The man from Opposite Land

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My daughters have a game. One of them will declare, “Opposite Land!” and from then on, everything that either of them says must be the opposite of what is true. I used to think this was just a child’s game but I am now starting to wonder whether Opposite Land actually exists. I think I’ve spotted one of their citizens doing the rounds of education conferences and he is Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, the organisation that runs the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Today, Mr Scheicher is quoted as claiming, “Actually in China you will find more emphasis on conceptual understanding, on creativity, on those kinds of non-routine skills, than in Australia.” And he suggests that Australia suffers from a ‘crowded curriculum’ with ‘lots of content’.


I would like to see the evidence to support these claims. I have previously looked at claims about memorisation based on  PISA. The construct that was used to measure memorisation was flawed and seemed to have virtually no relationship to PISA results. Moreover, the idea that Australia’s denuded, knowledge-lite curriculum is somehow ‘overcrowded’ beggars belief.

From his comments, Schleicher’s claims about memorisation seem to be based upon the fact that Australian students do better on the easier PISA questions than they do on the harder ones. If the reverse was true in East Asia then this would be a striking finding but I suspect that East Asian students simply do better on all of the questions.

This is not the first instance of strange pronouncements from PISA. The overwhelming finding from PISA 2012 was that their measure of ‘student-orientation’ correlated negatively with PISA maths results in every country. And the story from PISA 2015 was that the more ‘enquiry-based’ science students were exposed to, the worse their results.

What has Schleicher had to say about this?

Nothing. Nada. Crickets.

It’s almost as if there is some kind of ideological bias that affects the way the OECD report their findings.


11 thoughts on “The man from Opposite Land

  1. I’m really starting to think that this guy is ultimately just a hardened publicity whore who will trumpet any trendy modern nostrum if it ensures him a fresh bunch of “education guru” speaking engagements. Roll on the frequent flyer points!

    • Michael Pye says:

      That’s unnecessarily personal, and unfounded. Can we keep the criticisms on point, there is plenty of legitimate ammunition to use.

      • It’s perfectly well-founded in my view. Every single time I see him quoted reverently in the media he’s making some vapid statement with zero evidence behind it, just to establish his “progressive” credentials. It’s been absolutely nauseating to watch over the past couple of years.

    • Michael Pye says:

      Is that in all subjects or localised in STEM subjects? Which cohorts are being compared? I thought in general girls outperform boys.

  2. David F says:

    And remember his response when the PISA computer assessment found that the more tech in the classroom the worse the scores? “Those teachers just need to use the technology better!”

  3. Mitch says:

    I think adding in the ‘creativity’ part of that quote is him trying to appease his backers.
    I think there is a bit of point to be made that lots of maths education in Australia does not ask or expect students to answer difficult questions. Now I think that is because we aren’t comfortable with the workload needed to get to difficult questions (doing lots of simple question increasing in difficulty and concepts) and are always looking for shortcuts. Did you see the comments from the AAMT president supporting inquiry learning

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