England declined to take part in an international test looking at pupils' understanding of world issues partly because of a fear it would score poorly, Andreas Schleicher has suggested.
Mr Schleicher, head of education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which runs the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), also said that the failure of education systems to teach "global competence" may have played a part in the Brexit vote and other worldwide political divisions.
This year Pisa will assess "global competence", which it defines as "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 different cultures, and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development".
However, a number of Western countries, including England, the USA and the Netherlands have decided not to participate in the test. In the UK, Scotland has opted to take part.
'Compared against reality'
Appearing at the Education World Forum in London today, Mr Schleicher was asked whether he was disappointed that these countries had declined to be involved.
"Virtually all countries at least in the OECD, somehow recognise the value of those skills," he replied. "Are they ready to be compared against the reality? I think that’s where you find many countries still hesitant. And that’s where the crunch came. Countries saw the [assessment] instruments, countries actually saw ‘well actually global competency means a lot’."
He continued: "I think and fear a number of countries said, 'well we’re maybe not ready for it'.
"I take a different view of it. I think the only way to get serious, the only way to get started with this is to look at the truth. There’s nothing that we gain by not looking at those kinds of outcomes."
Fifty-eight countries have so far agreed to participate in a survey of students' attitudes. However, when it comes to assessing the "skills" of students on global competence, to date only 28 have opted to be involved.
"You can really see where the hesitation comes in," Mr Schleicher said. "People are quite willing to look at the attitudes and opinions of young people, but when it comes to getting the hard data about the knowledge and skills of students, that’s where the hesitation comes in."
Mr Schleicher also said some Western countries were reluctant to participate because they thought the test would look at "values".
"Global competency has things to do with behaviour. Are you taking action, are you able to mobilise your cognitive, social and emotional resources to do something?
"That’s where countries have very different worldviews. You take particularly the East Asian countries, they have no issues with this. For them, values have always been at the centre of the instructional system...Character is seen as values in action in Singapore and in China and in Japan.
"In the Western world you’ve often seen values as, 'well schools should not meddle with this, it’s the business of parents and families'."
However, he said that it was no longer possible only to "measure the success of education systems these days on the basis of mathematics, science and reading skills”, and that the highest performing countries, such as Canada, were those which are "most open and responding to the diversity of their student population".
Mr Schleicher also suggested that the failure of education systems to teach global competence may have contributed to the Brexit vote and the polarised politics in other countries.
"What globalisation does to economies is polarise the impact that skills have on job quality," he said.
"Global competence is your best insurance to see that all people benefit from an interconnected, integrated world. We no longer have a world polarised between the political right and political left but between those who can take advantage of an integrated world and those who are threatened by this.
“I think things like the Brexit vote or the polarisation in societies are the perfect illustration that we’re lacking those kinds of dimensions in the instructional system.”