After India's poor performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 cycle of tests, there is no clarity about India's participation in the PISA 2012 cycle of tests. There have been news reports indicating and suggesting that the Government has decided against participating in the 2012 cycle, but the Government does not seem to have made any statement yet. Here is a summary of what I have been able to glean from the news reports and questions raised in Parliament.
Indian Express (September 3, 2012)
Just why did Indians perform so badly at the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as to stand at the bottom of the ladder? The government thinks it is not a reflection on the country’s schooling. Advised by the NCERT, the HRD Ministry has concluded that India trailed in the international rankings because of the questions posed.
Terming these out of context, the government will take up the issue with organisers of PISA before deciding on full-scale participation in the test for 2012, with students from 10 of its states.
The ministry has concluded that there was a socio-cultural disconnect between the questions and Indian students. The ministry will write to the OECD and drive home the need to factor in India’s “socio-cultural milieu”. India’s participation in the next PISA cycle will hinge on this.
Considering that over 70 nations participate in PISA, it is uncertain whether an exception would be made for India. Incidentally, the Ministry of External Affairs is not enthused about a pan-India participation in PISA as it is expected to throw up discouraging results. India is already close to missing the 2012 cycle and may have to wait for 2015.
The NCERT in its report concluded that “non-exposure of students (especially in rural areas) towards the items tested in PISA” was a critical factor in the poor performance by Indian students. They cited questions relating to ATMs and use of air bags in cars.
Times of India (September, 9, 2012)
"India is already late for the 2012 test as preparations began a year in advance. If the questions conform to our sensibilities , we will take part. We will enter into a correspondence with OECD before taking a final call," says the official. But it may already be too late. The question is: why participate at all if one is not ready for it?
Sydney Rebeiro, former dean, University of Delhi, says such standardized tests factor in various levels of education. But the HRD official says these tests would be difficult for children in rural areas. "If the child hasn't heard of airbags, hot air balloons and ATMs, he won't even attempt those questions. Also, such detailed questions would be confusing; straight questions would work better." But surely international tests can't be tailor-made for each country? Besides, other countries are also taking these tests.
Indian Express (July 18, 2012) carried a report, which does not seem to have been corroborated or confirmed by anyone else. Presumably, MEA refers to the Ministry of External Affairs here.
... [The HRD Ministry] is putting up a brave face and wants the PISA assessment done in as many as nine states now. But, strangely, it is the MEA that seems to have developed cold feet. The HRD Ministry has to take an approval from the MEA to get this assessment done and the MEA is learnt to be sitting on the proposal for many days now.
Some MPs have raised questions in Parliament on the India's performance in the 2009 cycle of PISA tests and what the Govt plans to do going ahead and the then HRD Minister's answers relating to PISA tests in India are excerpted below. This is as official as it gets.
- Manish Tewari, Devji Patel - Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 1226 answered on 21.03.2012
The purpose of this PISA (2009) pilot study was to build our capacity for international participation and to understand the methodology and other aspects of the international survey.
- Motilal Vora - Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No. 4745 answered on 18.05.2012
- S. Thangavelu - Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No. 861 answered on 17.08.2012
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2009 covered only two States, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh in India and indicates unsatisfactory performance of students in these two States.
- Ashok Tanwar - Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 3945 answered on 05.09.2012 specifically asked "whether there is any proposal to implement International Student Assessment (ISA) Programme in all States so as to build capacity for international participation and to understand the methodology and other aspects of the international survey; " (sic)
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a project of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), was piloted in two Indian states, namely, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. However, no decision has been taken to implement the Programme in all states of the country. (emphasis mine)
The official view (as of September 09, 2012) is that the Government has not taken any decision. Since time is running out for participation in the 2012 cycle of PISA tests, the Minister of HRD ought to make a statement on the following:
- Has the Government written to the OECD (organisers of PISA 2012) about its concerns of a socio-cultural disconnect between the questions and Indian students? If so, when did the Government write to OECD? If not, when does the Government plan to write to the OECD?
- If the Government has already written to the OECD, has the Government received a reply from the OECD in response to its letter? If so, when did it receive the reply and what did the OECD say?
- Has the Government taken a decision to participate in PISA 2012 or not? If so, what has it decided? If not, by when does the Government expect to take a decision?
The lack of any official statements makes one wonder - is the Government planning to take no decision till it is too late to participate in the 2012 cycle and then tout that as the excuse for not participating?