New OECD PISA report reveals challenge of online learning for many students and schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to school closures across the world and forced teachers and students in many countries to adapt quickly to teaching and learning online. But a new OECD PISA report reveals wide disparities both between and within countries in the availability of technology in schools and of teachers’ capacities to use ICT effectively.

Effective Policies, Successful Schools analyses findings from the most recent OECD PISA 2018 test, involving around 600,000 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economies.

On average across OECD countries in 2018, there was almost one computer available at school for educational purposes for every 15-year-old student. Yet in many countries school principals reported that the computers were not powerful enough in terms of computing capacity, affecting one in three students globally.

“This crisis has exposed the many inadequacies and inequities in education systems across the world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “Disadvantaged young people have been particularly affected and every country should do more to ensure that all schools have the resources they need so that every student has an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.”

Differences between advantaged and disadvantaged schools were significant. In Brazil 68% of students in advantaged schools had access to sufficiently powerful digital devices, according to principals, compared to just 10% of students in disadvantaged schools. In Spain, there was a 40 percentage-point difference (70% vs. 30%) in the availability of sufficiently powerful digital devices between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

Teachers’ capacity to use technology varies widely. On average across OECD countries, 65% of 15-year-olds were enrolled in schools whose principal reported that teachers have the necessary technical and pedagogical skills to integrate digital devices in instruction. The proportion varied considerably between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged schools. In Sweden, for example, 89% of students in advantaged schools attended such a school, but only 54% of students in disadvantaged schools did.

On average across OECD countries, about 60% of 15-year-old students were enrolled in schools whose principal reported that teachers have sufficient time to prepare lessons integrating digital devices, ranging from close to 90% of students in the four Chinese provinces/municipalities that participated in PISA 2018 to little more than 10% of students in Japan.

For some students, even the basics for learning are not available at home. On average across OECD countries, 9% of 15-year-old students do not have a quiet place to study in their home. Even in PISA top-performer Korea, one in five students from the 25% most disadvantaged schools reported they do not have a place to study at home, compared to one in 10 students in advantaged schools.

The report also compares other key aspects of school policies and equity. Overall, the PISA 2018 results reveal considerable disparities between advantaged and disadvantaged schools related to shortages of education staff and material resources, including digital resources. PISA shows that, already prior to the pandemic, many schools faced shortages in resources. On average across OECD countries, 27% of students were enrolled in schools whose principal said that learning is hindered by a lack of teaching staff, and shortages of staff tended to be reported far more often by principals of disadvantaged schools (in 42 education systems) and by principals of public schools (in another 42 education systems). In 44 education systems, students attending schools whose principal reported greater shortages of teaching and support staff scored lower in reading.

Ensuring that all schools have adequate and high-quality resources, and the appropriate support, is key if students from all backgrounds are to be given equal opportunities to learn and succeed at school, according to the report.

The findings also reveal how the foundations for education success are laid early. Students who had attended pre-primary education for longer scored better in PISA than students who had not attended pre-primary education. Between 2015 and 2018, the share of 15-year-old students who had attended pre-primary school for three years increased in 28 countries. Despite this advantage, in 68 out of 78 education systems with comparable data, students who had not attended pre-primary education were much more likely to be socio-economically disadvantaged and enrolled in more disadvantaged schools at the age of 15. This highlights how access to pre-primary education often reinforces educational disparities. When expanding pre-primary education, greater care must be taken to shift the emphasis from access to quality and from care to education, says the report.

The report is available at

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