Asian nations lead in latest OECD education rankings

By Andrea Graells Tempel and Jonathan Jacobsen, AFP

PARIS–Asian countries dominated the top places in the latest PISA survey, but the report criticized the teaching of science in many countries.

The PISA survey is an international study of high school students’ abilities. Taiwan was ranked both among the top-performing countries and the countries criticized by the report.

The survey of 72 countries and economies found that the quality of science lessons was more important than equipment or even staffing levels. And it confirmed earlier findings that loading students down with homework was rarely the key to success in science. Singapore came top of the table for its teaching of science, reading and mathematics. Its students scored an average of 556 points, compared with the average among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries of 493. Where once Finland led the way in educational excellence, Singapore is now the example to other countries, the report said. “Everyone used to go to Finland. Now you have to go to Singapore to see what they are doing,” OECD Chief of Staff Gabriela Ramos told reporters ahead of the report’s launch. Nearly a quarter of all students in Singapore (24 percent) also scored in the top two categories in science tests, compared with just 8 percent across the OECD countries. The five top-performing countries in the PISA tests, which were carried out in 2015, were Singapore, Japan, Estonia, Taiwan and Finland. The report found however that around 6 percent of students in OECD countries, many of them in Europe, reported they did not get regular science lessons. These students scored significantly lower in the tests. Schools that did not offer dedicated science lessons tend to be in poorer areas of countries, the report noted. The problem was particularly bad in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Slovakia and Taiwan. In School, Not at Home The results also suggested that the key to success in science teaching, even more than well-equipped and well-staffed departments, was how much time was spent teaching the subject. Those teachers who actually demonstrated scientific ideas and who adapted their teaching to meet students’ needs produced better results, the report said. That tended to happen in smaller classes, and students who received this kind of teaching were more likely to go on to a science-related career, it added. “Students score five points higher in science for every additional hour spent per week in regular science lessons, after accounting for socio-economic status,” the report noted. But the results also suggested that the study needed to be done in school, not at home. “School systems where students spend more time learning after school, by doing homework, receiving additional instruction or in private study, tend to perform less well in science,” said the report. Perhaps predictably, head teachers told the researchers that truancy was one problem that hindered student learning the most. But another significant factor they reported was staff resisting change. Bullying and students’ use of alcohol or illegal drugs were reported as far less significant. Asian countries dominated the top 10 of the PISA table, with Japan recording the second-highest average score behind Singapore. Macao, Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese territories that were tested also featured in the top 10. as did Taiwan and Vietnam.