Well, the question of whether the leaning tower of Pisa leans more to the left or right very much depends, of course, on which side of it you are standing. At the same time, if you happen yourself to be leaning either left or right, then it appears to be perfectly upright and proper.
What’s that you say? Oh. Not that sort of Pisa?
(At this point All Change Please! does a quick double-take in the hope that no-one will notice its mistake and think it as stupid as a child from, say, Peru – the country that came at the bottom of the table and was consequently relegated from existence – a position that doubtless England will occupy in three years time after the 2016 PISA World Cup?)
Ah, you mean the PISA that’s been widely reported in the media over the past week in which the right-leaning Gove blamed the left-leaning Labour for the poor results and they then both blamed schools, teachers and pupils in such a way that it didn’t really make a jot of difference to anybody, anywhere? Yes, well, All Change Please! was just coming to that sort of PISA.
The question about these PISA tests that no-one seems to be bothering to ask, let alone answer, is what exactly is it about them that English children find so difficult? Looking at these examples of test questions:
they actually appear to be quite easy-PISA? And while All Change Please! doesn’t know the answer to the problem of why England does so badly, it just might have a theory…
Which is that at secondary level, a teacher is usually appointed to a school because of their subject expertise and academic ability (acquired at University), and they are then labelled, for example, as a History Teacher. They will be largely judged on the success of their pupils obtaining History GCSE and A level results and the number who then go on to University to study History or a related subject. So they then stand in front of their Year 7 (and upwards) class and think that, as the chances are that one or two of their future high-flyers might be sitting in front of them, they had better start preparing them now, just in case. And as a result they approach their lessons through the delivery of a deep, conceptual academic / theoretical understanding as if all the pupils were going to end up become life-long historians. And it’s the same for English and Maths. Instead of concentrating on reinforcing basic literacy and numeracy first, children are being prepared to be (failed) creative writers, literary critics and mathematical geniuses.
So perhaps the problem is that the PISA questions all come with a friendly photo and are placed in a recognisable everyday practical problem-solving context, something our children are ill-prepared for. But ask them instead to:
‘…generate theoretical sample spaces for single and combined events with equally likely, mutually exclusive outcomes; use these to calculate theoretical probabilities; and know that the probabilities of an exhaustive set of mutually exclusive outcomes sum to one.’ (New National Curriculum KS3)
and presumably they’d be well away?
Of course there are other theories too, such as the fact that our exam-fixated students doubtless ask if the PISA test will count towards their GCSE grade, and on learning that it won’t, then treat it with the utter contempt such a waste of their time deserves. Or perhaps they have read PISA-topping Singapore’s Minister of Education, Heng Swee Keat, recent speech in which he sets out the need for a new push towards ‘a more multi-dimensional education that goes beyond academics.’ before going on to say:
‘…time spent doing more drill-and-test means less time for play and rest, for exploring new ideas, for developing social skills. A balance is necessary, but there is no magic formula as to what the right balance is because every child is different.’
and then announcing that he is looking for ways to transform learning so that students are independent thinkers and resourceful learners with a can-do attitude, and ‘to make learning a more joyful journey‘!
Which all sounds exactly like the sort of namby-pamby nonsense the UK Government and the media will do its best to undermine in order to ensure that the exclusive all-inclusive English education system will continue to support the natural right of the social elite to dominate the higher levels of educational attainment.
And then there is of course another point of view entirely:
Which at least manages to see the situation from an alternative perspective, as opposed to the unquestioned assumption that improving our performance in PISA tests is the best way forward for our education system: OECD education report: UK needs new ‘gold standard’ to compete with world’s best
And with that in mind, it remains to be seen whether in three years time Gove will come to be acclaimed as the rightful PISA delivery man…
With thanks to Rob B.