Asian countries dominate, science teaching criticised in survey

Singapore came on top in the latest PISA survey that measures skills among high school students, for its teaching of science, re
Singapore came on top in the latest PISA survey that measures skills among high school students, for its teaching of science, reading and mathematics

Asian countries dominated the top places in a key survey released Tuesday of high-school skills, but the report criticised science teaching in many countries.

The PISA survey of 15-year-olds in 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 or extra tuition 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.

"Singapore is a standout performer," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria at the global launch of the report in London.

"In Singapore, one in five students master the most advanced scientific problems and demonstrate that they think like scientists."

Nearly a quarter of all students in Singapore (24 percent) scored in the top two categories in science tests, compared with just eight 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.

Teaching 'not keeping up'

However the report found that only 12 countries assessed had improved their performance in science since 2006, despite an increase in spending per primary and secondary student of 20 percent over the same period.

"A decade of scientific breakthroughs has failed to translate into breakthroughs in science performance in schools," said Gurria, adding that science education "isn't keeping up" with the "lightning speed" of scientific progress.

Around six 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.

Homework not the answer

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.

"It's not about science tests, it's about engaging students and making science learning relevant... that's what translates to better outcomes and better careers," said Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director for education and skills, at the London launch.

The report also suggested that the study of science 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," the report said.

Last month, parents in Spain staged a strike to protest the amount of homework schools were handing out. Spain scored 493 points in the latest PISA tests—corresponding exactly to the OECD average.

Asian countries dominate

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.

But the top-ranked European country, Estonia, took third place. The only other European country in the top 10 was Finland, in fifth.

Canada was seventh on the list, well ahead of the United States, which ranked 25th among OECD countries.

PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, was devised by the OECD to measure countries' performance in teaching 15-year-olds the core subjects.

PISA tests are carried out every three years and in 2015 they covered all 35 OECD countries and 37 partner countries and economies.


Not so encouraging.

The test is based on a 1,000-point scale. Among the findings:

-In math, the U.S. average score was 470, below the international average of 490. Average scores ranged from 564 in Singapore to 328 in the Dominican Republic.

-In science, the U.S. average score was 496, about the same as the international average of 493. Average scores ranged from 556 in Singapore to 332 in the Dominican Republic.

-In reading, the U.S. average score was 497, around the same as the international average of 493. Average scores ranged from 535 in Singapore to 347 in Lebanon.

Across the globe, American students were outperformed by their counterparts in 36 countries in math; 18 countries in science and 14 countries in reading.

Explore further

US students lag peers in East Asia in math, science

© 2016 AFP

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Dec 06, 2016
I spoke at a math conference last week and revealed how a London haberdasher changed (the great) Euclid's definition of multiplication. Nobody picked up the blunder! So the English language definition of multiplication hasn't worked since 1570! China, France and America (early on) fixed the stuff-up. It's all in the article at

Dec 06, 2016
And the USA is 25th...... as ye sow, so shall ye reap....... just look at this past election. While intelligent people can at least say that Trump did not get the majority of votes cast, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the question "How could there be so many uneducated stupid ignorant people to result in an electoral majority for Trump?" is that when you do not educate your populace, stupidity and ignorance will be the result.
The USA used to provide high quality educations to people. The evils of gerrymandering are becoming readily apparent......

Dec 06, 2016
The problem with education in USA is that they care so much about the Feelings of the slower students, that they dumb down the entire curriculum. They need to get off this whole concept of "grades" and just teach kids at whatever pace that the individual student needs. A few students should not hold back the entire class.

There have been excellent studies that use AI to detect and change the educational methods to match the individual student's learning style. This will hopefully help education worldwide, as it will bring out the best in each and every student.

Dec 07, 2016
For Zzzzzz. When offer that come from politics was Clinton and Trump don't judge peoples that they voted as they voted .

On the other hand I saw Canada been on a higher place and I don't know how. My son is in grade 11 and I work with him and other colleagues (which are in top students in his class) and honestly they are doning in grade 11 what I did in Romania in grade 7. Honestly I don't trust these tests. I know that Asian school are better than Canadian therefore I bought physics books like Irodov (which I recommend if some one want high level Physics)

Dec 08, 2016
I live in the rural south, the cradle of ignorance and fear of knowledge. Most parents here don't want their kids learning any science. The Christian Right wants them ignorant because they know that out of education comes enlightenment, and God knows they don't want that. Science teachers in this school system can't teach the truth about how the world really is because they might offend the bible thumpers and be hauled up before the school board. I actually heard a preacher from some primitive Christian splinter church here in west Georgia that he wanted his kids to be science ignorant because even teaching science was a sin. So who's to blame here? I realize that not all Christians feel this way, but the ones that do are silent about their feelings usually because of fear of being ostracized in this predominantly Christian environment. If modern Christians don't learn how to embrace knowledge into their beliefs, they are in danger of losing young people's membership AND good educatio

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