Providing all students the right opportunities to develop global competence will require significant changes in the classroom, including how much time students spend learning about the world and other cultures, the opportunities they have to practice what they learn, and how teachers support this learning by working with diverse students,” says Mario Piacentini in his latest interview with AFS. 

Mario is a Senior Analyst at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the organization that, among other things, implements the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. In 2018, this global yardstick for success in education, assessed global competence and its role for quality, equity, and effectiveness in education for the first time. This October, the virtual AFS Global Conference will host the worldwide launch of these results. Mario recently joined AFS and other experts for a webinar titled, “When global events expose global need.” We thank him for providing additional insights for the AFS Now readers.

Mario Piacentini, OECD, speaking at the AFS Global Conference
Mario Piacentini, OECD, speaking at the AFS Global Conference

Why was it important for OECD to assess global competence in 2018, on top of the regular assessments in reading, mathematics and science? Will this continue to be a focus area for the OECD, especially in light of the pandemic and the climate crisis?

Assessing the competences that students need for life has always been PISA’s core mission. Being able to understand what you read (reading), reason with numbers and data (mathematics), and investigate the natural world (science) will remain central skillsets that young people need to develop. However, life in the 21st century also demands a wider set of competences. And one core set of competencies relates to understanding the complexity of the world we live in, appreciating our cultural differences, interacting in diverse teams, and being able to take action for your community and the wider world. With the 2018 assessment of global competence, we hope to give policymakers a resource to reflect on the role schools can play in preparing young people for informed and engaged citizenship.

Looking beyond the 2018 assessment, the OECD continues to contribute to global discussions on what people should be learning in order to become more resilient and more capable of finding solutions to big problems like the current pandemic. Our ‘Future of Education and Skills 2030’ project is developing a holistic framework of the competences students need to navigate an uncertain future and support collective well-being. In this process we are engaging a large group of stakeholders from different countries, including many educators.    

What were the most challenging aspects of creating the Framework and what are the plans for applying it moving forward?

The main challenge was to convince our stakeholders that something as complex as global competence could be assessed in a comparable way across the world with a single instrument. Global competence is not a subject and has not a clearly defined curriculum. Global competence has multiple dimensions, and some of them are very action-oriented, so they are difficult to demonstrate in a computer test. There are also issues of fairness: how do we account for the fact that what is general knowledge in one part of the world might be very unfamiliar somewhere else? These are all fair concerns that we took very seriously. 

You can see that our framework is organized in two sections: a conceptual part, where we describe global competence in all its complexity, in order to provide a comprehensive orientation for curricula and instruction; and an assessment part, in which we define one approach to comparative assessment that fits the constraints of PISA. It is important to acknowledge that PISA has a specific purpose – it provides one snapshot on where students are in their learning – and is not meant to replace other forms of assessment that need to happen in the classroom and provide formative feedback to learners.   

Our definition of global competence is inspiring other projects on learning frameworks and curriculum reforms. Principals and teachers have been using the framework to define school-wide plans for global competences, and have conducted their own evaluations, using our questions as a basis for more contextualized and formative approaches to assessment. We plan to continue engaging with organisations like AFS to support educators, for example making available lesson plans and other resources. At the moment, we still do not know whether the PISA assessment will be repeated (and improved) in the future.

The 2018 PISA Global Competence Assessment explored how informed teens are about global health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic is giving renewed importance to that issue. How can teaching practices or curricula change to improve students’ knowledge and awareness of such global topics? 

First of all, teachers must dedicate time to these topics. The challenge is that the curriculum is already crowded, so a promising approach consists in integrating the exploration of these issues into the existing subjects. For instance, a mathematics teacher might invite students to decide whether linear or exponential functions best fit the data on the diffusion of the virus. 

Teachers must have clear ideas about the global and intercultural issues that they want students to reflect upon and connect those topics to the reality, interests and needs of the learning group, taking into account the diversity of the students’ background. When making these choices teachers must reflect on the developmental objective they want to achieve: for example, making students acquire a critical awareness of the causes of racism and discrimination, or helping students take an informed position on issues, such as the current pandemic, where the experts disagree. 

It is also very important to use active-learning pedagogies, such as collaborative project work, that are effective in helping students acquire a deeper level of understanding of complex issues, and at the same time contribute to the development of core transversal skills such as critical thinking and perspective taking.   

How can policymakers ensure that global competence development plays a bigger part in all students’ learning experience?

Providing all students the right opportunities to develop global competence will require significant changes in the classroom, including how much time students spend learning about the world and other cultures, the opportunities they have to practice what they learn, and how teachers support this learning by working with diverse students. Some national curricula now put more emphasis on sustainable development and intercultural education. Many teachers worldwide encourage students to analyse and reflect on the causes of global issues, and share ideas on possible solutions. 

However, progress has been uneven both across and within countries. Students from highly educated and richer families have more opportunities to develop their global competence at school. 

Policymakers can accelerate a more inclusive process of change by sending a clear message that developing global competence is not an option that some schools can pursue but a necessity and priority for all schools. They have two main levers that they need to use in a coordinated way: curriculum reforms and teacher training. The latter is particularly important to ensure equitable access to these essential learning opportunities. 

About Mario Piacentini
Mario leads the work on the PISA assessments of transversal, 21st century skills. He is the lead author of the frameworks for the PISA 2018 assessment of Global Competence and for the PISA 2021 assessment of Creative Thinking. He also authored several PISA analytical reports, including the first report on the well-being of students. Mario joined the OECD in 2009 as a Young Professional. Before moving to the PISA team in April 2015, he worked for the Public Governance Directorate and the Statistics Directorate of the OECD, the University of Geneva and the World Bank. Mario has contributed to several large OECD and inter-agency projects on gender and well-being, and led the definition and development of international indicators on metropolitan areas, inequality, entrepreneurship and trade. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Geneva. Mario speaks Italian, English, French and is currently learning Spanish. He is a happy father of two boys.