PISA: ignorance or happiness!

PISA, ignorance or happiness.

The PISA test of the OECD is very powerful in provoking headline news and educational reforms around the world, but at the same time, it is criticized by researchers from comparative pedagogy and comparative education.

There is an enormous amount of relationships and correlations that one can derive from the data published by the OECD’s PISA 2018 report.

One of those, which seems paradoxical, is the relationship between the students’ performance and the students’ satisfaction with life.


On the left side are the countries ordered from the lowest to the highest satisfaction of students with life. The most satisfied country of the sample, Mexico, shows an index value of 8.11. On the right side are the countries mostly clustered from highest to lowest on performance in the reading test. The People’s Republic of China (represented by four provinces) is the one with the highest result, 555 PISA points.

Note that most of the countries with high results in PISA (dark blue bar on the right side) show on the left side the lowest results in satisfaction with life (gray bar), that is: wise but unhappy. On the contrary, the Latin American countries, show the greatest satisfaction with life (bars of intense yellow) but the lowest PISA results (bars in light blue), that is, ignorant but happy or happy but ignorant.

Finland is the only country in the sample with wise and happy students.

Finland, once more, in the headlines


I am positively surprised at the massive and global way in which Finland appears, once again, in the world´s headlines. Either for their excellent and consistent results in PISA, or because they are about to swear the youngest Prime Minister in the world, Sanna Marin (she is 34), or for their high standards of living, for their economy and business environment, and everyday life enthroned as a capitalist paradise, or by the novel way in which schools teach through phenomena-based learning. The truth is that Finland is a window to the future of the welfare and high educational quality of the world. Therefore, in the spring of next year, I will publish a book in New York, with Oxford University Press, about the education, learning, and culture of this impressive Nordic country. It will be my third book on education and learning in Finland. The book will be published first in New York, and a few months later, in Mexico City, in Spanish.

That is why, right now, December 2019, I am in the beautiful Bapst Library Bapts Library Boston Collegefrom Boston College, reviewing the final proofs of my book-to-be. Greetings to all my colleagues and friends. More on the subject in the coming days.

What do parents need to know before taking their children to school? 

What do parents need to know before taking their children to school? 

By Eduardo Andere M.[1]

What happens at home is much more important than what happens at school for the success of children in their studies and life.

Provided everything is ok at home, these are the factors that parents need to know when taking the children to school:

  1. At school, at any level, human interaction is much more important than facilities, pedagogy and technology.
  2. In early childhood and pre-school education, emphasis must be placed on social and emotional learning, especially through play, free and guided.
  3. In elementary school the transition between emotional learning and reading and writing should be smooth and following the stages of development for each child. Playing is still an important part of the curriculum, but it is not the only one and it diminishes with time.
  4. Any school of any pedagogy must diagnose children’s socioemotional and cognitive development. If a development gap is detected, the school must trigger an ad hoc action plan to address it. The idea is to reinforce instead of retaining and to guide rather than forcing. The goal should not be the child’s performance on a specific skill or knowledge, but on her/his overall progress. The curriculum should follow the child and not the other way around.
  5. The transition from elementary to middle school should be smooth and monitored. Bullying is at its highest in middle school. At this stage children stop being children and they gain a sense of security if they achieve control and power over peers. The children take advantage of the radical change of one teacher who takes care of them to ten teachers whose main function is teaching subjects. They are still children not adults. Treating them as adults generates a strong discontinuity in their brains. Therefore, it is advisable: a) A school with both sections (elementary and middle) under the same roof, where middle-school teachers teach fifth and sixth graders of elementary school and fifth and sixth grade teachers share activities with middle school students and teachers. Both are anchor and support. b) Teachers and parents should be very close to the children and their new friends to accompany and guide them, not limit them. Children monitored subtlety by the parents show better results in the school even when they complain about the monitoring.
  6. If young people arrive at high school without sufficient emotional development, it will take a delicate and enormous work to compensate for the deficiency.
  7. In high school there must be constant and close communication between parents and teachers and students. The beginning of adult life begins with the acceptance of the importance of study and the motivation for hard work. Just as in the early years, emphasis on socio-emotional development is most important, in high school, cognition gains traction.
  8. It is highly important to listen to young people regarding their interests and to constantly show them the cost/benefit appraisal of their decisions and actions.
  9. The worst combination for a child with lack of motivation, interest and engagement is parents that are both negligent (because they are too busy) and demanding (because they are too successful) at the same time. That is the poverty of abundance.
  10. In college, if everything worked well in the previous four stages, the new adults will enter this challenging stage with strong learning skills. Here the emphasis on cognitive development is even higher.
  11. Two final notes. Face-to-face education, at any level, yields higher results, ceteris paribus, than distance or partial scheme programs such as flipped or blended education. And finally, parents’ obsession hurrying children through their development stages is counter-productive. Children need to play and grow slowly. Playing is not just hanging around. Playing, especially for young children, is an ability to learn other abilities, for the rest of the life.


[1]A different but similar version of this article was published by the newspaper Reforma on July 13, 2019. The author is a visiting scholar at NYU.

More pay: better teachers, therefore, better students. Wait a second!

By Eduardo Andere M.*

Discussion question by Cathy Rubin: “If we make teaching a more financially attractive career will it improve global education overall?»

Teachers are paid differently by different countries. Some countries pay very high salaries others very low. If we compare only statutory (compensations and fringe benefits apart) salaries for all levels of education (pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary), Luxembourg and Switzerland, followed by Korea and Germany, are the highest paying countries among OECD countries. The Czech and the Slovak Republics are the lowest paying countries. (OECD, Education at a Glance 2018).

It is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to make sound comparisons of teachers’ salaries among countries. It is even more difficult to correlate that feeble comparison with the performance of students. If we did that, we would have very awkward relationships. Let’s take for example a very high performing country in PISA, say Finland, and very low performing countries, say Mexico and Chile, among OECD members. Let’s then compare their statutory salaries, converted to purchasing power parity (a metric “that compares different countries’ currencies” with a basket of consumption goods; for example, what can a US dollar buy in the US and the same dollar buy in other countries like Finland and Mexico).

Let’s see the comparison of statutory salaries—in purchasing power parity (ppp) dollars—of Finnish, Mexican, Chilean, American, and Czech teachers. Let’s take the salary of lower secondary (middle school) teachers at the top of the scale in each country. Finnish teachers make $46,257 USD (ppp-converted US dollars), whereas Mexican, Chilean, American and Czech teachers make: $51,139, $43,760, $68,046 and $24, 901, respectively.  The OECD’s average salary for teachers at this level of education is $56,874. (OECD, Education at a Glance, 2018, Table D3.1.a. Data for 2017).

Well, as we all know Finland is the highest, or one of the highest, performing countries in PISA among OECD’s members. Mexico and Chile are the lowest performing countries. The Czech Republic with the second lowest salary among all OECD’s countries performs high in PISA, certainly, at a higher level than Mexico, Chile and similar to the U.S.  The Czech Republic students and the American students performed more or less at the OECD’s mean level for PISA 2015 for Reading and Science. In mathematics, the U.S. students performed below the OECD’s mean level.

At the same level of education and top of the scale, the Luxembourg teachers make the highest salary, $138,279 per year; the Slovak teachers make the lowest salary, $21, 225; however, the students from both countries performed more or less similar in PISA 2015. Whereas the Luxembourg students’ performance level in Science, Reading, and Math were 483, 481 and 486; Slovak Republic students’ performance was 461 for Science, 453 for Reading, and 475 Math, not very far away even though with the huge differences in salaries (OECD, PISA 2015. Vol 1, p. 44).

Then, what is the story behind the story? First of all, the statutory salary is just part of the story; there are other benefits that teachers receive that are not included in the statutory salary making the comparison extremely difficult. Second, even though the “ppp” metric tries to standardize salaries, there is no metric for the quality of the products in the basket of goods. The “ppp” metric measures the quantity of say milk, meat, public transportation or vegetables, but not the quality. And still, there is a totally different factor that is not captured by the international comparison, i.e., the teaching and learning environment.

Finnish teachers may earn less statutory salaries than the many of the peer teachers from around the world, but when one Finnish teacher answered my question “why are you a teacher even though salaries are not very high?” He said: “It is the package: The salary is good enough, the fringe benefits are good enough as well, social security is excellent, vacation time is wonderful; my children get to go to excellent schools free of charge, and the collegial ambiance and the whole teaching and learning environment in the school is wonderful.”

Of course, we all want better salaries. Teachers deserve high salaries. Their work is extremely important not only for the individual, community and national levels but for the global society and global citizenry as well. That is the extrinsic motivation. But core to teaching and learning, and the happiness of teachers comes from the intrinsic motivation. Why do teachers want to become teachers in the first place? We need higher salaries to reinforce, no to supplant intrinsic motivation; and also, in symphony with the intrinsic motivation and rewarding salaries, we need nice, collegial and positive learning environments in the schools and societies.

*The author is a Visiting Research Professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Human Development, and Education, New York University and author of Teacher’s Perspectives on Finnish School Education: Creating Learning Environments. Springer. 2014, and of Curriculum, Policy and Pedagogy in Finland: Meaningful and Interactive Learning in K-12 Education. Oxford University Press. New York. (Forthcoming, 2019).

La escuela y el salón de clases en Finlandia (The school and the classroom in Finland)

Esta semana la versión electrónica de mi libro «Teachers’ perspectives on Finnish school education: Creating learning environments» is on Sale here

Portada SPRINGER 2014

This week the ebook version of my book «Teachers’ perspectives on Finnish school education: Creating learning environments» is on Sale here

Finland continúa cambiando y actualizando políticas, prácticas, instituciones y currículos de su educación aún y cuando se ha mantenido como la mejor marca mundial de la educación escolar por 15 años.

Finland, as we speak, is changing policies, practices, agencies and curricula in school education. Finland has been a benchmark in school education for 15 years or so.

Finnish school education. Educación escolar en Finlandia

Springer, a German-based publisher, is selling my 2014 book about Finnish education at a 50% discount. Sale ends on March 3, 2017. La casa editorial alemana Springer ofrece mi libro sobre la educación finlandesa con 50% de descuento. La oferta vence el 3 de marzo de 2017.Portada SPRINGER 2014

The book «provides a thorough analysis of the Finnish education system and its cultural context not only on national level but par excellence on local, school and classroom level.»

El libro «provee un análisis comprensivo del sistema educativo finlandés y su contexto cultural, no solo a nivel nacional sino, por excelencia, a los niveles local, escolar y de aula.»

More information/más información en: SPRINGER


Guest lecture at Helsinki University about education in Finland, learning and PISA


Next Tuesday, November 29th, from 15.00 to 17:00, I will give a Guest lecture at Helsinki University, sponsored by Cicero Learning. The lecture is divided in two main topics: 1) Finnish education and Learning from an international perspective; 2) PISA is coming to town! I am a visitor researcher at NYU, Boston College, and the «Centro Regional de Formación Docente e Investigación Educativa en México». More about Dr. Andere.

More information about the Guest lecture: HERE

Portada SPRINGER 2014

Subjects do not disappear in the new Finnish comprehensive school curriculum

education-univ-jyvaskyla-nov-2016Jyväskylä, Finland. Instruction subjects do NOT disappear in the new FINNISH peruskoulu curriculum. What happens is that the new curriculum for compulsory school education (effective as of 2016 for grades 1 to 6, and as of 2017 for grades 7 to 9) reinforces «multidisciplinary learning modules» where «integrative instruction» is promoted during all school years. Good to excellent teachers have known for a long time that multidisciplinary teaching and learning helps to connect subjects to real life experiences, «phenomena» or «themes» as the Finnish curriculum calls them.

Teachers then use projects based on themes or class teaching plans that promote not only the knowledge of curriculum subjects but also transversal competences, i.e., those abilities that students need to develop in order to solve new problems and propose innovative solutions. Cross-fertilization from different subjects can help indeed. But teachers need to know their subjects in depth, and nobody is proposing their elimination (for the list of subjects in the new Finnish curriculum please look HERE). It is more about pedagogy than getting rid of subjects.

In my opinion the new curriculum stresses three basic ideas: 1) invite teachers to combine subjects simultaneously or sequentially with the help of themes or phenomena; 2) cooperation, communication and coordination among teachers; 3) connection between theory, teaching and learning and real life examples meaningful to students’ own reality and context. For example, a theme for a class or school year or school project may be «water» or «pollution.» Both themes include aspects studied by different subjects: chemistry, biology, natural resources, physics, mathematics, law, social sciences, etc. Another theme may be «Art in the twentieth century», and the subjects could be: art, history, social sciences, humanities, civilization. Another one, with a lot of meaning in Suomi is «Finland 100» as the Finnish will celebrate 100 years of independence in 2017.

Still, an integrative different project for a student or school, could be the production of a video, short film or feature film. In both cases, many subjects could be involved with teachers as guiding mentoring or active engagement. An example close to full integrative teaching is what happens in multigrade instruction. At the extreme we might think of multigrade and multi-subject instruction, almost impossible to implement specially in secondary schools.

Schools in Finland are real jewels, and yet teachers are still finding the way to understand the day-to-day strategies to implement, of even more, to integrative teaching and learning, and to understand the new policies for the evaluation and assessment of students. Finns are getting more into formative assessment than before and want teachers to get away from summative or grade assessments at least for grades 1 to 7. In grades 8 to 9 teachers will have to use grade but also formative and self-assessment evaluations. Finns are getting more Finnish than before.

Portada SPRINGER 2014

Therefore, subjects will not disappear; university programs and the deep knowledge required by degree specializations would have to disappear first. What will change is the pedagogy (integrative instruction plus seven transversal competences, plus more formative assessment) not the content or depth of knowledge.



By the way, if you want to know about teachers in Finland and how they impact student achievement, you may want to read THIS PAPER

How do we inspire the best and the brightest (BB) to become educators?

By Eduardo Andere M. PhD.

«The Package»

Nuevos maestrosTeachers from around the world, including those from the US, in public or private schools, think that the advantages of being a teacher clearly outweigh the disadvantages, that if they could decide again they would still choose to work as teachers, that they wouldn’t like to change to another school if that were possible, that they don’t regret that they decided to become teachers, that they enjoy working in the school they are currently working, that they don’t think they would have been better had they decided to choose another profession, that they would recommend their current school as a good place to work, that they are satisfied with the performance in their schools, and that all in all they are satisfied with their job. The only negative thing they agree with is that the teaching profession is not valued in their society[1].

As difficult as it is to measure this latter “cultural” variable, it is extremely important to the core of the question: How to inspire the BB to become educators? If society in general does not value the teaching profession, then the teaching profession will always be a second-class profession, after lawyers, medical doctors, economists, scientists, MBAs, computer engineers, etc. Few teachers from around the world think that their profession is valued by society. The average for the OECD’s study is 30.9 percent, the U.S. average is 33.7 percent and the Finnish average is 58.6 percent.

Finland is widely recognized as the world’s benchmark for pre-K to 12-education system. The teaching profession in Finland is highly popular and highly appreciated; teachers’ colleges in Finland attract the BB and teaching is never a second-class profession. Salaries in Finland are far from being the highest; teachers in Luxemburg, Korea, Germany, Canada, and the U.S. are the highest-paid in the world[2].

Professor Simola from the University of Helsinki has an interesting theory about how to measure society’s appreciation of any profession; is no by perceptions or salaries. Instead, according to Professor Hannu Simola, a profession is highly appreciated if the children of the social and education elites choose to become teachers. It took Finland around 100 years to get teachers as a group to a high social and cultural status.[3]

There is an alternative “theory” from a lower secondary teacher in Finland when he answered to my question “why did you become a teacher?” “It is the package”—he said. The package is: a good-enough salary, nice collegial and highly-educated climate in the school, enough time to spend with the family, nice team-work environment, nice fringe benefits like social security and access to cultural opportunities, time for leisure and cultural activities, and two and a half more reasons: June, July and half of August vacation.


For further reading about teachers in Finland and other countries see my paper and book:

Andere, E. (2015). Are teachers crucial for academic achievement? Finland educational success in a comparative perspective. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(39).

Teachers’ perspectives on Finnish school education: Creating learning environments. 2014. Springer: Bern, Switzerland.


[1] OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, TALIS, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/978964196261-en pp. 407 408

[2] OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/101887/eag-2015-en. pp. 440-441.

[3] Simola, H. (2005). The Finnish miracle of PISA: historical and sociological remarks on teaching and teacher education. Comparative Education, 4 (41), 455-470. See also, Andere, E. (2014). Teachers’ perspectives on Finnish school education: Creating learning enviroments. Switzerland: Springer.

The future paradigm in education: From learning environments to…

From learning environments to motivation environments.

The real challenge is how to Motivate

The next paragraph is the preliminary result from my research about learning environments in seven countries.

I think that we will start to hear about a new paradigm shift in school education; in the 80s and 90s the whole idea was «learning to learn», «lifelong learning» and «competences»; in the 2000’s and 2010’s the issue was/is «learning environments and information and communication technologies»; well, the focus in the coming years will be «motivation environments». We (parents, schools and authorities) will have to concentrate on «how to motivate children/students», in a digital world, when they think they don’t need the school (they think they have everything when they own a smartphone). Children are not longer challenged by the schools. It is not about teachers or poverty (those are givens) it is about «creating motivation environments».

More about this the following weeks!

Eduardo Andere M.