Lifelong Learning Platform | LLLP - European Civil Society for Education

PISA 2018 Results: A wake-Up call to put Wellbeing not numbers at the heart of policy-making

December 3, Brussels – The OECD PISA 2018 and of the EU results were launched on the 3 December in Brussels. The Lifelong Learning Platform participated in the launching event which confirmed our biggest concern: pupils’ wellbeing is a major challenge. While PISA focuses on fundamental competencies such as reading, mathematics, and sciences it also looks at the general satisfaction of pupils with school experience.

Building on a detailed analysis, the report shows that the number of underachieving students in the EU has increased from 2015 to 2018. This prompts the reader to understand that EU countries are not doing enough to “equipping citizens with the knowledge and skills”. The reason behind such an increase differs from country to country and thus the mechanisms to deal with them need to be adapted to the specific challenges while also, and most importantly, adopting a holistic approach to learner well-being and development.

The report shows a big difference between the EU Member States in relation to their funding of education and student achievement. Even though it is not possible to establish a direct linear relationship between spending and educational achievements, one can observe, from the PISA report, that countries that spend more in education most of the time achieve better results of their students. The Lifelong Learning Platform strongly believes that education is a public good and a human right and, as such, should be at the forefront of every national policy with a clear investment strategy. This is a vital step to help students achieve their full potential, both as individuals and as part of a complex society.

The report also shows that students’ socioeconomic status continues to affect their performance. In fact, the proportion of underachievers (in reading in particular and education in general) in most countries is much larger in the bottom quarter of the Economic, Social and Cultural Status of Students (ESCS) index compared to pupils in the top quarter of ESCS: up to more than 40 percentage points in Romania and Bulgaria. Socioeconomic status also strongly affects pupils’ educational expectations. In the many EU Member States, more than 80% of pupils from advantaged families think they will complete tertiary education, while fewer than 50% of disadvantaged pupils do. This is because the latter do not usually get the help they need and as such lose their hunger and determination for school. Their chances of future employment thus decrease and they are more inclined to rely on social welfare later in life. This is a worrying sign, especially because of its recurrence: the EU Member States are not acting upon it.

The proportion of underachievers is even worse for students from a migrant background. The situation is usually worse for pupils born abroad (their underachievement rate exceeds 50% in Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden) than for native-born pupils with parents born abroad. The main cause is the difference in language, because language barriers play a negative role in the reading performance of pupils with a migrant background, to a greater extent than for mathematics or science.

Another discrepancy in students’ performance – and especially reading – is based on their gender. Even though there is no big difference in achievement between boys and girls, girls outperform boys in reading skills in all EU countries. The EU average is 26.3% for boys and 16.9% for girls. These differences arise from the social and cultural context, pupils’ non-cognitive abilities (such as motivation and self-esteem), and gender stereotypes that translate into parents’, teachers’ and pupils’ gender-oriented expectations. Our school systems need to implement changes so as to make them as welcoming as possible for all and make sure that every pupil is valued for their skills, abilities and unique characteristics, regardless of gender. Students should not fit pre-crafted containers, but their education should, on the contrary, be tailored towards their needs and aptitudes.

Another important issue discussed in the PISA report is the wellbeing of pupils in school. There are many factors that determine the wellbeing of students in school but bullying (including cyberbullying) and violence undermine both pupils’ well-being and their performance at school. More than one in five pupils reported being bullied at least a few times a month. EU countries should work more on making schools as friendly and inclusive spaces as possible, guided by strategic leadership and in close collaboration with parents, social services and other stakeholders in the wider community. After all, as the saying goes, it “takes a whole village to raise a child”.

LLLP believes that investing in early childhood education would be of utmost help in order to alleviate the above-mentioned problems. High-quality Early Childhood Education boosts cognitive, character and social skills. It also has wider and long-term social benefits: it increases the likelihood of healthier lifestyles, lowers unemployment and reduces overall social costs of poverty and inequality. It can also ease inequality by enabling mothers to get back to work and support the household’s budget with a second income.

All in all, the Lifelong Learning Platform calls for a rethinking of the “performance-based” approach to education and urges policymakers to make cautious use of PISA results. The performance of education systems themselves seems to be determined by a single survey representing 80 percent of the world’s economy (and not citizens) and assessing 15-year-olds in mathematics, science, and reading – only three subjects, more linked to economic outcomes of education. PISA results are often used selectively to justify policy-making, as they in fact do not claim to explain the causes and effects of phenomena in education. M. Sadler, one of the most influential comparativists of education warned already in 1900 that educational policies cannot be treated as “pick a flower from one bush and leaves from another, and then expect if we plant it at home we shall have a living plant.” Hence, we need to carefully consider education within its cultural context and local circumstances, looking at the differences between curricula, teaching and learning practices, teacher training and professional development, and practices of cooperation among the various actors and services that impact the lives and overall well-being of learners. This is the key to helping them achieve their full potential and deal with the challenges of 21st-century life.

For more information about the results find here a few useful links:

Our member’s view on PISA – OBESSU (Organising Bureau of European School Student Union): link to the reaction. You can watch the web-streaming during which our Director, Brikena Xhomaqi raise the issue of PISA limitations and lack of focus on pupil’s wellbeing.

Contact us for more information at