Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Leaning PISA

Results from the recently concluded PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test show sobering results for US teenagers, lagging behind in Math, Science and Reading to their Asian counterparts in aggregate (although certain states such as MA and CT are on par or above). Although these are important metrics, there are more fundamental questions for education systems worldwide.

Is education about getting high scores in Math, Science and Reading? What’s the correlation of such high scores to eventual success – perhaps defined as the contribution to society – in the advancement of knowledge and humanity? What Math, Science and Reading are being tested – are they from last two centuries or something newer? How do such high scores correlate with the GDP growth of the countries associated with the star test-takers? What do the students who capture such superior scores eventually do with their lives?

What is education for? Is education about taking and performing in tests? Does education improve intelligence or does intelligence portends education? What has been the educational background of people who changed the world? Were they good test takers or something else? What are contemporary tests really testing – is it the ability to take tests, acquired knowledge or intelligence? How does culture affect measurement by tests? Do tests motivate students to learn? How does one learn? Is it from books and classes?

Educations systems, world-over, have gotten it completely wrong. In the East, they cram information into the brains of kids, essentially destroying any innate creative capabilities. In the West, they de-prioritize fundamental knowledge, creating students with stars in their eyes but with no hard skills to back it up. And PISA shows up – testing, ranking and reporting as if it means something. It doesn’t.

The only metric of a good education system is the end result. Does it produce individuals and teams who advance humanity? If not, it does not mean anything.