Go to eugreenalliance

“Baby Pisa”: Nightmare or Opportunity


PISA tests now measure the very young. One of the latest knowledge tests from the OECD*, called "Baby PISA," assesses five-year-olds. Since many children at this age cannot read, they are shown pictures to interpret.

“Legitimising a particular way of understanding the world and believing that young children’s interpretation of images says something about who they will become as adults is deeply problematic,” says Daniel Pettersson, a professor of education at University of Gävle.

Foto: TT

Foto: TT

PISA has been used to test 15-year-olds since the early 2000s. The new study, known as "Baby PISA," is a pilot study conducted in three countries in 2018. The aim of testing five-year-olds is to identify factors that drive or hinder early learning development.

So far, 9,000 five-year-olds in England, Estonia, and the USA have been tested to compare linguistic, mathematical, social, and emotional abilities in different countries. This is done by showing children stories and games tailored to their age group on tablets.

However, not everyone is positive about testing pre-schoolers, and a significant number of countries, such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, and Canada, have declined to participate in the study.

Taming chance

Daniel Pettersson and Andreas Nordin have written a book discussing how international knowledge measurements influence education and its content.

“PISA is representative of a particular way of thinking that aims to avoid randomness in teaching. By controlling and measuring, preferably over time, they seek to capture how schools should be organised to quickly reach their goals.

"I am not against measurements in general; there are very good measurements, but I am critical of how they have been used. When trying to tame chance in educational situations, it has effects that need to be considered," says Daniel Pettersson.

"Taming Chance in Education Control, Prediction and Comparison" By Daniel Pettersson, Andreas Nordin

"An old way of thinking about images"

In relation to some of the book’s conclusions, Daniel Pettersson is now working with Tatiana Mikhaylova, a senior lecturer in education at University of Gävle, on how images have become part of thinking about and controlling education. Historically, children’s interpretations of images have been used to test children’s intelligence, emotional maturity, and personality type.

However, Pettersson and Mikhaylova see a danger in Baby PISA being marketed as an objective assessment. In fact, subjective values underlie the choice of images and what is considered a correct answer.

Från Baby Pisa: Hur kände sig sköldpaddan Ruby när vännerna gick hem?

Från Baby Pisa: Hur kände sig sköldpaddan Ruby när vännerna gick hem?

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson

"The test standardises human relationships. For example, it is interpreted as incorrect if you are not sad when your friends go home. However, you may be looking forward to reading your book now, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you haven't had fun,” Daniel Pettersson says.

Unbiased children could be seen as deviant

Historically, it was considered important for children to distinguish ugly women from beautiful ones.

Historically, it was considered important for children to distinguish ugly women from beautiful ones.

In the past, the images used in various tests focused on suffering and death to evoke strong emotions. For a very long time, images of so-called beautiful and ugly women were also used, as the ability to determine what was considered aesthetically pleasing was seen as important.

Tatiana Mikhaylova

Tatiana Mikhaylova

"Prejudices mattered in the tests, meaning that if you didn’t have those prejudices or historical explanations, you could actually be classified as deviant," says Tatiana Mikhaylova.

In Baby PISA, images reminiscent of modern children’s books are used. These types of images are often unrealistic and infantilised and are associated with the Disney culture. The test therefore require familiarity with such a visual culture, a recognition of such images.

“If children in cultures other than Western ones see these images, would they get the same results? Do they even have a chance to succeed in these tests when they may not be familiar with this particular visual culture? What does this do to the question of what is considered normal and abnormal?”


Text: Douglas Öhrbom

*The OECD’s International Early Learning and Child Well-being Study (Baby Pisa) is designed to improve children’s early learning experiences and support their development and overall well-being.

This international survey aims to provide comparative data on children’s early skills to help countries better identify factors that promote or hinder early learning.


Daniel Pettersson, Professor of Education at the University of Gävle
Tel: 070-258 46 19
E-mail: daniel.pettersson@hig.se

Tatiana Mikhaylova, senior lecturer in education at University of Gävle
Tel: 072-465 14 33
E-mail: Tatiana.Mikhaylova@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2023-12-08
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)