In upending education systems worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic shines a stark light on how necessary it is for young people to be able to navigate interconnected, interdependent realities. The newest PISA results show the crucial role schools and the wider community have in helping them do this, says Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 

Over 500 policymakers, teachers, students, workforce pipeline representatives and education influencers from 74 countries joined AFS Intercultural Programs’ virtual AFS Global Conference on October 22 and 23 to hear the results of the OECD’s first-ever Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) on global competence. The event focused on how to use the findings to better prepare students for the complexities of the workforce and daily challenges in globalized societies.

Watch the PISA results launch recording here. 

Key takeaways from the PISA results

The 2018 PISA results show that education systems that are most successful in preparing young people to thrive in interconnected circumstances do five things:

  1. are based on curricula that value openness to the world,
  2. provide a positive and inclusive learning environment,
  3. offer opportunities to relate to people from other cultures in- and outside the classroom—including through international exchanges and virtual programs,
  4. incorporate participatory learning activities based on real-world happenings,
  5. have teachers who are prepared to facilitate global competence and who reflect an appreciation for others in their day-to-day interactions with students.

Explore the main presentation of PISA results by Andreas Schleicher, OECD.

What do the PISA results mean?

The report’s findings and the differences seen both within and between the 66 countries* participating in some part of the assessment make clear that global competence is and can be more effectively fostered in school. 

It further highlights that education allies including parents, community groups and organizations that expose students to other cultures, including exchange providers like AFS, also play key roles in shaping students’ attitudes and dispositions about diversity and inclusiveness. They can provide opportunities to mitigate prejudices which may otherwise be present in existing systems. 

Turning PISA insights into actions

Experts from six stakeholder groups discussed the implications of the PISA results for education moving forward:

  • Government representatives, including from Singapore, Colombia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya, voiced support for more implementation resources to turn policies into global competence-enabling practices.
  • Teachers and school authorities said the results present an argument for placing learning-to-live-together at the center of the curriculum and ensuring adequate professional development for teachers for their own global competence as society re-thinks the core purposes of education.
  • Business leaders, including from Siemens and bp, stressed the need for cross-sector partnerships to ensure that graduates enter the labor market with multilingual skills and intercultural communication abilities necessary in a globally interconnected workforce.
  • Researchers suggested that PISA’s ambitious first-time study be continued and expanded to use multiple assessment approaches that are holistic and that look at teachers’ global competence education as well as that of students.
  • International education and non-formal learning providers emphasized the report’s findings in favor of greater cooperation with teachers and schools to provide more experiential opportunities for students to build contact with people from different cultures as a way of stirring curiosity, opening minds and creating understanding. 
  • And students expressed a need to be more directly involved in determining what global competence learning activities are accessible to them both in and outside of school.

Altogether, these implications suggest that “concerted and comprehensive efforts should be made towards expanding the opportunities to develop global competence” in education systems in order to prepare students to face challenges, make meaningful progress towards the UN Global Goals, and prosper professionally and personally.**

“Learning to thrive in an interdependent world is not an abstract idea but an urgent action we need to work on together,” concluded Vishakha Desai, of Columbia University and Chair of AFS Intercultural Programs’ Board of Trustees in the conference’s closing panel. “Young people are aware of world issues and ready to take action—and we must now create better systems that empower them to act as global citizens.” 

How AFS is advancing global competence education

For over a century, AFS has been dedicated to empowering young people from all backgrounds through our international exchanges, education initiatives, volunteerism and advocacy. In times of the ongoing pandemic, we see the need for the AFS mission—the need for learning to live together—to be greater than ever before. AFS is also embracing virtual opportunities, adding more virtual exchange programs and online learning, like the Global You Adventurer program and the Global Competence Certificate program for students, teachers and professionals. We take our current global challenges as an opportunity to grow and be of service to society in new ways. 

“Thank you AFS for hosting this launch and what you do every day. At OECD, we have made global competence measurable and tangible, but you live that every day, and you have done it for 100 years in every part of the world. I count on you to help us put into practice the policy recommendations that come out of this report,” said Schleicher.

The AFS Center for Intercultural Learning and Global Competence Education organizes the annual AFS Global Conference which convenes global leaders to discuss the future of education. For more information AFS and the Center’s activities, contact Melissa Liles, Executive Director of the Center at

*See a list of countries and economies participating in the PISA assessment here.
** Quote from page 198 of the PISA assessment report.