'Ignore Pisa entirely,' argues top academic

International league tables are 'like a student beer-drinking contest', argues top US-based academic

Emma Seith

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Countries should “ignore” the world’s most influential education rankings because they fail to measure what matters, an expert on the impact of globalisation on education has claimed.

The idea of nations competing to reach the top of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) league tables makes as much sense as university students competing to see who can drink the most beer, according to Professor Yong Zhao, from the University of Oregon in the US.

He told TES: “You’re maybe the best drinker but you’ve got to think, ‘Is it good for you and does it matter?’”

According to Professor Zhao, Pisa – which provides a snapshot comparison of how well 15-year-olds in different countries perform in reading, maths and science – homogenises education systems.

'We need creativity, not uniformity'

While Asian countries tend to do well according to these measures, he insisted that a homogeneous workforce was not what was required for a successful future.

Instead, he said, countries needed “creative, entrepreneurial talents, able to create value for others”.

“We should ignore Pisa entirely,” Professor Zhao said. “I don’t think it is of any value. If you look at the so-called high-scoring areas, like Shanghai and all the East Asian countries, they are trying to get away from what has made them high on Pisa [rankings].”

The academic, who was educated in China, said that the country’s education system was an effective machine that could instil what the government wanted students to learn, but it did not nurture creativity. The result is that China has a population with similar skills on a narrow spectrum, he claimed.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which runs Pisa, declined to comment. 

This is an edited article from the 12 August edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android and iOs. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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