By Sriram Balasubramanian| May 3, 2013
PISA’s initiative for developing economies plans to include children who don’t go to schools, and focus on lower performers, board member Dana Kelly tells Forbes India
Dana Kelly Springer
Designation: US representative on PISA governing board and co-national project manager for USA
Education: PhD in Educational Measurement, Boston College
Career: US Department of Education
Interests: Education, international Development
Q. The last PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report had placed India among the last countries in mathematics and English literacy. Does it surprise you?
Since India has not participated in international comparative assessments before, we were not sure what to expect. However, I need to point out one thing: These results are just for two specific states in India, it is not an extrapolation for the rest of India. We hope the entire country is, someday, able to participate [in the assessment]. Certainly, beginning with two states provided a good opportunity for India to learn about PISA and international comparative assessment and how it compares with other nations on key education indicators.
Q. Is less application-oriented mathematics in schools the major reason for this result?
The lack of application-oriented mathematics in schools could be one of the reasons behind the low scores. In addition, students might not have been prepared to address the challenges posted by PISA assessments.
Q. Is the methodology for PISA catered towards application-oriented mathematics? Isn’t that a disadvantage to countries who believe in rote learning?
PISA assesses students’ ability to apply their knowledge to real-world problems and tasks that are indicative of what students nearing the end of secondary school should be able to do. For someone to excel on the PISA assessments, they have to have content knowledge as well. In other words, acquired knowledge is used.
Q. What is the reason behind this paradox: A nation that is perceived to be good in mathematics is statistically way behind?
PISA helps to identify variation in performance and the resources available over a period of time in a particular country. In developing economies such as India, the lack of investment in facilities and educational resources could be a reason for the low performance. There are likely other factors as well. It’s difficult with a study like PISA, which is cross-sectional in nature, to talk about what causes low performance (or high performance); we can identify patterns and trends and see relationships between, say, resources and performance, but it’s not possible to say definitely that x causes y.
Q. What are the key developments in PISA in the short and medium term?
There are a couple of significant developments. PISA assessments will be converted from paper-based to computer-based by 2015. The countries who do not wish to administer the computer-based assessment can still administer the paper-based one. In addition, the PISA for Development initiative for developing economies is in the pilot phase and the plan is to include children who are not going to schools as part of the assessment, and have a greater focus on lower performers by expanding the PISA instruments.
Q. What are some of the collaborations that you plan to have in India to help boost its math and literary levels?
Overall, the US Department of Education is firmly committed to engaging with other countries and international partners to improve global competencies and learn from other countries. In 2012, the Department of Education released its first ever fully articulated international strategy that sets the department’s goals and objectives in this arena. With respect to India specifically, the Department of Education has a long history of dialogue around improving education. The 2011 US-India Higher Education Summit, held here in Washington, DC, is one example of how the United States and India are working together. And, of course, the US Department of State works closely with the Indian government on education issues.
Q. How does PISA and OECD planning to assist students in emerging economies such as India?
The PISA for Development initiative is a good example of something that PISA and the OECD are working on towards this end.