The positive results Irish students achieved in the recently published TIMMS and PISA results received relatively low levels of discussion in Irish media. The results appear to vindicate the general direction of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. However, whether international comparative test results are good or bad, it is important to reflect on the role such tests play in our knowledge of a country and its schools.
To evaluate how good an education system is, you could look across countries and compare how current students in those education systems perform on tests of mathematics, science and literacy. Alternatively, you could ask yourself, “In which of these countries would I most like to live?”
You could compare average maths, science and reading scores among students in fourth class and third year in a group of countries. Or you could compare the work ethic of people in the same countries and their sense of industry and enterprise; compare their sense of compassion for fellow and global citizens, especially for those citizens who are poor, who have a disability, or who experience discrimination; compare their physical, mental and spiritual health; compare their sense of civic pride and responsibility; compare their appreciation for and enjoyment of theatre, music, and the visual arts; compare their creativity and their ability to express themselves orally and in writing; compare their sense of fun; look at their respect for history and the environment; compare their curiosity about science and the world around them; compare their satisfaction with life and if they have a sense of what constitutes enough; and compare their sense of autonomy and pride in their country.
One set of comparisons gives a real and rounded measure of an education system. Which set of comparisons do we value more?