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  • This blog is written by specialists from the Education Division of the Inter-American Development Bank. Its objective is to provide arguments and ideas that will spark debate about how to transform education in Latin America and the Caribbean. This blog is a call to action for the reader. An idea, a project, or a question can make a difference.

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    Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son las del autor y no necesariamente reflejan las opiniones del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, sus directivas, la Asamblea de Gobernadores o sus países miembros.

    The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Management, its Board of Executive Directors or its member Governments.

    How can Brazil Improve its Performance in PISA?

    By - 5 Dec 2013

    by Patrícia Fortunato* 

    Brazil Pisa Small

    Photo: Agência Brasil

    For more information about the PISA results of participating Latin American countries, click here.

    The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) just released the results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial test that evaluates the abilities and competencies of 15-years-old students of participating countries. Although progress was made in Mathematics since PISA 2003, Brazil only barely achieved position 58 in the ranking of 65 countries. Shanghai, China, made first place not only in Mathematics, but also in Science and Reading, the other two areas evaluated by PISA.

    In Mathematics, Brazil recorded 391 points, figuring greatly below the mean of 494. Brazil’s score was only superior to that of Argentina, Tunisia, Jordan, Colombia, Qatar, Indonesia, and Peru. Similarly in Science, where the average score was 501, Brazil achieved 405 points, the second lowest result of the participating Latin American countries. Finally, in Reading, Brazil obtained 410 points, compared to a mean of 496 points for the Latin American nations. Only Argentina and Peru scored lower, while Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay surpassed Brazil.

    What to do to change this situation? According to the OECD, Brazil needs to find more efficient ways to engage with low-performing students. In addition, it needs to address the issue of grade repetition. Among the 15-years-old students, 26% repeated a grade at least once. “Losing the year,” as it is often said in Brazil, is common among students of less-privileged backgrounds and thus not only contributes to the lack of motivation towards learning but also results in school dropouts. Consequently, these conditions perpetuate a vicious cycle: low income, low academic achievement, lack of motivation, repetition, and school dropout.

    Marcelo Perez Alfaro, IDB Education Specialist, recommends that Brazil looks for ways to use data, like that generated by PISA, to improve the management of education programs and to promote a learning that is more devoted and attentive to the needs of the students and the level of competency of each one of them. “Brazil possesses highly sophisticated education evaluation instruments,” explains the expert, both in terms of the PISA tests as well as similar ones administered by the Federal and state governments. “What is necessary now is working on actually utilizing this data to change the current reality,” he concludes.

    X-Rays of Brazil in PISA 2012

    • 61% of Brazilian students are low-performing in Science. In the best cases, they are capable of providing obvious explications. Boys and girls perform similarly in science, as it is the case in other countries studied by the OECD;

    • In reading, half of the country’s students are below the basic proficiency level, which means that, at most, they are capable of recognizing the main idea of a text or the thesis of an author. The mean scores in reading for girls is higher than that for boys by 31 points;

    • 67.1% of the students are low-performing in Mathematics. In the best case scenario, they can extract information from a single source and utilize use basic algorithms or formulas to solve problems. The average score of boys is superior to that of girls by 18 points.

    • 1.9% of Brazilian students who live under disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions can overcome them and their performance in school is higher than expected. The OECD refers to these students as resilient. Among OECD countries, resilient students account for 26%.

    This Blog post was orginally published on Ideação,  IDB’s blog in Portuguese. 


    *Patrícia Fortunato is a communications consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank.

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