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Learning as a Holistic Process: Insights Derived from the Most Recent PISA

Recently, GELYDA (Global Extended Learning and Youth Development Association) held its inaugural  symposium with the theme of the Role of Extended Learning and Youth Development in Times of  Rapid Change and Crisis. This event brought together leading scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners  to explore the evolving landscape of education and youth development. Our keynote speaker was  Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation  and Development (OECD) and the “man behind PISA”, the international assessment of student learning  for 15-year-olds across the globe. 

Many readers will be familiar with PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), which this  past year ranked the educational performance of 81 countries based on these assessments. This ranking  garners significant attention internationally, and even more so nationally, as countries grapple with their  standings. However, the latest PISA round has expanded beyond academic performance to include  assessments of student well-being, engagement, and social and emotional skills. This shift towards  considering the "whole child" rather than just the academic-cognitive brain provides a richer  understanding of how students learn and thrive, and it highlights the expanded role of non school hours  and extracurricular learning.  

Andreas Schleicher's address accentuated the importance of this holistic understanding of education. He  emphasized that while schools play a central role in education, they are part of a broader learning  landscape that includes extended learning contexts, community involvement, and family life. He  highlighted the significant role of extracurricular activities beyond the school-based curriculum in  fostering comprehensive youth development, or, as he put it “sometimes what we call the extracurricular  is really the heart of a modern curriculum”. One of the impactful moments of his presentation was when  he showed a slide illustrating a country with high academic performance yet struggling in other areas of  child development. This visual served as a stark reminder that academic excellence alone does not  guarantee the overall well-being and development of our youth. 

Slide 14 and 17 from Mr. Schleicher’s presentation compares two academically successful countries,  one superbly, the other in the high average category: Singapore and Denmark. Andreas Schleicher  walked us through the findings and pointed out that Singaporean kids, while doing academically very  well, “they're not so happy”. This holds true for psychological well-being, emotional resilience, or  autonomy. Singaporean kids, as Mr. Schleicher showed, have very little control over their time outside  the formal school setting. 

Summarizing the findings for Singapore means, highest ranking for academics, but in terms of wellbeing  and social-emotional skills there is much to be desired. 

Singapore PISA 2022 Findings (Slide 14) 

Denmark PISA 2022 Findings (Slide 17)

Slide 17 (above) shows a very different picture, it shows the country of Denmark. Aside from the fact  “that Denmark is not as great as Singapore academically”, Denmark is, as Mr Schleicher showed, doing  better than the OECD average on everything that is measured in PISA. On the one hand “Danish  students are actually doing quite well academically” they are on the other hand “very happy kids: They  have a great level of agency, they are resilient, they have good engagement with school, they have  strong and meaningful social relationships” – to name only some of the measured aspects of well being.  

If we compare these two countries obviously much has to go into this comparison: these are 15 year olds  (what about 10 year olds?) and we have to look at the organizational inputs in each country,  expenditures, and also cultural differences that might relate to the assessments and willingness to discuss  internal states, etc. But in terms of student voice, it is clear that Danish students are happier with what  they experience and they are academically successful. Mr Schleicher pointed out that psychological  wellbeing and academic performance are not “two opposing ends on a spectrum”, they are “more as two  sides of the same coin” – a coin that is molded from curricular and from extracurricular learning. 

Mr. Schleicher's presentation was far-reaching, emphasizing the need for various players to join forces  in supporting the educational goals of young people. Community organizations, companies, health and  mental health organizations all have a crucial role to play. For us, as leaders of GELYDA, the issue is not only about the interplay of organizations and the use of time (e.g., out-of-school time), but a  philosophy, a paradigm that includes the following attributes: 

  1. Asset-oriented Approach: Shifting from pathologizing to recognizing and building on the  strengths and assets of young people. 

  2. Relational Focus: Creating opportunities for mentoring and fostering a sense of belonging  among young people. 

  3. Resilience-creating Development: Leveraging hard times to build strengths and resilience in  young people. 

  4. Deep Learning Experiences: Encouraging creativity and complex problem-solving through  immersive and meaningful learning experiences. 

  5. Assessment and Data Support: Using data to understand and support the individual needs of  each child. 

  6. Family and Community Focus: Addressing learning within the broader context of family and  community needs. 

These are the principles of GELYDA that has taken a leadership role in promoting these evidence-based  practices across the continents. In this regard we are in full alignment with the OECD, especially  Andreas Schleicher and team’s new research approach and findings.  

As we reflect on the symposium, it is clear that to truly support our youth in these times of rapid change  and crisis, we must adopt a more integrated approach. This involves, just as Mr. Schleicher put it, not  just focusing on academic outcomes but also prioritizing the social, emotional, and well-being aspects of  education. This holistic view on education and youth development makes it obvious that putting that  successfully into practice requires cooperation and collaboration of all educational stakeholders,  researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners. Our founding is a call to action for all these stakeholders  in the education sector to work together in creating an environment where every child can thrive. 

GELYDA is committed to fostering these conversations and collaborations, building bridges between  researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners. We will support organizations in countries that aim to  bring about change and wish to track their progress on the upcoming PISA assessments due in 2025.  Together, we can navigate the complexities of youth development and ensure that all young people have  the opportunity to succeed in all areas of their lives. Please consider joining GELYDA if you are not  already a member, to learn more visit our website.

The Global Extended Learning and Youth Development Association(GELYDA)

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