The publication of the results of PISA 2015, released at the end of last year, did not bring surprises. Brazil remains stagnant in the worst positions of the evaluation coordinated by the Organization for Human Development and Cooperation, which examines the reading, mathematics and science skills of 15 year olds in 72 countries.

I will not dwell on the description of this panorama, which has been much analyzed, but on the reflection on the ways to overcome it. Although there is no miraculous solution to our educational problems, we know that we will not overcome them with incremental measures. We will have to promote profound changes, and I dare say, paradigmatic, in the very vision of what is quality education.

Ayrton Senna Institute

Of course, quality education presupposes full learning in reading, mathematics, and science. But is that all we’re going to need to live in the 21st century? Certainly not, and the OECD itself recognizes and needs to expand this frontier, including the intentional development of socio-emotional competencies (such as persistence, openness and collaboration). Therefore, in the 2015 edition, PISA included the evaluation of collaborative problem solving, waving to the inclusion of socio-emotional aspects.

This inclusion was not free, but evidence-based. Through its Center for Research and Educational Innovation (CERI), the OECD has been investigating the importance of socio-emotional competencies and looking for ways to assess them. In Brazil, a partnership between CERI and the Institute made possible the development of an instrument for the evaluation of socio-emotional competences in the school context, validated by an application with approximately 25,000 students of the State Network of Rio de Janeiro. The results revealed that students with a high degree of responsibility and determination were 1/3 of the school year ahead of their math counterparts, while students with a high degree of openness were 1/3 of the school year ahead in Portuguese.

Given this evidence, supported by international research (such as those led by Nobel laureate James Heckman), would not invest in the development of these skills as a way to promote the learning leap that Brazil so badly needs? Based on the impact of a comprehensive high school education solution developed by the Institute in Rio de Janeiro (combining cognitive and socio-emotional skills), our chief economist, Ricardo Paes de Barros, estimated that Brazil would jump from the 69th position of PISA (Considering students who achieved at least level 2 of the math test in all countries and territories evaluated) behind Colombia, and would reach the 38th position, ahead of the United States, if it offered quality integral education for all its students .

It is clear that investing in the development of these competencies does not mean that it is no longer working for the training of teachers and the definition of learning objectives. Quite the contrary, more than ever we need to delve deeper into these themes. Therefore, the discussion of a teaching career and a curriculum, already under way with the National Education Plan and the National Curricular Common Base, can not take place separately from the debate on education for the 21st century.

To provide more evidence for decision-making in these areas, the Institute has invested in initiatives to produce knowledge about integral education. In addition to the partnership with the OECD, we have created a laboratory dedicated to producing scientific knowledge to support the formulation of evidence-based public policies. In 2015, one of eduLab21’s activities was the inclusion of items for evaluation of social-emotional competences in the INAF questionnaire, the National Index of Functional Literacy, in partnership with the Paulo Montenegro Institute.

Preliminary results from the INAF 2015 show that among the less favored Brazilians, those who reach the highest levels of literacy and achievement in life (measured by income and final schooling reached) are precisely the ones with the highest degree of openness, persistence and self-esteem. This data reveals that the promotion of these skills can be a powerful ally to reduce social inequalities. Again, there appears to be a power of transformation in socioemotional skills that we can not ignore.

Article published in the newspaper Folha de São Paulo