Once again the countries of Asia occupy the first place in the ranking of the International Student Assessment Program (Pisa) – and Singapore, a slightly larger city-state than the Vatican and Monaco where the majority of the population is Origin, is the undisputed leader.
The coordinated test by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was applied last year in more than 500 thousand young people aged 15 to 16 years in 70 countries and territories, including Brazil.
The Pisa measured the performance in Science, Reading and Mathematics. Top ten places were Singapore, Japan, Estonia, Taiwan, Finland, Macau, Canada, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China.
The assessment takes place every three years and provides a basic profile of students’ knowledge and skills, gathers information on demographic and social variables in each country, and provides indicators of monitoring of education systems over the years.
Despite some improvement in science and math in places like Peru and Colombia, Latin American countries continue to perform far behind the leading nations.
The best position among Latin Americans was for the city of Buenos Aires – a 38th place in science. The worst was the Dominican Republic, 70th – and last – place in Science and Mathematics.
The OECD explained that Pisa did not bring a general result for Argentina because the small number of colleges participating in the evaluation in the country did not allow consistent statistical results to be obtained.
Andreas Schleicher, director of education at the OECD and coordinator of the Pisa tests, told BBC Mundo, a Spanish service of the BBC, five changes that Brazil and Latin America in general must do to improve their education.
1) Address inequality
Much can be improved in Brazilian and Latin American education.
But Schleicher points to an “elephant in the room”, a serious and dominant problem spoken by few.
“This problem is inequality. And to tell you the truth, inequality in Latin America is mostly planned,” Schleicher said.
“Basically, if you come from a resourceful family, you’re going to attend a college that may be private, graduate, and then the government will give you lots of money when you get one of the few places in public universities.
“But if you come from a poor family, you will end up in a school with less trained teachers, you will hardly have the opportunity to achieve higher education or you will end up in a private institution of little prestige, paying out of pocket for a mediocre diploma.”
Schleicher observes that “very few countries in Latin America have the courage to face these inequalities”.
“I am impressed by what Peru is doing: putting public and private schools on the same plane, so that private schools can not receive public money, they have to choose. courageous.”
The OECD leader highlighted the case of countries adopting strict policies – such as those that send good teachers to disadvantaged colleges.
“I’ll give you an example. In China, if you’re a deputy director of a very good college and you want to become a principal, you’ll first have to prove yourself in a troubled college.”
In Vietnam, which was ranked 8th in Pisa, we also want to ensure that children who need more opportunities have access to quality education.
“It does not exist in Latin America,” Schleicher said.
But he cites a positive example that comes from the Brazilian state of Ceará.
“If a school is at the top of the state ranking, it gets more money, but the amount can not be spent at that school: it should use it to help another school that has poor results.”
“That way the good school gets more money, prestige, more staff and programs, but that knowledge goes to the schools that really need it. I think it’s a very smart way to look at inequality.”
2) Make the career of teacher more attractive
And it’s not just about paying better wages, Schleicher said.
“Some Latin American countries pay teachers very well. I am referring to making the profession of teacher much more attractive intellectually,” he explained.
“This means offering more opportunities for teachers to collaborate, to invest more in professionalization.”
For Shleicher, these elements are lacking in the region.
“In Latin America, every teacher is treated in the same way, and governments think they know what teachers should do.”
“In most Latin American countries, the profession is very static. It’s a kind of industrial work, like a factory.”
In this sense, he says, Brazil and its neighbors could learn a lot from countries like Singapore, Vietnam or China.
“In Singapore, for example, something very simple is done. Some lessons are recorded on video, and every week teachers come together, watch videos, talk, analyze and go by themselves, setting the best practice.”
“It does not waste a lot of time or money, but it has a profound impact: teachers are the owners of their profession, and almost every school has a professional community that collaborates and learns.”
Singapore also mandates that each teacher spend one hundred hours on professional development activities or courses per year.
“Lately I have seen that most teachers have master’s degrees. But it is not just about learning at university,” said the OECD representative.
“In my opinion, the best training for them happens in their own schools, observing good practices, learning from the best teachers, and I think that’s what’s lacking in Latin America.”
3) Teaching how to think like a scientist
“I believe that a major challenge for Latin America is to move away from a content-centric system, that is, prioritize that students learn to think like a scientist, a mathematician, a philosopher, or a historian,” Schleicher said.
“It’s important that students really understand the essence of their discipline and fall in love with it.”
“If they are bombarded with content, they will have learned the knowledge. But in Latin America I see great deficiencies in students’ ability to participate, to become enthusiastic about what they learn.”
In East Asia, traditional teaching methods are also used, but focused on understanding concepts.
Are you able to plan an experiment? Can you develop your own hypothesis and then do an experiment to prove it? Can you tell a fact from a hypothesis?
All this can be summed up, according to Schleicher, in thinking like a scientist.
Content teaching simply means learning how many legs a spider has or the chemical formula of water.
4) Teaching few things but in depth
The best performing education systems focus on three things, says Shleicher.
First, they demand rigor – that is, the level of demand of the students is very high.
Second, they focus on learning few things, but “very, very well”.
And third is an element that Schleicher calls coherence or progression in learning.
“In Latin America, textbooks are bigger than in Japan, where the important thing is to teach little and in depth,” he said.
“Generally, what we see in Latin America is that students do not learn something in the fourth year of elementary school and it will reappear in a different way in the fifth and sixth years.”
“Coherence means that you first learn something very well, you understand yourself and then you move on to the next step.”
5) Improving pre-school education
According to the specialist, there is a direct link between pre-school education and the students’ subsequent performance.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress in Latin America in education for children over three,” Schleicher said.
“But I believe that the challenge is the quality of the learning environment again. Access to pre-school education in Latin America has advanced, but quality must improve.”
“There must be a strong education component, not just traditional learning, but social, emotional skills. You should always ensure that those who educate these children are qualified.”
Schleicher also spoke about another serious problem in secondary education in Brazil and neighborhood: school dropout or dropout.
“The first thing that should be asked of the countries in the region is why students are not completing their education, and the big problem is relevance,” he said.
“Many young people do not see that learning will help them in life. This problem must be faced, you can not keep the students in school as if it were a prison.”
“If you owned a supermarket and saw that out of 100 customers coming in, about 30 go away every day without buying anything, you would ask yourself: Why do not people want to stay in my supermarket?”
“We do not usually ask that question when it comes to teaching. We believe the answer is to make a compulsory school,” Schleicher said.
“The answer lies in ensuring that schools really help students have a better job, a better life.”