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Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA)

Topics Covered:

  1. Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA)


What to study?

For Prelims: PISA- Key facts.

For Mains: Why India stayed away from PISA for years and issues associated.


Context: Union Human Resource Development Minister recently reviewed preparations for PISA 2021.

He instructed all the Deputy Commissioners to work hard to make India successful in this examination.



Cabinet has already given ex-post facto approval to the Agreement between India and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for participating in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), which will be conducted by the OECD in 2021. The Agreement was signed on 28th January 2019.


India’s participation in PISA:

  • India had taken part in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009 and bagged the 72nd rank among 74 participating countries.
  • Then UPA government had boycotted PISA, blaming “out of context” questions for India’s dismal performance.
  • Later, the HRD Ministry, under the NDA-II government, revisited this decision in 2016 and the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) had set up a committee to review the matter and submitted its report in December 2016.
  • The report recommended for participation in test in 2018. However, India missed the application deadline for the 2018 cycle.


About the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA):

  1. It is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy every three years.
  2. First conducted in 2000, the major domain of study rotates between reading, mathematics, and science in each cycle.
  3. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as collaborative problem solving.
  4. PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries, and is conducted in the United States by NCES.


Top performers:

In 2012 PISA test, schools of Shanghai in China topped reading, mathematics and science test, followed closely by Singapore.

In 2015, Singapore, Japan and Estonia were ranked as top three countries, in that order.


What makes PISA unique?

PISA is the only international education survey to measure the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds, an age at which students in most countries are nearing the end of their compulsory time in school.

PISA is also unique in the way it looks at:

  1. Public policy issues.
  2. Literacy.
  3. Lifelong learning.


What might have gone wrong for India in 2009?

India performed very poorly – ranking 73rd out of 74 countries that participated in that round, finishing ahead of only Kazakhstan.

  1. The result was so shocking that many people assume that it must have been an aberration.
  2. Some feel that the students may not have been prepared for the test. Others believe that the students may have been tested in English, which they were not proficient in (actually, all students were tested in their medium of instruction.)
  3. Still, others feel that the performance must have been poor because only government schools were tested – our private school students would have done much better.
  4. But a well-publicized study by Education Initiatives (EI) in 2006 and repeated in 2012 established that even students of our top schools would perform well below the international average in grade 4.


Why assessments like the PISA turn out to be difficult for most Indian students?

  1. The mentality that questions can be only from the textbook.
  2. Very poor reading ability.
  3. Process of answering questions – pattern-matching versus problem-solving.
  4. When Indian students encounter PISA-type questions, many of them freeze at the first sign of the unfamiliar and decide that they have not ‘learnt this question type’ and cannot solve it.
  5. Low understanding of processes or concepts and even comprehension skills.


Way ahead:

  • Each of the above represents an entrenched, yet solvable problem in the Indian education system.
  • Though there are no quick-fix solutions, there are key levers available to create change:
  • Changing the pattern of Board Exam questions – and teacher training starting with teachers from grade 5 or so are two strong levers in our control.


Sources: pib.