Over 900 participants from around the world joined the IIEP Learning Portal’s first e-Forum, titled Inclusive and equitable quality education for all: Towards a global framework for measuring Learning? These registrants—34% of them from national Agencies or Ministries of Education and 42% of them from sub-Saharan Africa, with every other continent also represented—brought diverse perspectives to bear on the discussion topics.
Over the course of the e-forum participants shared their experiences and opinions on some of the key questions surrounding international and national learning assessments today. These different types of assessments serve different purposes. While international assessments are most useful for evaluating the effects of diverse national policies, national assessments are able to provide finer-grained analysis tailored to specific national characteristics and priorities. Here are seven takeaway points that arose from this global discussion:
- There is significant disagreement over whether an international assessment framework could be applicable to all countries.
Some participants argued strongly that a common global set of competencies could and should be measured, in order to be able to determine where more effort and resources might be needed to improve educational quality, and also because, as Mariam Othman (Malaysia) stated, “we expect our children to compete internationally.”[i] Others argued that countries have such different challenges and priorities, reflected in diverse curricula, that an international learning metric would be inadequate and misleading. Avijit Sarkar (India) asked, “As our educational philosophy, sociology, teaching model and methods are different from country to country, how it is possible to construct uniform universal assessment tools?”
- There are differing opinions on which competencies should be assessed, in either a national or international context.
In general, most participants felt that assessments need to take into account more than just the basic academic skills of literacy and numeracy, although they agreed that these skills provide the foundation for learning. Marwa Biltagy (Egypt) wrote: “The skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are now also the skills that are easiest to automate, and outsource,” arguing that assessment should be expanded to address other competencies such as problem-solving, creativity, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills, with others also adding vocational and entrepreneurship skills to the list. However, it was also acknowledged that these competencies can be very difficult to measure, and that cross-cultural comparisons may not be valid.
- There is uncertainty about the role that digital literacy and technology should play in assessments.
A number of participants remarked that digital literacy is becoming just as important as traditional literacy and numeracy—though not everyone agreed that it should be a subject of testing. The use of computer-based tests is also controversial. Olalekan Saidi (Nigeria) wrote, “Most developing countries still face challenges of infrastructure deficit, lack of capacity on the part of both teachers and student to use computers, [and lack of] political will to drive the process.”
- Participants were concerned with how international emphasis on learning assessments might affect national curricula and teacher practices.
Wei Shin (Singapore) remarked that an overemphasis on assessment “may cause a certain level of fragmentation and unauthenticity in teaching and learning”, and many felt that assessments cannot fully measure the breadth and diversity of what they considered a valuable education. Yet Sairoong Saengjaeng (Thailand) argued that it is appropriate for an international assessment to have some influence on national curriculum since “at the global scale, we have common problems” such as climate change, and assessments can “encourage the young to acquire knowledge in these areas.”
- Developing effective assessments requires input from the regional, national, and even local levels.
On the one hand, many participants agreed that it should be possible to look at the needs of certain countries in order to modify international assessment tools accordingly, although Isatou Ndow (The Gambia) remarked that there are some themes “that have cultural dimensions and would need complete modification.” In contrast, several participants thought that new international assessments should be devised through a bottom-up process in which each nation participates in determining what should be tested and how. At the national level, Gopalakrishnan Coimbatore (India) argued that “students, community members, teachers, and schools” should be involved in determining the assessment approach.
- The unit of analysis for an assessment depends on the assessment’s purposes.
Participants understood that current international assessments use the nation as the unit of analysis to compare education systems, and in order to look at the effects of differences in national policies and practices. However, participants also argued that it is important to have assessment data at the school level, with Samuel Mukirae Njihia (Kenya) explaining that “assessment data at the school level informs the teachers how well the learning objectives are being met and forms a good basis for remedial action.”
- There is a need to build capacity—not just at the national or regional level, but also among teachers and school leaders themselves—to understand assessment approaches and accurately interpret and use assessment data.
At the national level, e-forum participants believed that implementing an international assessment could help countries build more sophisticated technical and managerial capacities for undertaking large-scale assessments. However, some questioned whether even very technically capable countries have been able to effectively use assessment data to improve learning outcomes. Laure Ralamboranto (Madagascar) wrote, “teachers and leaders should be given training in how to use the results of assessments to diagnose difficulties in learning or teaching strategies and find remedies.”
A more detailed report of the e-Forum will be available soon on the IIEP Learning Portal Forum page.
[i] In some cases, participants’ comments have been edited for readability. However, care has been taken not to change the original intended meaning of the quote.