The Philippines and its involvement in PISA

What is PISA?

One of the key elements supporting a country’s development is education. It has favorable implications on a nation’s long-term economic growth, citizens’ social stability, and their health and way of life. The growth of a society where people have greater possibilities in life—employment opportunities and better health—is correlated with proper and high-quality education. As a result, investing in high-quality education is crucial for a nation to prosper. The potential to share data and technology between nations has been made possible by living in the twenty-first century. By doing this, school systems can absorb effective techniques from other nations and apply them to their own. PISA is one of the projects devoted to this.

 The Program for International Student Assessment or PISA is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that measures 15-year-old’s scholastic performance in reading, mathematics, science literacy and concludes their ability to meet real-life challenges. Additionally, each PISA cycle examines an “innovative domain” such as Collaborative Problem Solving (PISA 2015) and Global Competence (PISA 2018). Since 2000 with only 32 countries participating, PISA has now involved more than 90 countries and economies

and 3,000,000 students from across the globe. With the aim of measuring the yield of different education systems and help education reform, PISA provides the most extensive international assessment of student learning outcomes. The survey results are given every 3 years and it stipulates the quality of education attainment in different school systems from around the world. This comparative data showcases what’s possible for the world of education and let policymakers and educators learn effective strategies from other countries. Moreover, this serves as a benchmark for educational achievement in a global setting and create an urgency to push for greater levels.


As profoundly stated in one of OECD’s informational video, “in this hyperconnected world, the standards of excellence and education are no longer fixed at national borders. Countries can learn from each other, policies can be tweaked and tailored to work in different contexts, every country and economy can improve students’ performance and make its school system more inclusive at the same time.” PISA redefines education beyond borders and shows the limitless educational solutions that are not only desirable but also attainable.

Who is topping PISA?

The most recent international assessment administered was PISA 2018 with 79 countries involved and over 600,000 participants. China’s economic area of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang emerged to be the top performer in all categories—reading with 555 points, mathematics with 591 points, and science literacy with 590 points. Followed by Singapore and by Macao (China).




Below shows the overall ranking of countries in PISA 2018:


The succeeding PISA was supposed to commence in 2021 but due to the global Covid pandemic, OECD country members has decided to postpone it to 2022. This upcoming assessment will have over 85 countries participating, and its results will be released in December of the year 2023. PISA 2022 will be focusing on mathematics using the mathematics framework that was recently launched and will examine an innovative domain on creative thinking.

Finland’s performance in PISA

Finland has been participating since the first cycle of PISA in 2000 and has been among the top-ranking countries. It has also remarkably performed well in mathematics compared to all OECD participating nations and regions. Through the years, Finland has maintained to score above OECD average, and this reflects the quality of education Finnish students get nationwide.

In PISA 2000 and PISA 2003, Finland was notably the top performing nation among the 27 and 41 OECD countries that participated, respectively. Additionally, it was the only country that had a significant improvement in performance. In PISA 2006, Finland was once again able to outperform all 56 countries in science—the focal point of that year’s survey.

Below shows Finland’s performance in science literacy in PISA 2006:

In PISA 2009, Finland once again placed first among OECD members which shows their overall continuous educational achievement and equitable learning outcomes. Not only does Finland place a high ranking in PISA history, but it also shows that gender gap, regional differences whether urban or rural, play an insignificant role to the success of their education attainment. The act of treating students both holistically and equally is evidently translated to their academic accomplishment.

In PISA 2013 however, Finland has experienced a decline in the scores for the first time. Reading went down from 536 to 524, mathematics went down from 541 to 519, and science literacy went down from 554 to 545. Overall, Finland ranked 12th, just behind Estonia. One of Finland’s top concerns in recent years has been this ongoing decline, and its policymakers have been encouraged to find answers. Educators have discussed the possibility that there is a lack of centralized responsibility, homework, test assessments, and a culture that values instruction. When other nations adopt their distinctive pedagogical approaches and apply them to their own national context, it became one of the causes that would also contribute to Finland’s decline. Furthermore, Finland is still looking for tactics that would enable it to reclaim the top spot.


In PISA 2018, Finland participated in the survey which comprised of 214 Finnish schools with 42 students at each school who were selected randomly. Finland finally ended up being a part of the top-notchers. Their placement are as follows:

  • Reading: 6th place out of all participating nations and regions
  • Mathematics: between 12 and 18 overall (countries were grouped in this order due to minimal differences in scores)
  • Science literacy: 6th place out of all participating nations and regions

In PISA 2018, students were asked to rate their life satisfaction from 0 (not at all satisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied) in the in which country they are residing in. The PISA 2018 life satisfaction are put into classification as follows:

  • a student is “not satisfied” if he or she reported between 0 and 4 on the life-satisfaction scale
  • a student is “somewhat satisfied” if he or she reported 5 or 6 on the life-satisfaction scale
  • a student is “moderately satisfied” if he or she reported 7 or 8 on the life-satisfaction scale
  • a student is “very satisfied” if he or she reported 9 or 10 on the life-satisfaction scale

The average score of the students from Finland who participated in this survey was 7.61. This demonstrates that Finland is the only nation to have attained high levels of reading ability and life satisfaction. Finland may have experienced a few hindrances along the way, but they have consistently strived to seek for better strategies to improve the quality of their education. They also are commended for having a healthy work-life balance. One of Finland’s well-kept secrets to success is its statewide system of uniformly high-quality instruction, which is provided to all pupils regardless of their geography or socioeconomic status.

How did the Philippines do in PISA? What can we learn from Finland?

 The Philippines has participated in PISA for the first time during 2018. However, it has scored the lowest in reading comprehension, second lowest in mathematics and science literacy. The scores are as follows:

  • Reading: 340 points compared to OECD average of 487
  • Mathematics: 353 points compared to OECD average of 489
  • Science literacy: 357 points compared to OECD average of 489

The Department of Education in the Philippines has issued a statement regarding that matter in December 2019. “By participating in PISA, we will be able to establish our baseline in relation to global standards and benchmark the effectiveness of our reforms moving forward. The PISA results, along with our own assessments and studies, will aid in policy formulation, planning, and programming,” the DepEd statement read. Additionally, they have mentioned how the PISA results created the urgency of addressing such issues and gaps in attaining a better quality of basic education in the Philippines.


Sulong EduKalidad was launched by the Department of Education to address four key areas:

  • K to 12 review and updating
  • Improvement of learning facilities
  • Teachers and school heads’ upskilling and reskilling through a transformed professional development program and
  • Engagement of all stakeholders for support and collaboration.

Lastly, the statement read, “We envision that no Filipino learners should be left behind and it takes a nation to educate a child. Hence, DepEd calls the entire nation to take active involvement, cooperation, and collaboration in advancing the quality of basic education in the Philippines,”.

Philippines’ plans on moving forward

 On November 26, 2020, the Department of Education has formally released a statement about the Philippines’ participation in PISA 2022. As plan on moving forward, this serves the country a way to assess where the Philippines stand on a global scale. DepEd Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Diosdado San Antionio remains optimistic about achieving better results in PISA 2022 compared to the results attained in PISA 2018.


The PISA in Action Initiative was formed as part of the nation’s preparation for the impending testing. “This is a short-term initiative that intends to act on what we learnt from our participation in PISA 2018 to improve learning delivery, assessment, and resources,” said Abigail Alviz, Senior Education Program Specialist at the DepEd Bureau of Education Assessment Education Research Division. The results of the cognitive and background surveys, as well as research and materials from various education partners, are used in this endeavor. It is anticipated that these laws and initiatives will give students the tools they need to succeed in the real world’s issues.


The performance of a school cannot be attributed to a single element, according to Charlie Fababaer, principal of Pasig City Science High School—One of the best performing public schools in the Philippines. The lack of familiarity with the provided testing tools and environment, as well as their lack of experience with assessment questions that heavily rely on technology, are additional factors that contribute to the unfavorable results in PISA 2018. School administrators, policymakers, and educators can address these issues. He continued by saying that the education of pupils needed to be enhanced not just in one area but on the whole in order to improve the nation’s academic standing.


PPP Initiatives

The public-private partnership or PPP initiatives are set to identify various gaps in the education industry in the Philippines in hopes to attain better performance this coming year as compared to the results that were released 3 years ago. They have a goal of creating a world-class technology-enabled learning environment for teachers and students across the nation. Since one of the country’s weaknesses fall on its lack of knowledge in advanced technology, they aim to provide solutions that will remove technical barriers and enable students to exert more focus on their academic performances. In addition, educators are also trained and given educational tools that will better help the students when answering interactive types of questionnaires. Through this upcoming assessment that will be held in March 28 to May 20, its results will determine which strategies implemented were effective in the context of the Philippines. Not only that, but it also helps policy makers ascertain additional data points and insights that could continue the positive growth of education attainment in the nation.


What we can learn from Finland

As an archipelagic country defined by islands, certain points can be taken down from one of the countries that has remained at the top of the education community—Finland. Finland has showed the advantages of fostering equality not only in terms of education but also in general treatment amongst its community. Finland knows no segregation and gives the same quality education regardless of a person’s geographical location and socioeconomic background. The Philippines being a country separated with large bodies of waters, can learn from this. No man should be given a lesser quality of education with the given background that he/she was born into. Each person’s circumstance should not be a deciding factor of what kind of education they should receive. Furthermore, excellence aims to improve kids’ capacity for overcoming adversity as well as their academic performance. The integration of social-emotional learning into academics, or SEL, is one of Finland’s fundamental strategies. According to CASEL, SEL is the process by which all people learn and put into practice the knowledge, abilities, and values necessary to create and maintain supportive relationships, develop healthy identities, control emotions, accomplish individual and group goals, and feel and act with empathy toward others. This makes learning more effective and encourages pupils to learn from the heart, which benefits both students and teachers.


The PISA 2018 results for the Philippines serve as a starting point for finding better teaching resources and approaches that would raise academic achievement levels among students across the country. They do not define who we are as a nation. We’ll be able to develop not only on a national level, but also on an international one, where we can compete. In order to provide the student community with a learning-teaching environment that supports ongoing improvement in the global context, we must urgently modify our laws, regulations, and curriculum. Despite having an unfavorable outcome in our time around, it only shows that there are plenty of areas we can work on and that there are plenty of doors for an opportunity to find a new strategy that works well in the context of our country.

Big Pond Education is offering a 5-day training program for PISA Readiness by Experts from Finland.

Contact us to learn more!

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