Colombia’s performance in the 2022 PISA tests, marking the assessment of 81 countries worldwide, declined, once again raising concerns about the country’s educational system. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been conducted since 2000, evaluating the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in fields like mathematics, reading, and science.
The recent assessment of Colombian students in the PISA tests is not encouraging, but it is not as critical as in other countries. The latest results released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed a decline in Colombia’s youths across the three evaluated competencies compared to the 2018 assessments.
These tests occur every three years, but the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the most recent one until 2022. Indeed, the pandemic serves as an explanation that not only Colombia but also other countries with lower evaluations than in 2018 offer to justify the fall.
Math, Where the Scores Dropped the Most
In fact, these tests, in which Colombia has participated since 2006, have never yielded positive results for the Colombian educational system. However, this time, the country dropped in all three studied indicators and remains well below the OECD country average.
For the 2022 edition, a total of 7,804 students from public and private schools in both urban and rural areas participated in Colombia. Colombian students maintained almost the same performance in science, dropping by two points from 413 to 411. In reading, they decreased from 412 to 409 points. The most negative impact was seen in mathematics, dropping from 391 to 383 points—a notable decrease.
However, the result aligns with the general trend, considering that the average decline in the mathematics area was 15 points globally among the participating countries, 10 points in reading, and remained unchanged in the science field. The unprecedented drops in mathematics and reading are reportedly linked to ‘the shock effect of COVID-19 in most countries,’ according to the report.
With these results, Colombia ranks sixth in Latin America, led by Chile, followed by Uruguay and Mexico. Globally, Singapore stands out, obtaining the highest scores in mathematics (575 points). Following Singapore are Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea, and Macao (China). Additionally, 17 other countries also achieved scores higher than the average of 472 points, ranging from Estonia (510 points) to New Zealand (479 points).
In reading and science, Singapore also claimed the top spot with scores of 543 and 561 points, respectively. Behind Singapore are Ireland, Estonia, Japan, and Korea. Furthermore, in reading and science, an average of 7% of OECD students reached the highest competence levels 5 or 6. Thirteen countries/economies had over 10% of students demonstrating high performance in reading, and 14 had over 10% performing well in science, as explained in the report.
Rethinking the Educational System
For the government, the results are evidently not positive and demonstrate the need for a structural transformation in the country’s educational system. Across the three fields studied in PISA, more than half of the country’s students did not achieve the basic competencies set at level 2.
“Facing the results of the PISA 2022 tests, the country must strengthen its investment in the sector and implement significant reforms to improve quality from an equity perspective. For this reason, we have proposed a statutory bill aimed at [addressing this],” stated Aurora Vergara-Figueroa, Minister of Education.
Petro Calls for Free and Universal Public Education
President Petro has also spoken about the country’s poor performance in the PISA tests. In this regard, the president has acknowledged that “we have failed as a country in educating our children in mathematics, science, and reading. The gap with the OECD is immense. The majority of Colombian boys and girls are at the lowest level, level 1, in each of these three basic modules of knowledge.”
“Here is reflected what is an absurd and lazy policy to ensure that the Colombian population receives education. Preferring to invest the treasury in fuel subsidies and war has led us to this strategic failure that we must overcome,” the president pointed out, referring to the traditional subsidy on fuels that his government has gradually withdrawn, sparking significant social controversy.
Additionally, the head of state has referred to the results in Bogotá, a city of which he was mayor between 2012 and 2015, stating that the model in the capital is much better than in other areas of the country. In fact, Gustavo Petro has suggested using the example of his local administration in education to improve national-level outcomes.
The three aspects that Petro claims were implemented during his time as mayor in Bogotá, and which he proposes to universalize throughout the country, are: the expansion of the school day with hot meals and artistic and sports education; postgraduate education for a significant portion of the teaching staff with programs paid for by the district; and accredited higher education integrated into secondary education in its final years.
The president asserts that his measures are feasible for the entire country and has noted that his government has already increased the education budget “from 50 to 70 trillion.”