“A decade of scientific breakthroughs has failed to translate into breakthroughs in science performance in schools,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching OECD’s PISA 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.”
Following OECD Secretary General’s speech: There are three main challenges to overcome: “science performance, equity gap and gender bias”.
“Singapore is the standout performer in science, with Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada the lead performers among OECD countries. But across the OECD, more than one in five students fall short of baseline proficiency in science, and in some it is close to one in two. They can’t use basic or everyday scientific knowledge to identify a valid conclusion from a simple data set, an ability we expect from every citizen. Only one in twelve is a top performer and 13% of those come from four provinces in China alone. Yet in Singapore, one in five students master the most advanced scientific problems and demonstrate that they can think like scientists. They benefit from well-structured, clear and informative science lessons comprising teacher explanations, classroom debates and student questions. And their learning time is productive, giving them the opportunity to build their academic, social and emotional skills in a balanced way. This is something we can also learn from the UK, along with Canada, Slovenia and Australia,” this landascape described Gurria on his speech at the launch of the PISA Report.
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.
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.
“Interestingly, PISA 2015 shows that a privately-funded education is not a guarantee of success. After accounting for the socioeconomic profile of students and schools, students in public schools score higher than students in private schools in science on average across OECD countries and in 22 education systems,” informed Gurria
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.
The Report also underlines that the most successful education systems attract and retain the best teachers, offer adequate compensation, encourage continued professional development, and provide ongoing feedback. And granting schools more autonomy may give teachers more opportunities to adapt their instruction to students’ needs and knowledge.
More than half a million 15-year-olds took part in the OECD’s latest global education survey, known as PISA. The main focus was on science, as it is an increasingly important part of economic and social lives around the world.
Finland, the only country where girls outperform boys in science
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.
“The story here is not about abilities. It’s about different interests, confidence levels and career expectations. Although around a quarter of boys and girls expect to work in science-related fields, boys are twice as likely to expect to work as engineers, scientists and architects; girls are three times as likely to expect to work as doctors, vets and nurses. Data from previous PISA assessments show how these gender differences are reinforced by the attitudes and inherent biases of parents, teachers and even textbooks!” said Gurría.
Time spent by students and the way to teach, key for science performance
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.
China and Singapore top in maths performance
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.
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.
Equity goals, still to be reached
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.
Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Hong Kong (China) and Macao (China) achieve high and best levels of performance and equity in education outcomes following the PISA Report 2015.
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 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.
Image over the headline.- Caption of the OECD video on PISA Report 2015. © OECD. To watch the video, click here
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