As the representatives of European school students, we have been advocating for high quality education for all for over 40 years. We strongly believe that accessible, inclusive and democratic school environments and classrooms are key to empower all learners.
The PISA study by the OECD, published two days ago, also claims to provide the evidence and policy proposals for quality education. We call for caution with following these judgements, as they rely on a narrow quantitative assessment of few indicators which can by no means provide a holistic picture of quality education. Such a distorted understanding of national education systems shall not be used to implement policy changes, as it has repeatedly been done in the past.
We want to highlight that the PISA study with its focus on only literacy, mathematics and science, leaves out many factors which are essential for understanding education quality. Mental well-being of school students, for example, is left out despite the central importance of good physical and mental health support for school students educational performance. Furthermore, the social climate of schools is not taken into consideration. Particularly in times of increasing xenophobia this should be of high interest of anyone who claims to understand school students situations.
We have repeatedly pointed out that school students situations can never be fully understood without an active dialogue with school students and their representatives at all levels. An active participation of school students is crucial and has shown to benefit not just the understanding of their situation but school climates and their well-being overall.
PISA has led to a negative atmosphere of competition between students, teachers, schools and national education systems. What is needed, however, is more cooperation and sharing of best-practices. The test results have supported investments in the areas assessed, which has contributed to the underfunding of alternative subject areas that are equally important to school students development. PISA furthermore supports teaching to the test, instead of learner-centered and process-oriented education which school students have long demanded.
This year’s recommendations in particular drastically overemphasize the importance of natural science skills for the labour market. We have seen a growing emphasis on STEM subjects for years, while alternative social science and arts oriented subjects have become to be seen as irrelevant for labour markets. This approach focuses solely on providing young people with labour market relevant skills, which seems to left aside all other aspects of life that young people need to be prepared for. We call for a holistic education which focuses on educating the whole learner and addressing all their needs. The goal should be to provide positive environments where learners can develop as active democratic citizens, rather than just future workers.
It is key to recognize school students expertise in education. The 2015 PISA report does not mention school students as stakeholders in schools at all, which we find highly problematic. A dialogue with all stakeholders is key to provide holistic evaluations of education systems and school students need to be an active, equal part of that.
We demand a re-focus on qualitative over quantitative evaluation based on such dialogue and participation. Instead of test-oriented narrow curricula, we need to ensure that the focus is on learners diverse needs and interests. That is the only way of ensuring quality education for all!
The OBESSU Board
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