World Education Community Embraces Global Competence for Students Through PISA

Just when we are wringing our hands about the state of our nation’s leadership in the world, I found a reason to be hopeful.

Countries that are often at odds are actually collaborating on how to promote global understanding and knowledge of our children – our future leaders.

This collaboration will become public worldwide when PISA – the preeminent international testing organization – finds out the level of global competence of students.

PISA stands for Programme for International Student Assessment, and is an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group first created to oversee the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of the European continent after WWII. Because of its success, the organization was made permanent with Canada and the United States among the first formal members in 1961.

When people talk about how countries compare on how well educated their children are, they’re using the results of the PISA assessments.

PISA tests are given to a cross section of 15-year-old students every three years. In 2015, students were tested in science, math, reading, collaborative problem solving and financial literacy. More than half a million students from 72 countries were assessed in the most recent round.

The plan to test global knowledge has been in the works for a while. In 2015, 193 United Nations member countries committed to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals. “Quality Education” is number 4. This prompted the PISA to devise a way to test students’ global competence as a benchmark to guide the work on how to increase their knowledge and skills.

Sounds good, but what is global competence?

PISA uses this definition:

…the capacity to examine local, global and intercultural issues, to understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from difference cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.

It would be interesting to test our elected leaders on their global competence based on this definition. Perhaps it should be a prerequisite to making decisions on behalf of the citizens of any country.

Global competence is more than just knowing a bunch of facts about countries. It takes a mindset that recognizes one’s environment is larger than the limits of our own hometown and that the decisions we make here can have long-lasting impact everywhere.

This PISA assessment will enter a somewhat new frontier, recognizing that just like there are basic concepts to learn in order to analyze complex mathematical problems, there are skills and knowledge necessary to consider and resolve complicated global situations.

PISA will include a cognitive section that will focus “the combination of background knowledge and cognitive skills required to solve problems related to global and intercultural issues.”

There are four cognitive processes that the test will measure in students:

  1. The capacity to evaluate information, formulate arguments and explain complex situations and problems,
  2. The capacity to identify and analyze multiple perspectives and world views,
  3. The capacity to understand differences in communication, and
  4. The capacity to evaluate actions and consequences.

The goal of the new assessment is, of course, to impact schools, so teachers and principals will be tested too. They will be surveyed about their practices regarding global issues and cultural understanding.

The test will also ask students to report on their experiences and attitudes, to find out how students differ across the globe in what they know and what they think about the world.

This alliance of world leaders working with PISA recognizes that our future depends on our children. What they learn now in school will make the difference in how they interact with people different from them.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills calls the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals a “shared vision of humanity.” He says education is key to meeting those goals:

“The extent to which that vision becomes a reality will depend on today’s classrooms; and it is educators who hold the key to ensuring that the (goals) become a real social contract with citizens. Goal 4, which commits to quality education for all, is intentionally not limited to foundation knowledge and skills such as literacy, mathematics and science, but places strong emphasis on learning to live together sustainably. But such goals are only meaningful if they become visible.”

Here’s hoping that the PISA assessment and the work it supports will make global competence a uniformly accepted, critical element of our education system. Our future depends on it.

To find out more:

Preparing Our Youth for an Inclusive and Sustainable World: The OECD Global Competence Framework

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations


About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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3 Responses to World Education Community Embraces Global Competence for Students Through PISA

  1. Debbie, I suggest you Google “PISA Criticism” and get prepared for the rest of the story. Also, this isn’t the only international test out there: TIMSS, PIRLS are also there.

    But, PISA has some interesting critics and I am not sure this is the right group to engage in what could amount to a lot of dubious psychological analysis of kids and teachers. You might want to think about this some more keeping a real eye out for unintended consequences.

  2. PISA is pretty widely used for comparison, and I think any discussion on global competence is important for our future. Certainly, all the findings and recommended actions can be studied with open minds.

  3. Thank you for promoting the awareness of the PISA organisation. In our growing global world, the effort to start to establish a certain standard of comparison is important and constructive. As any other big scale project, improvement and change will be required. But we need to start somewhere. I’m curious to hear your opinion about the following post. I find it relevant.

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