educación en Finlandia
Escolarizado no es lo mismo que educado  
Indice de Desarrollo Humano: América Latina y el mundo

10 issues in Finnish education ▸ 10 problemas en la educación finlandesa

Photo Tiina Kokko / Yle

Ver en español, abajo

Most of what we read about education in Finland is good news. However, it is difficult to believe that the Finnish education model is problem-free. Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg - author of Finnish Lessons - shared on Twitter (May 2013) his views on the Top 10 issues Finland's education faces today. I translated them into Spanish (see below). 

Issues Finnish education if facing now (by Pasi Sahlberg) - 2013
What are the issues Finnish education system is facing now? I'll tweet my Top 10 within the next 2 weeks starting now. Reactions welcome.

Issue 1: Finns have lost inspiring vision that would spark system-wide renewal. Students and teachers say change is necessary now!

Issue 2: Finnish teachers fear that there'll be more central control & standardized testing in the future. Many would consider another job.

Issue 3: Finnish kids say they don’t like school. But they like education. Old model of school is dead. What would wake up Finns to change?

Issue 4: 3000 16-year-olds don’t continue education after basic school. Some never study again. Some find school irrelevant for life. Sad.

Issue 5: Finland has invested heavily in technology in schools during the last 2 decades. It remains underused in many schools. What next?

Issue 6: ‘School shopping’ is becoming common in cities. Neighborhood schools are no more places for community action -> segregation.

Issue 7: Public funding for schools is decreasing. Local governments are in trouble – small schools disappear, inequality increases.

Issue 8: Pundits and politicians rather than experts and practitioners dominate public discussion in Finland; opinions before expertise.

Issue 9: Finnish school system has no engine for innovation. PD is thought to be enough. School-driven innovation is haphazard and rare.

Issue 10: Teachers feel their authority to manage student behavior is decreasing. Jobs are at risk due to unclear lines of authority.

Casi todo lo que leemos sobre la educación en Finlandia son buenas nuevas. No obstante, resulta difícil creer que el modelo educativo finlandés esté exento de problemas. El experto finlandés Pasi Sahlberg - autor de Lecciones Finlandesas - compartió en su cuenta de Twitter (mayo 2013) 10 desafíos que, a su juicio, enfrenta hoy la educación en Finlandia. Los he traducido aquí al español.

10 problemas de la educación finlandesa, hoy (por Pasi Sahlberg) - 2013

1. Los finlandeses han perdido una visión inspiradora capaz de desatar una renovación de todo el sistema. Estudiantes y profesores dicen que el cambio es necesario ¡ahora!

2. Los profesores finlandeses temen que haya más control centralizado y pruebas estandarizadas en el futuro. Muchos considerarían cambiar de trabajo.

3. Niños y niñas finlandesas dicen que no les gusta la escuela. Pero les gusta la educación. El viejo modelo de escuela está muerto. ¿Qué moverá a los finlandeses a cambiar?

4. 3.000 adolescentes de 16 años no continúan su educación más allá de la educación básica. Algunos no vuelven a estudiar nunca más. Algunos encuentran que la escuela es irrelevante para la vida. Triste.

5. Finlandia ha invertido fuertemente en tecnología para las escuelas durante las dos últimas décadas. Esta permanece subutilizada en muchas escuelas. ¿Qué sigue?

6.  Las "compras escolares" se están volviendo comunes en las ciudades. Las escuelas del barrio ya no son lugares para la acción comunitaria -> segregación.

7. El financiamiento público para las escuelas está decreciendo. Los gobiernos locales están en problemas: las escuelas pequeñas desaparecen, la inequidad aumenta.

8. "Comentaristas" (pundits) y políticos, antes que expertos y practicantes, dominan la discusión pública en Finlandia. Opiniones más que conocimiento y pericia.

9. El sistema escolar finlandés carece de motor para la innovación. Se asume que tener un Ph.D. basta. La innovación basada en la escuela es más bien esporádica y rara.

10. Los profesores sienten que está disminuyendo su autoridad para manejar el comportamiento de los estudiantes. Su trabajo está en riesgo debido a líneas de autoridad poco claras.


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