How do we measure educational quality globally?


Mary Beth Faller

ASU’s Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education helped organize a conference aimed at finding new metrics to address a UN goal of improving education worldwide.

“Globally, we made an agreement that we should measure not only access but also the quality of education we provide,” said Iveta Silova, a professor and director of the center, part of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. “But we don’t have an agreement on how it should be measured.

“How can we measure learning beyond literacy and numeracy? And how can we capture important issues like being a good citizen or human rights or morality?” 

With the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in mind, Silova’s center and the Comparative and International Education Society have partnered to host a symposium in Scottsdale this week on global learning metrics.

The event will bring together experts in policy and practical applications from all over the world, including Silvia Montoya, director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics; and Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, scholar and author. Plenary speakers include Eric Hanishek of Stanford University, David Edwards of Education International, Karen Mundy from the Global Partnership for Education, and Aaron Benavot of the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report. Gustavo Fischman, a professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and director of edXchange, is co-organizer of the symposium.

Silova, who has many years of working for nongovernment organizations in Central Asia, took over the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College earlier this year. She talked about the center’s mission and the upcoming event.

Question: How did you become interested in global education?

Answer: I was born and raised in Latvia, and all of my education was during the Soviet period. As I was finishing high school, the Soviet Union collapsed. The transition was very chaotic, and there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense.

, CASGE director, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Iveta Silova

One of the most shocking things was that as we were preparing for our high school graduation exams, at the last moment, the history exam was canceled. It was because everyone knew that the history we had learned for the last 10 years in school was wrong, and the new textbooks literally hadn’t been written yet.

One of the reasons I ended up studying education is that there were so many changes happening so rapidly, and so many that did not make sense, that for personal reasons I was driven to the field of education to try to make sense of it all.

Q: What happened to education after the fall of the Soviet Union?

A: I worked for the Soros Foundation in Latvia, which was a leader of education reform. At one point, an international team came to interview people, including me, and to look at statistics and write their assessment report. They basically wrote that Latvia lacked local capacity and education policy. To me, that was shocking because the people I was working with were incredibly qualified.

I later realized it was more about power dynamics globally that designate some people as experts, displacing local expertise.

When international people talked about education reform in the former Soviet Union, the main argument was usually that you would negate everything and start over.

But this is not what people on the ground locally believed. In central Asia, the Soviets were the ones who made education accessible to everybody. But you couldn’t say that to the international donor community.

In Azerbaijan, entire classrooms would be empty because everyone — the students and the teachers — would be doing private tutoring on the side.

Q: What’s ahead for the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education?

A: We’re working on multiple fronts.

We have mobilized faculty to see who is doing international work. We have about 30 affiliated faculty at the center, with so much more international experience than we ever thought.

We found out that we have will have another U.S. State Department grant for the International Leaders in Education Program, so 60 teachers from other countries will come to ASU in the spring.

One of the big pieces we’re discussing is how teachers in Arizona need to be better versed in how globalization affects schools here, whether it’s in terms of refugees or undocumented immigrants or just the changing environment. How are we preparing teachers to face these issues? We want to think about how to engage with that.

Q: Why is the symposium on global metrics important?

A: The symposium is bringing together people with different perspectives from policy and the research and practical worlds to discuss this issue.

Now, most of the conversation on assessments is driven by large-scale data sets. But others are talking about how we can bring small data into the conversation.

Another big question we’ll discuss is how can we make these global learning metrics culturally sensitive. How do we avoid being Western-centric and measuring everything by our own standards?

We’ll have some of the key people that are thinking and talking about global learning metrics, but might not always come together to further the conversation. And hopefully we’ll provide that space.