Camilla Addey interviews Andreas Schleicher on PISA and the OECD, in December 2015
In December 2015, I had the opportunity to interview Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, on PISA, PISA for Development and the OECD, as part of the ‘PISA for Development for Policy’ research project. This is an extract from the interview, in which Andreas talks about PISA being the global education community’s Esperanto, and the OECD’s effort to remain relevant in a world where global economic gravity has shifted.
Camila Addey: Fifteen years after the first PISA data release, how would you describe the aims PISA and PISA for Development?
Andreas Schleicher: The main purpose is to allow countries to engage with global best expertise. It isn’t really about the scores; the scores would be a by-product of this. But the idea really is to connect the expertise in countries with the best expertise which is around anywhere in the world, and that has been the motivation for countries to join. And that is the vehicle for integrating countries in the global education community.
Camilla Addey: How is PISA changing the OECD?
Andreas Schleicher: The OECD has become something that when the countries think of assessment, they think towards us. This is an organization that provides an impartial view on the cumulative yield of what we have done in policy and practice. […] I think that the OECD membership is somewhat of a historical relic, the OECD has really become a global organization. It shares its global expertise with whoever wants to be part of it. It is nothing to do with your wealth or regional location. So basically it is a global network of expertise. It has changed for the OECD, but for PISA, it has been like this since the beginning. PISA has for a long time had more non-OECD countries than OECD countries. […]
In terms of how the OECD evolves, it’s actually very interesting. There are three things that are happening. One is the whole of government approach. We basically see the immigration issues clearly underline this, it is not just an education issue, not just a social issue, not just a government issue. You have to think across government. Second, we have to think about the whole of society. Basically when you think of what should children learn, who do we ask? It’s not the scientist in universities, or the policy makers, actually we need to think of employers, what does society, the building of society, … And that is new for us, we do not have it, we are a governmental organization, building those bridges and links, it puts a lot of pressure and tensions. I think it is very important. Global. Global really means opening up and PISA for Development is just an illustration. I think this other challenge, the alternative is totally irrelevant, if the OECD remains a club of few countries, the reality is that these countries are shrinking in their impact on the world and other countries are rising. I think if the OECD wants to remain global, it has to.
Camilla Addey: How does PISA represent all participating countries?
Andreas Schleicher: We encounter difficulties at every step. There are all the mechanical, methodological difficulties. They will always be there simply because we learn how to do things better. You compare PISA with TIMSS: TIMSS has largely replicated a test every four years. We have changed our methodologies, when the world is changing, we are changing our methodologies. People are criticizing us for it, they say ‘Oh, you are no longer measuring trends, you changed the measure’ but we have done this consciously. Well, what matters today in the world to be successful? Literacy in the year 2015 is something very different from what it was in the year 2000. Being open methodologically, that always creates controversy, always discussion. The issue of cultural appropriateness, you can go the minimum common denominator route, some people do that, I’ll take out anything, if someone does not like something. We had complaints for showing a woman doing sports, if you do that you become very stale. If you go the PISA route, we do not limit ourselves by the lowest common denominator of national curricula, we want to look at what countries jointly aspire to. At the same time, I really see that, in the next round we have 80 countries, bringing 80 countries together is a very powerful resource. What you can see in a room with these people is that they can’t resolve many things nationally because in a national discussion everything gets stuck, all these stakeholders’ vested interests. You put them in a big room together and we can reach really fundamental decisions.
Camilla Addey: How does PISA respond to a fast changing world?
Andreas Schleicher: Now we are starting the next generation of the PISA thinking, we call it Education 2030, and we are not starting where are our different curricula and assessment, we did not start PISA like this. We start ‘In the year 2030, what is it that people need to be able to do?’ And then think about ‘How can we measure this? Are we ready for this?’ Probably not. But we want to set the bar where the world needs education, not what the current schools are delivering.
Camilla Addey: Why compare contexts with such different educational challenges?
Andreas Schleicher:I remember when Brazil joined PISA in 2000, many people said ‘We are a poor country, so why do you want to measure us against …?’ But we live in a global economy, and that is also a new dimension now, the idea of globalization has arrived at the door steps of anyone. You go to a market in Mexico and you can find products from China. Suddenly workers in Mexico compete with workers in China, so naturally it makes sense to compare the skills of people. That is the reality and that is the approach of the OECD.
Camilla Addey: What is the Organization’s ethical responsibility in identifying best policies and practices? How would an ethical approach identify best performing countries?
Andreas Schleicher: It is a very important question and the answer is, unambiguously yes. The media may come across very simplistically; but the answers are typically quite complex. Think about Shanghai for example, those kids come out really well on mathematics, the kids don’t come out at all well when it comes to self-confidence, sense of belonging, socio and emotional dimensions. People don’t look at that. We at the OECD, we look at that really carefully. And the policy makers in Shanghai look at this really carefully. I think it’s the responsibility of an organization like the OECD to make sure the world is seen through this multidimensional perspective. Well-being is a multi-dimensional concept.
Camilla Addey: What is your story of PISA?
Andreas Schleicher: When I joined this Organization, I remember my first meeting of OECD education ministers. I don’t remember how many ministers were sitting in that meeting, but it was about 22, 23 ministers, and they were all saying ‘I’ve got the best education system in the world, and if I have a little problem left, last year I put a reform in place to solve that problem’. There was little dialogue and willingness to engage with other people’s ideas, other peoples’ cultures. Education was seen as a field of domestic policy and people were proud of this. I wanted to find a common language that would help countries learn from each other. The testing was just the instrument, but the idea was ‘Let’s find the language through which we can share our experience across cultural, and linguistic, and other boundaries. And it’s really worked like this. What I am most proud of is that now, when ministers meet or educators meet, or when scientists meet, they may not agree but they listen to each other. And they learn from each other. What has happened after PISA, hundreds of people have gone to Finland, to Shanghai, to Canada, and that is exactly what we have needed: to have a global community that thinks towards a solution. In other fields, I started my career in medical studies, you take it for granted. If you do something fantastic, everyone is going to know about it tomorrow. There is a professional autonomy and a collaborative culture, what we do in education and we do it in every level, teachers work in isolation in the classroom, they do not know what the other teachers are doing, schools work in isolation, the education systems have isolated themselves, by saying ‘We are different from everyone and saying we cannot be compared’. And that has really changed, that is the story of PISA. PISA has broken that idea, that there is nothing that we can learn from each other.
Camilla Addey: How has PISA changed your life?
Andreas Schleicher: I can’t really say. I am in a very privileged position: I have been in a classroom in 60 countries. I have learnt every day. I learn about new ideas and new perspectives and I have really experienced we can be so much stronger if we just have an open mind. Another strength of PISA is it has not gone in with a model, this is the way education should be, it’s said ‘OK, let’s just find out’. I learned a lot, I met a lot of people, built communities, that has always been important to me. I would never had dreamt it would affect people at so many levels. I mean even those people who criticize it, at least they can see that this is something that can open up new perspectives. It also takes away excuses. What always bothers me is that people find so many excuses why there is no progress in education. But you can take them away, you can say ‘Well you have difficulties with children with an immigrant background and when you look there, they have the same kids from the same countries, and those kids do a lot better. So let’s look harder to address this’. I think that was the idea and it is really working out. The instruments, one of the biggest dangers in a process like this, is to not be open to change. And we have to have an open mind, maybe the instrument of PISA will look very different in the future. We need build closer connections with classrooms. The one area where PISA has not delivered fully on its promise is actually to help teachers, change classroom practice. The information that comes out is more structural, policy-oriented. On the practice part I think we have to do a lot better.
Camilla Addey: We are seeing increasing inequalities and poor integration, areas in which education plays an important role. What is PISA’s role?
Andreas Schleicher: That is a fundamental problem in education. People who run education are typically people who the system has served well. And the people who are rejecting it are often people who the system has not served well. What it shows I think is, almost anything in inequality and opportunities, shows us that we need to work harder. What I did on the day of the attacks (Paris 13/11/2015) or the week after, I published a report on the social integration of immigrant students, and who comes out at the bottom is France, by a large margin. These are the things we can do actually. This is not about getting a degree, this is about students feel that school is a place where they belong. And we happen to measure it. And it is clear that this country is not serving that mandate. And I think creating awareness for that, providing answers, who is doing better than that. I put out a simple table, on that Monday after the attacks, we had a meeting of the education policy committee here. And I showed them a simple table. I’ll take immigrant students from Arabic-speaking countries, yes, they are a problem in many countries, doing a lot less well than others are. You put them in Finland and they are going to come out so much better than the same students are doing in France or the Netherlands. I think that shows people that we can do, there is a challenge, let’s acknowledge this but let’s look towards the solutions. My sense is that we can do a lot lot better in education. And public policy in education lacks leadership. The political economy in education is always tough. It’s very hard to change anything. And I think it is those of comparisons that can create a climate, of openness and willingness to change.
Dr Camilla Addey is a researcher in International Large-Scale Assessments and global education policy based at Humboldt University in Berlin. This interview was carried out as part of Dr Addey’s research project ‘PISA for Development for Policy’ supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. To contact Camilla Addey, please email Camilla.firstname.lastname@example.org
To reference this blog:
Addey, C. 2016. ‘’Camilla Addey interviews Andreas Schleicher on PISA and PISA for Development.’’ Laboratory of International Assessment Studies – blog page. http://international-assessments.org
A paper analysing this interview will be published in Critical Studies in Education.