Global education:
A selection of key charts and trends

Part 3 of 7

Challenges in education quality and learning outcomes

This bar chart shows that in some countries going to school does not necessarily mean that the students actually learn.

In Ghana, India, and Malawi more than 4 out of 5 students in second grade are not able to read a single word.

The most widely discussed quantitative assessment of the quality of education comes from the PISA study, which is run by the OECD.

The 'Programme for International Student Assessment' (PISA) assesses the performance of 15-year old school pupils’ performance on mathematics, reading and science examinations.

This map shows the latest round of results on mathematics.

This map shows the latest round of results on science.

The mean for participating OECD countries set to 500 points and the standard deviation is set to equal 100 points.

This means that the difference between countries can be substantial. Brazilian students with an average score of 400 points in mathematics are on average one standard deviation below the performance of the OECD countries. And the results of Peru, Algeria, Tunesia, Lebanon, Macedonia, and the Kosovo are lower still.

This map shows the latest round of results on reading. If you use the slider, you can compare outcomes for different years.

Again we see large cross-country differences.

(Note: It is also possible to click on any country to see the change over time.)

To describe the distribution of proficiency within countries, PISA provides a breakdown of outcomes into levels of proficiency.

To achieve higher levels, students need to be able to solve tasks of increasing complexity. The results are then reported as the share of the student population that reached each level.

This visualization shows the distribution of students' proficiency levels in 2009, 2012, and 2015.

It is possible to see the data for other countries by choosing the 'change country' option below the visualization.

In countries with higher PISA scores, the distribution of outcomes tend to dominate: Countries in which the top students perform better than top students in other countries, tend to be the same countries in which the worst students also perform better than the worst students in other countries.

This map reports the results of the 'Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study' (TIMSS).

As the name says, TIMSS is an assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of students.

While PISA selects the assessed students by age and focusses on 15-year olds, TIMMS selects students by the grade they attend and tests students in Grades 4, 8, and in their final year.

This map shows the results of the 'Progress in International Reading Literacy Study' (PIRLS).

PIRLS and TIMSS are both carried out by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

Reading skills are increasingly being assessed internationally through a number of standardised tests. Two important additional examples are the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and the Skills Towards Employability and Productivity (STEP) program. Both tests use the same methodology and are comparable.

This chart shows available PIAAC and STEP results (horizontal axis) and compares these results to official literacy rates (vertical axis).

Since there are many tests focusing on different geographical areas and different skills, it is helpful to try to combine these measures into a common system, to get a more comprehensive perspective on educational outcomes across the world.

This is exactly what Nadir Altinok, Noam Angrist and Harry Patrinos did in a new working paper: Global Data Set on Education Quality (1965–2015). This chart shows what they found.

This is another chart based on the Global Data Set on Education Quality (1965–2015).

It shows that many countries have seen improvements in average learning outcomes over the last couple of decades. But many countries are lagging behind. Some countries even seem to have regressed.

You can check country by country trends over time in this line chart.

Going beyond averages, we can see here that low-income, low-performing countries are clustered at the bottom of the global scale: the distribution of test scores within these countries is shifted down, relative to high-performing countries.

You can compare achievement above minimum, intermediate, and advanced benchmarks, country by country and over time, in these three line charts:

Share of students achieving minimum learning outcomes
– Share of students achieving intermediate learning outcomes
Share of students achieving advanced learning outcomes

Other resources from Our World in Data

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