OECD Education Working Papers

This series is designed to make available to a wider readership selected studies drawing on the work of the OECD Directorate for Education. Authorship is usually collective, but principal writers are named. The papers are generally available only in their original language (English or French) with a short summary available in the other.

English, French

PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries

This paper explores the participation of low- and middle-income countries in OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It provides a detailed description of partner countries’ participation across PISA rounds and the challenges faced by low- and middle-income partner countries in effectively implementing and deriving policy value from PISA. Specific challenges are illustrated with examples from Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan.

Many partner countries lag considerably behind OECD countries on various dimensions of social and economic development. Three OECD countries – Chile, Mexico, Turkey – also differ from higher-income OECD countries in regards to educational achievement and other indicators of social and economic development. After grouping countries based on income (GNI per capita), this paper shows that the cognitive performance of students in countries participating in PISA varies considerably not only between different country income groups but also within them. Analysis of PISA performance in relation to national wealth provides strong arguments for grouping countries according to their social and economic development when reflecting on challenges of participation and effective use of PISA. Lack of funding and governments’ fear of bad performance have been stated as potential deterrents to participation. Lack of institutional capacity and less relevant results due to a non-representative sample of 15 year-olds and clustering of students at low proficiency levels are discussed as main challenges for the effective use of PISA. The paper concludes with some considerations on how to improve the effective use of PISA results in these countries that may be particularly relevant in the context of the OECD’s recently launched initiative called PISA for Development.


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