Failed and not doing homework

December 06 2023
Jaime Garcia

Our 15-year-old students rank among the bottom of 81 countries tested in math, reading and science according to the PISA tests. The result is not surprising, neither governments nor society have done their homework to improve the opportunities of young people in the region.

The importance of measuring and comparing

The PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) educational tests are a series of international assessments carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These tests are given every three years and are designed to measure the proficiency of 15-year-old students in three key areas: reading, mathematics and science. The main objective of PISA is to assess the extent to which students near the end of their compulsory education have acquired some of the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society. A country's PISA test results can say a lot about the quality of its education and its ability to prepare students for the challenges of the XNUMXst century.

High PISA scores are typically associated with efficient and effective education systems, while low scores may indicate problems in education or areas that require attention and improvement. In this measurement, the data show that compared to 2018, the performance of the average of OECD countries had a decrease of 10 points in reading and 15 in mathematics. This poor performance has to do with a series of structural factors in educational systems, but also due to the prolonged closures of schools due to the COVID-19 health emergency, according to the agency.

A region in the lower half of the table

In the region, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama were evaluated; The results are worrying. In mathematics, Costa Rica ranks 63rd, Panama 74th, Guatemala 77th and El Salvador 78th out of 81 countries. In reading there was a better score, no country is in the last 5 places; Even so, Costa Rica, the best positioned in the region, is in 50th place, Panama in 59th, Guatemala in 66th and El Salvador in 70th place. In science, Costa Rica remains in 55th place, Panama in 65th, El Salvador in 72, and Guatemala in 73.

Figure 1.- Mathematics scores for selected countries, their final position in parentheses.

Source: PISA 2022.

The lag with respect to the leading country in the 3 areas evaluated, Singapore, is 10 years. And comparing with the OECD, Costa Rica is 4 years behind; while Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador are 6 years behind the OECD. To address this gap, it is necessary not only to invest resources, since OECD countries on average invest 102 thousand dollars per student, 3 times more than the Latin American average. Although of course money is not everything, Panama spends 60 thousand dollars per student and has the same results in Mathematics as El Salvador, which barely invests 15 thousand dollars per student. In contrast, Vietnam has a similar performance to Norway but with an investment amount almost 10 times less.

It is not “only” knowing how to read and add

But it's not just about passing the tests, there are a whole series of impacts beyond what is asked. At age 15, students are in a critical stage of cognitive and emotional development. Quality education at this age can ensure that they acquire fundamental skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and digital competence, essential for the modern world. If we want a competitive region, we need young people capable of understanding the challenges and opportunities of today's world. Thus, the education of young people has a direct effect on economic development.

A well-educated workforce is better able to adapt to changing economies and contribute significantly to the region's economic growth. In that sense, education is a powerful tool to reduce poverty and inequality. It provides young people with the skills and knowledge necessary to improve their living conditions and access better opportunities. But education also generates other non-monetary benefits such as promoting stable and healthy social environments, where effective education at this age can play a crucial role in preventing crime, offering young people alternatives and positive life trajectories. This in Central America, where young people face challenges such as violence and crime, is a very positive impact on the social progress of the region.

We have not done the homework, and it was due yesterday

Much will be analyzed and written about these results; But in short, we know the task but we do not do it. Improving these mediocre results requires a comprehensive approach that addresses several educational aspects that can be evaluated and monitored. This includes investing in the training and professional development of teachers. Additionally, it is crucial to update curricula to focus more on the development of critical and problem-solving skills, as well as digital literacy. Work must also be done to reduce educational inequalities, a product of income inequality. This of course requires collaboration between the government, the private sector and families not only to facilitate the necessary investment and implementation of effective educational reforms; if not so that education is truly prioritized with the urgency of a regional emergency that today destroys our present and future prosperity.