Posted on 15 June, 2016 by Richard Grazier

Do we really need a league table measuring ‘global skills’?

Most of us at some stage have considered the value of league tables – either as parents, educators, or possibly even as students ourselves. Headline numbers about a school’s academic success, may actually tell us more about the students than the teachers, and are not measures about quality and character. The tables are a bit of an illusion where often the highly selective independent schools, tend to come out on top, whilst over-capacity and under resourced state schools feature much lower.

It is suggested that the only league table that really matters is the International league table, intended to offer an insight into the comparable performances of countries’ students as a whole – comparing performance through tests such as the PISA test as a standard way for comparing maths, reading and science attainment of education systems around the world.

The latest policy speak in education and business – global citizens – highlights the importance of students being able to make the most of the opportunities available to them in an ever more diverse world. Perhaps it’s in response to this, that there has recently been a suggestion that the next round of PISA tests could include a new measurement, of ‘global skills’. The new addition would compare the potential abilities of children from different nations in navigating ‘an increasingly diverse world, with an awareness of different cultures and beliefs’.

It’s really difficult to understand how this would a) practically be assessed and b) whether there is any need for such a comparison!

Where PISA tests have historically compared one country’s teaching of a specific subject over another (and in the main all participating countries are likely to have taught the subjects in question along very similar curricula), it will be much more difficult to test ‘global skills’ and cultural understanding using the same methods. Both are heavily subjective, and are bound to differ depending on each country’s, and each child’s, cultural background, experience and the potential for education.

I wonder what makes a ‘global skill’ for instance, a skill that is not only useful, but fundamental, to life in India, may have little relevance (or none!) in the UK – and so by being assessed could not provide any true comparison of attainment between the two countries.

A developing or conflict affected country that needs to invest in building infrastructure requires its young people to acquire different skills to a developed country. ‘Essential skills’ cannot then be determined without careful consideration of local contexts, and so are not comparable on an international scale.

In the same way that national league tables are hugely skewed by the differences in children’s abilities at the start of their secondary education, PISA’s testing of ‘global skills’ will also be enormously affected by different nations’ cultural contexts, and their children’s different starting points.

Globalisation means different things to different people, but it’s important that we don’t allow it to be thought of as ‘shared culture’ instead globalisation should mean understanding each other’s cultures, and knowing how to work together for mutual benefit – not assimilating those different cultures in to one.

If there is one lesson we have learned from the global economy over the past few years, it is that we cannot simply bail ourselves out of an economic crisis. We can only grow ourselves out of bad situations and, in the long run, that depends more than anything on significantly increasing the access to high quality education.  In doing so we must develop the skills of young people globally so they can better collaborate, compete and connect, taking advantage of the opportunities in work and life, and all of these need to start with an understand the different starting points and focus on growth and hope, not testing the inequalities that already exist.

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