Colombia finished at the bottom in a 2012 international financial literacy test, according to a report released Wednesday.
Of the 18 countries included in the study, Colombia was ranked last in understanding of basic financial topics and everyday money management skills, reported the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Some 29,000 15-year olds participated in the test, the first of its kind to be administered as part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Overall, one in seven struggled with basic financial understanding, while only one in ten was able to complete “complex financial tasts,” the OECD reported.
The PISA exam has been conducted every three years since 2000, testing the reading, math, and science skills of 15-year-old students and measuring school performance over a 10-year period. In 2012, 510,000 students from 65 nations took part in the assessment, which, at a minimum, includes a two-hour written exam.
In 2012, 18 countries and economies, including Colombia, also took part in the new optional assessment of financial literacy. The test ranks students on levels one through five, with scores below 325.57 points categorized as below level one, and scores above 624.63 amounting to level five.
“Developing financial literacy skills and knowledge is critical now that individuals are becoming increasingly responsible at an ever earlier age for financial risks affecting their future,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.
Colombia has shown an overall decline in the regular PISA exam, according to an OECD report issued in April, dropping in both its scores and relative performance.
The report found that young Latin Americans in general “can only solve very simple problems in familiar situations, using trial and error to select the best alternative from a group of predetermined options,” but Colombia’s decline was seen domestically as part of a degrading public education system.
In 2009, Colombia placed 58th in the country rankings, and dropped four places to last place in the 2012 exam.
“The low performance of Latin American countries appears to be mainly due to a large performance gap on knowledge -acquisition,” stated the OECD report in April.
Colombia at the bottom of financial literacy test-takers in 2012
Colombia was ranked in last place on a list of financial literacy topped by China, Belgium, and Estonia, all of which presented with average scores above 500.
While Students in Shanghai scored a mean average of 603 points, Colombia scored the worst of the 18 participating countries with an average of 379 points, according to the OECD website. Over 56% of Colombian students scored below level one on the test, while 26.1% were at level two, and only 4.4% reached level four or above.
Colombia performed five spots lower on financial literacy than countries with comparable scores on the general test, though in a perhaps encouraging note, Colombia did not record any differences in performance between girls and boys, making it the only country tested to achieve gender parity.
Not surprisingly, students who indicated that they were interested in the material performed better on the test, scoring 31 points higher on average than students who did not indicate an interest.
Also not surprisingly, the test found that 70% of students in countries that scored well on the test had checking accounts, compared to less than 30% of students in countries that scored poorly, such as Colombia.
The survey showed that in more socio-economically advantaged schools, students scored higher than in schools with less resources, a pattern that held true across all participating countries. Students at more advantaged schools scored on average 41 points better than less-advantaged schools, the OECD report indicated.
Schools with mostly native-born populations also scored higher than schools with large numbers of immigrants, even when the schools were in the same socio-economic sphere, across the board.
“Some governments have started developing strategies and policies so that people have the skills they need throughout their lives,” Gurria said in Wednesday’s OECD report. “More need to move this up the policy agenda so that citizens are prepared for an ever-more complicated financial world.”
“Everyone Learns”, cultural and circumstantial limitations
Colombia’s Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo responded in April to Colombia’s poor showing on the regular 2012 PISA exam, coming out in defense of Colombian education and rationalizing the bad results by point to the “cultural and experiential context” of each test taker. As of Wednesday, she had not issued any public commentary on the 2012 PISA financial literacy exam results which again saw Colombia ranked last.
Andreas Schleicher, meanwhile, director of the OCED and coordinator of the PISA exams, published an opinion piece in Colombia’s La Semana news magazine on Sunday that highlighted the progress that the Ministry of Education in Colombia has made through its recent program, “Everyone Learns.”
“The latest PISA results have triggered an unprecedented movement to find appropriate policies and practices that help students learn better, teachers to teach better, and schools to work more effectively,” Schleicher said.
“In a way, it’s not fair to compare schools in Colombia with those of OECD countries, given that this country faces far greater social and economic challenges; but those responsible for public policy in Colombia understand that in a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is not only to obtain an improvement in national standards, but to reach achievements that can be compared with the best educational systems internationally.”
The Ministry of Education’s program “Everyone Learns,” started in 2012, works to transform the quality of education in the Colombia, concentrating on the regions poorest areas. The initiative focuses on mathematics and language, and has currently reached 2.4 million students.
“Education systems in Latin America have been characterized by a vertical approach by the government,” Schleicher said to La Semana. “‘Everyone Learns’ has shaken up this mode, working from the wisdom generated by educational actors, and enabling teachers to be more creative and assume more administrative control over professional organization and programs.”
“The real test will be whether ‘Everyone Learns’ can transcend the electoral process and go from one program to state policy,” Schleicher said. “This would differentiate the program from the many reform initiatives in Latin America, and could make a real difference in the future of students teachers and citizens of Colombia.”
- First OECD PISA financial literacy test finds many young people confused by money matters (oecd.org)
- Estudiantes de Colombia otra vez en el último lugar de las pruebas Pisa (Caracol Radio)
- Financial Literacy: Proficiency Levels (nces.ed.gov)
- Snapshot of Performance in Financial Literacy (oecd.org)
- Una revolución silenciosa (La Semana)