One big lesson from PISA for low performing countries

One consistent lesson from PISA results is that low-performance is not a destiny. Countries can improve their performance. Contrary to popular discourse to design and come up with fancy policies, the process of transformation requires boring grunt work. For instance, this is the story of Argentina's improvement
For Esteban Bullrich, the minister in charge of education from 2010 to 2015, the initial aim was to make sure that pupils were being taught. Teachers were spending 12-15 days per year on strike, or about 7% of  the time they should be in class, according to his calculations. To try to reduce those absences he first made his mobile-phone number public and began fielding calls directly from angry teachers. He extended the school day.
Then he offered teachers something of a deal: higher salaries in exchange for taking their job more seriously. The grip of unions in deciding promotions was loosened. And he made teacher training more rigorous and practical.
Argentina's efforts, as with most other countries that have improved, didn't include fancy grand schemes. It required them to do boring, grunt work of correcting the fundamentals of governance like addressing teachers' concerns, navigating through unions, bargaining for performance. It's a lesson that's to be ingrained. On the contrary, all our efforts to reform bypass these aspects. We instead try to parachute interventions to classrooms or launch grand schemes without addressing the first order issues. We have to strongly resist such approach.

This is for low performing countries suffering from capacity constraints. For countries that don't have  capacity constraints, the policies that are implemented using the capacity may be a constraint. They require a different approach to reform.

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