Singapore outperforms the rest of the world in the OECD’s latest PISA survey, which evaluates the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems. The top OECD countries were Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada.
The OECD’s PISA 2015 tested around 540,000 15-year-old students in 72 countries and economies on science, reading, maths and collaborative problem-solving. The main focus was on science, an increasingly important part of today’s economy and society.
While spending per student in primary and secondary education increased by almost 20% since 2006 in OECD countries alone, only 12 of the 72 countries and economies assessed in PISA have seen their science performance improve over this period. These include high-performing education systems, such as Singapore and Macao (China), and low-performers, such as Peru and Colombia.
“A decade of scientific breakthroughs has failed to translate into breakthroughs in science performance in schools,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in London. “Every country has room for improvement, even the top performers. With high levels of youth unemployment, rising inequality, a significant gender gap, and an urgent need to boost inclusive growth in many countries, more must be done to ensure every child has the best education possible.” Read the full speech.
Around 1 in 10 students across OECD countries, and 1 in 4 in Singapore, perform at the highest level in science. Across the OECD, more than one in five students falls short of baseline proficiency: only in Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China), Singapore and Viet Nam do at least nine out of ten 15-year-old students master the basics that every student should know before leaving school.
This underlines the challenge that all countries, including some of the wealthiest ones, face in meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030 to achieve “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
The report reveals the policies in place that successful countries share: high and universal expectations for all students; a strong focus on great teaching; resources targeted at struggling students and schools; and a commitment to coherent, long-term strategies.
Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Hong Kong (China) and Macao (China) achieve both high standards of excellence overall and equity in education outcomes. A number of countries have improved equity, especially the United States. But in Australia, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand and the Slovak Republic, the share of students performing at the highest levels fell at the same time as the share of low performers rose.
“Achieving greater equity in education is not only a social justice imperative, it also fuels economic growth and promotes social cohesion,” added Mr Gurría.
The OECD PISA 2015 Survey underlines that, in the context of massive information flows and rapid change, everyone now needs to be able to “think like a scientist”: to be able to weigh evidence and come to a conclusion; to understand that scientific “truth” may change over time, as new discoveries are made, and as humans develop a greater understanding of natural forces and of technology’s capacities and limitations.
Other key findings include:
• Gender differences in science tend to be smaller than in reading and mathematics but, on average, in 33 countries and economies, the share of top performers in science is larger among boys than among girls. Finland is the only country in which girls are more likely to be top performers than boys.
• One in four boys and girls reported that they expect to work in a science-related occupation but opt for very different ones: girls mostly seek positions in the health sector and boys in becoming ICT professionals, scientists or engineers.
Equity in education
• Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Hong Kong (China) and Macao (China) achieve high levels of performance and equity in education outcomes.
• Poorer students are 3 times more likely to be low performers than wealthier students, and immigrant students are more than twice as likely as non-immigrants to be low achievers.
• On average across countries with relatively large immigrant student populations, attending a school with a high concentration of immigrant students is not associated with poorer student performance, after accounting for the school’s students socio-economic level.
Students’ performance in reading and mathematics
• Nearly 20% of students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading. This proportion has remained stable since 2009.
• On average across OECD countries, the gender gap in reading in favour of girls narrowed by 12 points between 2009 and 2015: boys’ performance improved, particularly among the highest-achieving boys, while girls’ performance deteriorated, particularly among the lowest-achieving girls.
• More than one in four students in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Hong Kong (China), Singapore and Chinese Taipei are top-performing students in mathematics, a higher share than anywhere else.
• How much time students spend learning and how science is taught are even more strongly associated with science performance and the expectations of pursuing a science-related career than how well-equipped and staffed the science department is and science teachers’ qualifications.
• Students in larger schools score higher in science and are more likely than students in smaller schools to expect to work in a science-related occupation in the future. But students in smaller schools reported a better disciplinary climate in their science lessons and they are less likely than students in larger schools to skip days of school and arrive late for school, after accounting for schools’ and students’ socio-economic status.
• Thirty countries and economies used grade repetition less frequently in 2015 than in 2009; in only five countries did the incidence of grade repetition increase during the period. The use of grade repetition decreased by at least 10 percentage points in Costa Rica, France, Indonesia, Latvia, Macao (China), Malta, Mexico and Tunisia.
For further information, journalists should contact the OECD Media division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).
Other launch events taking place include: Paris with Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, French Education Minister; Brussels with Douglas Frantz, OECD Deputy Secretary-General, and Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport; Berlin with Heino von Meyer, OECD Head of Berlin Centre and Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Education and Research; Rome with Francesco Avvisati, OECD PISA analyst, and Anna Maria Ajello, president of INVALSI; and a webinar for Latin American media with OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa Gabriela Ramos.
The report, together with country analysis, summaries and data, is available at www.oecd.org/pisa/