The Context of Statistics


Anurag Behar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, wrote an article yesterday in the Mint, describing how private and government schools are equally incompetent to provide good education. In the article he provides a statistic:

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, which places us on learning levels at number 73 in a list of 74 nations, just above Kyrgyzstan, concludes that there is no difference in learning levels across private and government schools. The study that I refer to above concludes that learning is better for children who stayed back at government schools, versus those who were moved to private schools, using financial support on offer as a part of the research design.

(Via Alike in incompetence – Views –

I am assuming the “us” refers to India and we are second last in that list.

I went on to the OECD site, picked up the PISA 2009 Plus Results : Performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science for 10 additional participants. [PDF, 193 pages 13MB].

I searched for India on the list. It wasn’t there. Instead, two separate regions were listed under the country name: Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

First, it seems obvious to me that two states participating in a survey hardly are representative of a nation. Secondly, it said in the report, that:

Himachal Pradesh-India and Tamil Nadu-India did not meet PISA standards for student sampling. Due to irregularities in the student sample numbers, it was established after the testing that these economies sampled from student lists that were often incomplete: not all 15-year-olds within the school were listed. It was not possible to determine whether any bias existed in the obtained sample. Caution should be exercised when using the data from Himachal Pradesh-India or Tamil Nadu-India and when interpreting the reported analyses.

It is no secret that education in India is facing severe problems, but to take unqualified results from a very small sample and apply it to the nation, is another thing.


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