Andreas Scheleicher, the ‘father’ of the prestigious and well-known PISA report, answers absolutely everything. Not only in person, where it is usually a bit more difficult to ‘get away’ from uncomfortable questions. He also shows his face whenever he is contacted by mail. «When you work in the public sector above all you have to be responsible to the peopleYou have to be transparent, “he says. The director of the education area of the OECD works very closely with the Ministry of Education and it is seen in many responses, but it does not stop speaking what he thinks. It supports most of the measures taken by former Minister Isabel Celaá and her successor, Pilar Alegría, but is also aware of the limitations
educational programs that our country has. “Repetition is not good but it does not have to be approved just because the students,” he assures.
He also admits that the responsibility for the lousy data that our country obtained in the last PISA report, in Sciences and Mathematics, belongs to teachers. Although it also highlights their ability and requires them to teach less content to focus on fewer things but with greater depth. The German that has been a reference in the world of education for years, rejects not only repetition but also the excessive memory content that it assures exists in our classrooms, as Celaá pointed out. But he clarifies that the solution is not Google, as defended by another former minister, Manuel Castells.
Scheleicher spoke with ABC during his visit to Madrid to present the OECD report ‘Competence in Ibero-America: socio-emotional skills’ presented at the new tower of IE University, in an event that was welcomed by the international rector of this university, Manuel Muñiz.
Do you have data on social and emotional skills in Spain?
Not yet, we will have them next year. It will be done in a separate study from that of PISA.
How important are social and emotional skills in education?
I think they will become more and more important. We know how to educate so-called ‘second-class robots’, people who only repeat what they are told. To be human in an age of artificial intelligence we must be able to improve, improve people who are different from us (less educated than us), we can also improve our planet. I think those are the important qualities in the 21st century. In the past you could only learn for a job, not today.
What impact do these skills have on academic performance?
The impact can be seen in job interviews. When an employer interviews they are not only interested in your grades but in your social and emotional skills. The employer will ask if the candidate can work in a team, if he is disciplined in his work, if he can organize himself … These are very important skills.
But does a student get better grades if his emotional and social skills are high?
Yeah right. The two are closely related. As the study has shown, students who are more curious and creative tend to do better in Mathematics and the Arts field. Unfortunately, in the world of education, academic and emotional learning are often differentiated and, in the end, they are two sides of the same coin. Students who are good academically can develop strong social and emotional skills. For example, if a teacher teaches Physical Education it can make students more athletic but you can also teach them to be more responsible for themselves, for others, to develop courage, leadership … This has to be part of education , because in the life in the XXI century it is very important.
The pedagogue Gregorio Luri wrote a book called: ‘The school is not an amusement park’. If you put too much emphasis on these social and emotional skills, don’t you run the risk of spending less time and relevance on academics?
This suggests a tension between some skills and others. And it is not like that. Let’s go back to the example of Mathematics: if you teach formulas and equations the students will get bored, but if you have a passion for the subject and you transmit it, you will develop all the skills: both academic and social and emotional. It is not one versus the other. Although I certainly agree with the pedagogue: the school is not an amusement park; learning is working, it takes effort, discipline, self-management … But this is precisely what social and emotional skills are about. Examples come to me from Finland or Korea, where the students study very hard but the teachers support them. The key is to make the interest in them grow.
Is a student who is happy a better student?
Happiness is a start, school teaches how to develop skills. My vision is this: if you do a good job at school, if you really invest in the students, if you make them understand who they are and what they want to become, if they are taught good social, emotional and academic skills, your students will be happy If all you are looking for is ‘happy students’ then they will not be well educated. It is not about the teacher saying: “I want to make you happy”, but trying to understand who they are, what they are talented at, how they can help them so that the teacher is a mentor, coach, evaluator. The strong student-teacher relationship is the best predictor for student happiness. If teachers focus on a good education and if there is a close relationship between teachers and students then yes, you will have happy students.
And happy teachers then …
Clear! The good work of the teachers is closely linked to the good work of the students.
In Spain, a lot of controversy was generated because many subjects, such as Mathematics, included the gender perspective in the curriculum. What do you think of this?
Students are different and they learn differently. And gender can be a way of understanding it, also its economic and social environment. Traditionally, it was thought that all students learned the same way: “I teach math and I don’t have to worry about who the students are.” I don’t think this is the correct approach. We must understand who the students are and what makes them different.
But in mathematics?
Yes. Gender is certainly a small aspect, it is not the only one … And the teacher has to understand that students learn differently and embrace diversity with different pedagogical tactics. What should be considered, in addition to the gender perspective, is that teachers are responsible for those differences that exist between their students. If you walk into the classroom and say, “I don’t care if you are a girl, a boy, a rich man, or I can … I just teach,” then contact with the students will be lost, and the teacher has to be responsible for the progress of the students’ learning. themselves and understand them as individuals.
What do you think of the memory content? It is another great debate in the country. The former Minister of Education, Isabel Celaá, always said that the curricula were “encyclopedic” or the former Minister of Universities, Manuel Castells, pointed out that to search for information there was Google …
It is important to understand the concepts. Google will help you if you have an idea beforehand. Let’s go back to Math: if you don’t have the idea of Math or the Math way of thinking, then Google won’t help you. If you don’t have the concept of a map, then Google Maps won’t help you. But it is true that in Spain there is too much memorization. You have to retain concepts, ideas … but not all the facts. The modern world does not evaluate you by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know.
In the last PISA report, Spain did very badly in Mathematics but especially in Science …
In Spain, students know a lot, for example, about chemistry, formulas … but 15-year-old children do not know how to design an experiment, distinguish scientific questions from those that are not … Science is the way of looking at and understanding the phenomena of the world and that they do not incorporate, but they do memorize equations and formulas that are not useful for them. And the same thing happens in Mathematics.
And who is responsible for this situation?
Do we have bad teachers?
No. They are perfectly capable. The challenge is to give teachers more time to focus on fewer things but in greater depth.
Another debate in Spain, perhaps the most heated and the one that has provoked the most criticism of the Ministry of Education, has been the fact that it is allowed to promote without a number of failures … What do you think of this?
Repetition is very ineffective. If you fail and do the same program again, you will not improve. That is proven in many countries. Repetition is not effective, it is costly because students are late for the job market. In fact, a single student in Spain who repeats costs the economy 25,000 euros, that’s a lot of money. Letting the students pass automatically, because yes, I don’t think it is a solution either. It is best to invest to help students move forward. But above all, identify the weakness as soon as possible and help the students to move forward.
If you tell the teacher that if the student does not prosper, you have to make him repeat what you are doing is to remove the responsibility. And that is very bad. Instead, tell them, “It’s your job to make students successful.” The responsibility does not have to fall on the student but on the teacher.
Is Finland still the country with the best educational system?
No, Korea, Japan and also Estonia stand out a lot. This European country has a very dynamic education system. Is incredible. There is a lot of self-management, autonomy, a very good collaborative culture, the students are not just instructors, there is a community …
Are you concerned about the long-term consequences of the pandemic for students?
Yes, of course. Students who learned to learn, who had parental support, who had good access to technology have had no problems. Those who did not have all this, who were not motivated, who did not have technological support, who did not have their parents taking care of them failed. The pandemic is dramatically amplifying inequity in education. But it also shows that we have to look at education differently. I hope that after the pandemic many students will talk to their teachers and tell them: “I have learned to learn by myself.”
What is the ideal teacher for you?
The most important thing is the relationship you have with the students. He has to be a good teacher in his subject, good in the pedagogy of that subject but also good in understanding his students on an individual level. I think that the Spanish system is not giving rise to that. Here the teachers teach and leave. In Japan or Singapore, teachers spend a lot of time with students outside of class. They are friends, they are something like a company, they know them and their families and I think that is being lost in Spain.