In Conversation with Michael Ward from the OECD

Michael Ward works at The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as the manager of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for Development (PISA-D) project which is reaching its end on 3rd December 2020. R:Ed sat down with him to talk about the PISA-D initiative and the overall situation regarding  educational development in Sub Saharan Africa.

Can you tell us more about PISA?

PISA is the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, commonly known as PISA, for short. PISA measures students’ academic performances worldwide and facilitates cross-country comparisons. Every three years, 15-year-old students residing in more than 85 PISA participating countries take a two-hour test  reading, mathematics and science literacy. Many new participants have joined PISA in recent years and our PISA-D initiative was designed to make the assessment more accessible to and relevant for a wider range of countries and included an assessment of out-of-school youth as well as students. Senegal and Zambia were two Sub Saharan African countries that joined PISA-D and their  results revealed that most of their students and, in Senegal’s case, out-of-school youth performed at the lower levels of PISA’s proficiency scales. The OECD worked with the PISA-D countries, including Senegal and Zambia, to analyse their PISA data, interpret their results and prepare national reports. These reports included proposals  to enhance the education system, make it more inclusive and to improve the academic performance of students, including:

  • To target teaching more effectively on the academic levels of students based on their proficiency.
  • To reform the curriculum of primary and the secondary school to make this more relevant for the children and youth in the country and the capacity of the teachers. 
  • To strengthen teaching and learning in early grades, particularly to ensure all children are reading fluently by the end og grade three, emphasising the importance of learning to read so that stidents are then able to read to learn in later grades.
  • To design support strategies for students failing at school and repeating grades. The PISA-D data shows that repeating a grade is the strongest predictor of low student performance and vulnerability to dropout. The system should be better able to respond to red flags like grade repetition .

PISA is a valuable tool designed to support the achievement of quality learning for all children and young people. 

Can you tell us more about the long-term objectives of the OECD?

Tthe OECD will continue to  collect important data on education  to help countries to understand the performance of their  systems in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and equality. Africa suffers from inadequate data on education on which to base descisions and to design policies and strategies. This is why we congratulated Senegal and Zambia for joining PISA-D. Several other African countries, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi are planning to join PISA in the coming years. The OECD encourages many more countries from Sub-Saharan Africa to join PISA so that we can help them better understand the performance of their education systems, their strengths and weaknesses, especially in comparison to other countries .


What advice can you give to parents?

The most precious advice that I could give to parents would be to talk and read to their children at home as much as possible. The subjects of talk and reading can range from political or social issues, to education, to anything the child is interested in – the key thing is to show interest in intellectually engaging activities. Parents should also ask their children’s teachers how they can help their children to learn. We know, for example, that in Senegal, the majority of out-of-school youth did not have any kind of conversations about their education with their parents. I encourage parents to take an interest in their children’s education and what happens at school – they will see that it will pay off one day. My final piece of advice is that children should regularly share a meal with their parents, as PISA results showed a strong correlation between students sharing a meal with their parents and better academic achievements. 

Marwin Ramos


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