PISA for Development: lessons from Ecuador

By Josette Arévalo 
PISA-D National Project Manager and Executive Director of the Instituto Nacional de Evaluación Educativa of Ecuador
María José Guevara Duque
PISA-D Lead Analyst and Director of Educational Research at the Instituto Nacional de Evaluación Educativa of Ecuador

Education has been a priority in Ecuador for more than a decade. In 2006, Ecuador approved a 10-year educational plan by national referendum, and the 2017-2021 National Development Plan sets forth an ambitious objective related to the education sector: “To guarantee a decent life with equal opportunities for all people”. Access and equality are priorities in the education sector, but the quality of education, infrastructure and the availability of resources are concerns, as well.

In order to understand if we are making progress toward our objectives, we need comprehensive, reliable and rigorous evaluation processes. That is why Ecuador’s Ministry of Education decided to participate in the PISA for Development (PISA-D) initiative. In joining PISA-D, the ministry aimed to improve our understanding of the major challenges that students face in the final years of formal education, and to complement the results of our national assessments – Ser  Estudiante, Ser Bachiller and Ser Maestro – with a more global perspective. Our organisation, the National Institute of Educational Assessment (Ineval), was appointed to carry out PISA-D throughout Ecuador. We conducted the field trial of the school-based assessment in 2016, carried out the main data collection in 2017, and spent 2018 analyzing and reporting the results.

Results from PISA-D will not lead to overnight changes in Ecuador, but they do provide us with an important starting point.

Results for Ecuador were mixed. Students said they feel safe and happy at school, but the results underscored a need to improve the quality of education they receive. The average 15 year-old in Ecuador only reaches PISA proficiency level 2 in reading, and maths scores are low, as well – particularly among girls and underprivileged students. One of the main challenges for our educational system today is to not only provide children with the knowledge they will need throughout their lives, but to ensure that the most vulnerable populations are not excluded from the system.

Participating in PISA-D has provided Ecuador with valuable data about our educational system, and with perspectives that could not be gained through national assessments alone. The program has also helped strengthen our national capacity to carry out large-scale educational assessments in the future.

The PISA-D results will allow us to better assess the effectiveness of Ecuador’s education system, in terms of achievement and learning, and to identify areas to concentrate our efforts. Participating in international programs will also allow us to closely track our progress toward both national and international objectives.

Nevertheless, assessments alone cannot improve the quality of education. Policy makers should now use these results to develop concrete actions, and to evaluate the effectiveness of policies that have already been implemented. Researchers, meanwhile, should use our PISA-D findings to develop new lines of enquiry, which can then inform future policy making. Results from PISA-D and national assessments will not lead to overnight changes in Ecuador, but they do provide us with an important starting point.

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