The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recently released its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 report. The 2015 report focused on science with reading, mathematics and collaborative problem solving as minor areas of assessment.
PISA is a triennial report produced to showcase education results from 15-year old students across the world. Policy makers, around the world can use the report’s findings to “gauge the knowledge and skills of students in their own countries, set policy targets against measurable goals achieved by other education systems, and learn from policies and practices applied elsewhere.”
OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, suggests that “PISA shows that 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, we have no time to lose in providing the best education possible for all students.”
The PISA 2015 report was produced using feedback gained from the approximately 540,000 students worldwide who completed the assessment. In total, they represent around 29 million 15-year-olds in the schools of the 72 participating countries and economies. Assessments were computer based and took approximately two hours to be completed by each participating student. They consisted of a combination of multiple choice questions as well as questions that required each student to construct his/her own response.
In addition to the computer assessment each student was required to complete a background questionnaire which took he/she approximately 35 minutes to complete in order to gather additional information about the student’s home, school and learning experiences. In some of the participating countries teachers were also asked to complete a questionnaire that asked questions related to their school system and learning environment. Furthermore, two other optional questionnaires were offered to each participating country. One was to gather additional information about each student’s familiarity with and use of information and communication technologies (ICT) while the other asked students about the education to date and whether or not they had experienced any learning and/or schooling interruptions and whether or not are currently preparing for a future career.
A key finding of the 2015 PISA report was that around 20% of students across OECD countries performed the baseline level (Level 2) of proficiency in science. It is expected that all students reach at least Level 2 before they leave compulsory education meaning that they “can draw on knowledge of basic science content and procedures to identify an appropriate explanation, interpret data and identify the question being addressed in a simple experiment.” Only 8% of students across OECD countries are considered top performers (Level 5 or 6) meaning that they “sufficiently skilled and knowledgeable about science to creatively and autonomously apply their knowledge and skills to a wide variety of situations, including unfamiliar ones.”
While science is important as a subject by itself learning science, and becoming proficient in it, has many other benefits. Gurría notes that “Science is not only the domain of scientists. 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.”
Similarly, the report found that around 20% of students in OECD countries do not have attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading. Although this level has remained stable since the 2009 PISA report the 2015 report found that the reading performance of boys generally improved – particularly among the highest-achieving boys – while the reading performance of girls generally got worse – particularly among the lowest-achieving girls.
The countries of China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Chinese Taipei performed the best in mathematics. More than one in four students in those countries showed that they could handle situations in which they were asked to formulate complex mathematical situations using symbolic representations.
The results raise suggest that policy-makers in each country should reflect on their education systems and learn from successful programs and policies and adapt or change others to encourage improvement. Questions can be asked in relation to particular policies about learning science at school and improving performance, the learning environment itself and how conducive it is to encouraging participation and a strong learning culture, each school’s governance, assessment and accountability policies, how best to select and group students and how resources are invested in education.