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PISA Ranking

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maths

Many people will not be familiar with the PISA ranking system. With so many acronyms in the education sector - GCSEs OFCOM, etc - most have probably not encountered the Pisa term. It certainly has nothing to do with that north western costal city in Italy with the leaning tower - nothing quite so glamorous as that.

PISA stands for the Programme for International Student Assessment. It was set up by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and intergovernmental economic organization, consisting of more than 70 member countries. Its primary objective is to assess the ability of 15 year olds` academic abilities in mathematics, science and reading. Their assessments began in 2003, and are repeated every three years.

In order to fulfil the criteria of the OECD, to participate in the PISA assessment each country must select at least 5000 students. The test itself consists of a two hour written tests, where reading and language comprehension skills are appraised; There is also a multiple choice section, and a specific mathematics part to the assessment material. The whole test in its entirety would last 6 hours, but no one student actually takes the entire exam; instead it is broken up between different students.

The result of all this testing is that the competing countries can be ranked against each other, such as in the table below, which may make disconcerting reading for those who believe our education standards are among the best in the world. The UK comes in at a disappointing 27th in Mathematics, falling a place since the last PISA test. In Reading the UK is only ranked 23rd, a large drop from 2006, when it was in the top 20.

Mathematics Reading
1 Shanghai (China) Shanghai (China)
2 Singapore Hong Kong (China)
3 Hong Kong (China) Singapore
4 Taiwan Japan
5 South Korea South Korea
6 Macao (China) Finland
7 Japan Ireland
8 Liechtenstein Taiwan
9 Switzerland Canada
10 Netherlands Poland
11 Estonia Estonia
12 Finland Liechtenstein
13 Canada New Zealand
14 Poland Australia
15 Belgium Netherlands
16 Germany Belgium
17 Vietnam Switzerland
18 Austria Macao (China)
19 Australia Vietnam
20 Ireland Germany
21 Slovenia France
22 Denmark Norway
23 New Zealand United Kingdom
24 Czech Republic United States
25 France Denmark
26 United Kingdom Czech Republic

The table above shows the latest PISA results, which were published in 2013, and clearly shows the highest performers are the Asian countries, with the UK trailing far behind. What is the reason supremacy of Asian countries over their European counterparts? Have they fashioned a highly effective teaching practice, an academic version of the Suzuki method, a Japanese music teaching philosophy, which has produced some of the greatest performers in the world? The answer may be more prosaic: Asian children usually have a far longer school day than students anywhere else. Lessons in South Korea began at 8:30am, and can finish at 5pm, with many children supplementing their studies with further lessons at a `Hagwon` school from 6:00pm until 9:00pm. This grueling schedule takes place five days a week; and while it may seem draconian to us, it certainly yields results.

The PISA results also correlate scores with gender, and what they reveal is that Boys outperformed girls in mathematics in 37 out of the 65 countries; according to the OCED girls `feel less motivated to learn maths and have less confidence in their abilities than boys`.
In the sciences the results show that boys and girls generally perform equally.

The report clearly showed that the wealthier countries performed higher in the PISA scores. This is to be expected: richer countries have more money to spend on education, while a higher GDP is correlated with greater leisure time for adults, which may enable parents to be able to spend more time helping their children learn at home. The report stated that:

The relationship suggests that 21% of the variation in countries` mean scores can be predicted on the basis of their per capita GDP (12% of the variation in OECD countries). Countries with higher national incomes are thus at a relative advantage, even if the chart provides no indications about the causal nature of this relationship.

This should be taken into account particularly when interpreting the performance of countries with comparatively low levels of national income, such as Viet Nam and Indonesia (Mexico and Turkey among OECD countries).

While the average person in the UK may be unaware of the PISA scoring system, its findings should not go unheeded. While some have claimed that the assessment only displays a narrow range, and omits entirely more subtle attributes, such as artistic, moral and civic development, it is hard to be indifferent to statistics that show the UK falling far behind many other countries in the core academic subjects.

20 months ago
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