PISA 2015 contextual data and the case of the digital divide

PISA 2015 contextual data and the case of the digital divide

PISA 2015 contextual data and the case of the digital divide

Every three years the media turns its attention to the results from PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, which compares the performance of 15-year-old students around the world in reading, mathematics and science. Data are collected through carefully designed tests and additional background information through questionnaires distributed to students, principals and, in a number of countries, teachers and parents as well. Developing internationally comparable tests and questionnaires is a complex and iterative process. Many stakeholders and specialists are actively involved, including representatives from participating countries and economies, international experts, members of the PISA international consortium, and staff of the OECD PISA Secretariat. When finally published, the report and its comparison of country scores are the topic of countless newspaper articles, educator and teacher blogs, and even television and radio segments around the world.


While the release of student performance rankings may make for celebratory or controversial news stories, the rankings themselves are only a small part of the PISA project. In fact, only 10 of the more than 1,000 pages that make up the five volumes of the PISA 2015 Initial Report are dedicated to performance rankings. For policy makers and educators, the true value of the PISA results is found in the deeper analyses that are drawn from the data. By better understanding the relationships between student performance and numerous contextual factors, policy makers and educators can start discussing and exploring ways to improve the education they provide and raise performance standards in their countries. These contextual factors include student and school background, student attitudes and motivation, teaching and learning strategies, the school environment, school policies and practices, and the role of resources.


One contextual factor particularly important to our expanding digital world is students’ access to the Internet. The time students spend connected to the Internet has increased substantially at school and at home over the past few years. This evolution is particularly evident among socio-economically disadvantaged students. It is unclear, however, if this trend is beneficial. The PISA results suggest that students who spend a great deal of time on line tend to perform worse academically, particularly when they use the Internet intensively on school days. In addition, levels of students’ well-being – indicated by students’ satisfaction with their life, for example – are lower among those who are on line for extended periods of time. PISA published a policy brief entitled “How has Internet use changed between 2012 and 2015?” (PISA in Focus #83) that addresses the “digital divide” at a nuanced and granular level among OECD and partner countries. It highlights the change over time in the number of hours students spend on line; the difference in time spent on line related to students’ socio-economic backgrounds; and the relationship between time spent on line and students’ academic performance. 


Parents, educators and policy makers are currently exploring innovative, efficient and promising ways in which digital technologies can be used in learning and education. Until norms can be established, greater connectivity for students may not be entirely desirable: moderate use appears to be key, especially on school days.


The PISA 2015 data files include the full range of responses of over 500,000 students to the cognitive test items and questionnaire items; they are available to the public on line and free of charge. They also include useful contextual data collected from school principals, teachers and parents. PISA makes this data set available to everyone with the hope of helping improve the education and lives of future generations.


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Written by: Miyako Ikeda, Directorate for Education and Skills, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


For more information, please contact: Miyako Ikeda [miyako.ikeda(@)oecd.org]


Photo: @ Unplash/John Schnobrich