Latin America and the Caribbean in PISA 2015 in 7 takeaways

Latin America and the Caribbean in PISA 2015 in 7 takeaways

María Soledad Bos Alison Elías Emiliana Vegas Pablo Zoido 7 diciembre 2016 Comments

The results of the 2015 edition of PISA, in which more than half a million students from 72 countries and economies in the world participated, highlighted that students in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to be among the lowest achievers. However, some nuance is needed to understand and contextualize these results. For instance, more countries and students from the region participated than ever before and the list of rapidly-improving education systems includes countries from Latin America and the Caribbean.

We share with you 7 takeaways from the participation of Latin America and the Caribbean in PISA 2015:

How did the region improve?

  1. More and more countries in the region participate in PISA

While in the year 2000 only five countries participated, 2015 saw ten countries take part in the assessment. Panama will join for the next edition and Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay are expected to join through the PISA for Development initiative. With these five additional countries, 50% of Latin America and the Caribbean will be represented in future editions of PISA, demonstrating the commitment of the region to improve education quality.

  1.  More youth enter and remain in the education system

In countries in the region, the number of students in the education system who took the test increased. This not only has implications in terms of the number of students who are represented in the results, but also signals a move towards more inclusion in the education systems and  granting greater weight to the progress achieved by the region.

  1. The rate of improvement in countries in the region is high when compared with all participating countries.

Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, and Trinidad and Tobago have joined the list of the 10 rapidly-improving education systems. Additionally, Peru reports consistent improvements in mathematics and reading.

What could the region do better?

  1. For the three subjects evaluated in PISA, Latin America and the Caribbean places among the lowest performers.

In science, for instances,  Chile heads the list of countries from the region at number 44. Uruguay (47) is next, followed by Trinidad and Tobago (53), Costa Rica (55), Colombia (57) Mexico (58), Brazil (63), and Peru (64). The Dominican Republic concludes the global science ranking on number 70. Similar ranking positions can be observed for mathematics and reading.

  1.      The performance gap between the region and high-performing countries are significant.  

In science, the gap between the average for the region and the OECD average is equivalent to 2.5 years of schooling. This difference grows to almost 5 years of schooling when one compares the regional average with Singapore, the top-performer in PISA 2015.

  1.      The region must accelerate its improvement rate to catch up with the performance of OECD countries.  

With the current rates of improvement, only certain countries in the region can see in the horizon the possibility of reaching OECD-level performance in PISA. For Peru, achieving this would take 21 years, while for Trinidad and Tobago and Colombia this would take 29 years. On the other hand, with the current rate of performance improvement, for Uruguay, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Costa Rica, the goal is practically out of reach.

  1.   Half the students in the region are low performers in PISA.

50% of 15-year-old students in Latin America and the Caribbean do not possess the essential knowledge and abilities to actively participate in society. If the number of 15-year-olds that are currently out of the system and those with overage who are still in primary education (grade 6 or below) the total percentage of low performers would reach 66%.


There is no doubt that there is a long way for Latin America to truly improve in terms of quality, but it is also important to acknowledge that, in the last 15 years, countries have maintained their performance levels while at the same time they have expanded access to education, including vulnerable populations that often tend to have the lowest level of performance.

The results from PISA 2015 tell us that we are going on the right path, but that all countries must transit it at a faster pace to truly reach the goal of having quality education systems in the region.

To learn more about the IDB analysis of PISA 2015 for Latin America and the Caribbean, visit

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