The “Colombia PISA national team pushes ahead” strategy

Written on 07 May 18 by
Cross-national studies
ICT in education
Public private partnerships


In order to encourage student participation in the upcoming PISA tests, in 2017 the National Ministry of Education of Colombia launched the “Colombia PISA national team pushes ahead”  campaign. Monica Ramirez Peñuela1from the National Ministry of Education answered a few questions about this initiative.

What were the main drivers behind this campaign?

Colombia has been working on improving the quality of its education system and has been following a number of strategies. These include the pedagogical use of the results of evaluations. We prepared some strategies at an institutional level, others at a national level (such as the standardized SABER tests), and a few years ago we decided to measure our performance internationally with the PISA test.

Such tests have become increasingly important for our country, as they enable us to not only measure our performance, but also to work on objective decision-making that will support all the quality education policies that we design, improve, adjust or even remove.

Following our 2015 PISA results, we realized we had to continue our endeavors in this field. We wanted to bring about a cultural impact so that principals of all schools would recognize that the pedagogical use of assessment results definitely improves the quality of education, as these results allow us to identify where we are doing well and where there is room for improvement. This was one of the failings of our school management system and so PISA allows us to follow up on this culture of improvement, enhancing the use of results at all levels.

Did you draw on any other initiatives? What was the thinking behind this campaign?

The evaluation of student learning has been the focus of our reflection. In 2015, we worked with the Carlos Slim Foundation on a platform called “PruebaT” (TTest) to familiarize both the students and the teachers with PISA.

In 2017, we focused on how to connect our young people with these international tests and how to motivate them to take part. Together with the Carlos Slim Foundation (and its PruebaT platform), with the support of Claro Colombia, and now also with the support of the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI), in addition to the Communication department and the pedagogical team of the National Ministry of Education, we decided that one of the main axes of the PISA 2018 campaign had to be motivation. We are talking about 15 year olds: how will we get them involved?

Colombia has a very deep rooted football culture, and after our national team qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia we thought we could encourage young people to see in the PISA tests an opportunity to represent their country, to build a national team of Colombian students to represent their country in language, math and science competitions. When designing this strategy, and focusing on our “Colombia PISA national team pushes ahead”, we also wanted to promote many values: teamwork, preparedness, acknowledging where there is room for improvement, the role of each player, the role of the Coach (which in this case can be a principal or a teacher) and the games played before the finals, which is the PISA test itself. By creating an analogy with the national football team going to Russia, we opened up a new and large window of motivation. We have had very positive comments on the subject.

Could you tell me more regarding the design and startup process of this campaign?

We mainly focused on how to motivate our students. The first component was to familiarize them with the issue, i.e., when you know what a test looks like your anxiety diminishes. Thus the platform becomes useful as the pedagogical component of our strategy. The platform also includes a few questions released by the OECD from previous tests. There is also a module for teachers, so that they may introduce some didactic elements into their classes aiming at developing critical thinking, memory and question comprehension, among others.

The pedagogical component is followed by a period of test and adjustment of the platform. At the same time, we assist the schools selected by the OECD to undergo the PISA test with their logistics and administrative approach to present the test.

The team made up of the Ministry of Education, Computadores para Educar [computers for education], the Colombian Institute for Educational Evaluation, ICFES, the Carlos Slim Foundation and Claro Colombia guarantees that all the logistics, pedagogical and follow-up structures for this arrangement to function properly are in place.

How did you manage to build the relationship between the players of the public and private sectors?

The quality of education does not depend solely on ministerial or governmental actions and/or on the public budget allocated. We have a growth relationship with both the Carlos Slim Foundation and Claro Colombia, and the most important factor is that we are all supporting these young people who represent the country during the test while at the same time measuring the learning performance level.

There is thus a co-responsibility between the public and private worlds regarding the quality of education in a country.

PISA Fuerte

What have been the main actions of the campaign?

The first action was to pilot the platform in order to know the strengths and opportunities for improving the tool. In 2017, we had around 12,000 students and 300 teachers coming from 195 schools throughout the country participating in the platform for a period of three months. After the pilot phase, we launched the “Colombia PISA national team pushes ahead” strategy at national level where we brought in 32 students, among the best of the country, and 14 teachers of the pilot phase.

Currently, we are engaged in motivating all schools in the country so that they become familiar the platform and use it with their students. In particular, we want to socialize this tool with those schools that will participate in the PISA tests and will be representing us as a country. For these schools, that have reached an agreement with the OIS, we will bring in professionals as regional support elements. They will provide pedagogical and logistics support to the 265 schools selected. As a groundbreaking strategy for this presentation we will organize the ‘PISA 2018 tournament’: we will indeed spend one week for diagnostic purposes during which they will present a test on the platform. The first test will be in the field of sciences, then math and finally language. The idea is for us to present the best schools at the end of the process, to acknowledge their participation: that is when we will end the campaign and wait for the results.

What is your vision regarding the scope of the campaign?

We wanted to enroll 5,000 students on the TTest platform. But we reached 12,000. This goes to show the motivation level at the schools. The idea is for the platform to always be available, free of charge, and we wish to uphold this because that’s the way both the student and the teacher get their training.

Once the PISA tests have been introduced, the campaign encompasses an additional phase. That is when we will choose the best schools according to their participation and learning results as shown by the TTest platform and hence close the loop. Rather than extending the strategy or the campaign, we should extend the pedagogical elements over time. We will establish a very important working group together with the Ministry, the Carlos Slim Foundation and Claro Colombia to appraise the results and determine the most important features for the future. For now, the approach is that this student national team remains very motivated and loses its anxiety of participating in a PISA test.

We are also focused on overcoming certain territorial connectivity limitations. We are working with the Carlos Slim Foundation on an alternative offline test for rural or indigenous communities so that lack of internet connectivity is not a hurdle if they wish to take part in the PISA tests.

1. Monica Ramirez Peñuela, was Director of Quality for Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education in the National Ministry of Education until 2 April 2018. The interview was conducted in January 2018 and published online on 7 May 2018.