By Jackie Kraemer
Among countries participating in PISA, the UK slipped 5 points in science to 21st and climbed two places in reading and math to 26th and 23rd. The results were disappointing to a country that has made major investments in education by both parties, who now blamed each other. The teachers union also blamed socioeconomic differences among students for PISA results, despite the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher pointing out very little difference in scores between public and private school students in the UK. The current Gove government proposed a major overhaul of education in the UK in late 2012 attempting to cut down coursework to focus on the basics and introduce more rigorous exams. The impact of this wave of reform is yet to be seen in the PISA scores.
In Germany, more than a decade after PISA Shock when they did unexpectedly poorly, the country continues to do much better following major reforms of the education system. But this does not mean Germany is now performing well. The country is above the OECD average in all three subjects, but has not moved up much. Reading continues to be a problem for a good set of students and, while there has been a decline in the proportion of low-achieving students, there has been no increase in high-achievers. One area of concern is upgrading the quality of teachers, since training and skills currently vary widely among the German states.
In France, the PISA scores slipped in this round. Of more concern was an increase in the proportion of low-achieving students. The rising inequality provides support for the new Socialist Minister of Education, Vincent Peillon, to push a new set of education reforms aimed at reducing inequity.
In Spain, widening inequality between the richer northern states and the poorer southern states was in evidence, as the country continued to come in below the OECD average in all three subjects. Secretary of Education Monserrat Gomendio urged continued reform and is continuing to push a standardized testing system across the country.
Finally, Poland saw its continued strong performance on PISA as a vindication of the education reforms put in place in 1999 when the country delayed dividing students into academic and vocational tracks by a year and created a comprehensive new middle school. Poland also created a new national curriculum and national tests at the same time giving teachers more autonomy to choose texts and instructional approaches and raising teacher pay. The reforms are still controversial, but the latest PISA results have helped to confirm that the country is on the right track. In a Huffington Post interview, former Deputy Secretary of the National Ministry of Education Maciej Jakubowski said that Poland is now planning to reform teacher professional development, reform curriculum for upper secondary schools and create a preschool program for children ages 3 to 5. Read more about Poland’s plans at the Huffington Post.
And from other news sources…
In Estonia, which sprang into the top tier of countries on this series of PISA, Minister of Education Jaak Aavisksoo acknowledged the good results, but still pointed to the challenges ahead, including the gap in achievement between the best and worst schools, the need to focus on the most talented students as well as those with weak skills, and the lag in reading scores for boys. Read more at Estonian Public Broadcasting.
Once again Hong Kong came out near the top of the league tables on the latest PISA assessment, ranking second in science and reading and third in math. However, not all education experts in Hong Kong are enthusiastic about the results. Some critics worry that over emphasis on testing and grades is robbing young Hong Kong students of a more well-rounded education experience. Read more at South China Morning Post.
In Ontario, Canada, Education Minister Liz Sandals has committed CAN$4 million (USD$3.69 million) to help improve math skills of teachers after disappointing provincial math scores and Canada’s fall from the top ten in the OECD PISA math rankings in 2012. The funds will be used to subsidize enrollment in math courses, particularly for primary and junior teachers. Read more at CTV News:
Japan came out at the top of the league tables on PISA once again last year, coming in at seventh place overall and first place among OECD nations on the 2012 assessment. However, despite this top performance, the Ministry of Education has ambitious plans for improving the Japanese education system starting in 2014. These include raising the global status of research universities, improving English competency among teachers and students, focusing on teaching morals, increasing the flow of international students both in and out of Japan, reforming the college entrance exam and placing greater emphasis on individual student instruction. Read more about the challenges that Japanese education faces and the ministry’s plans to meet those challenges at Japan Times.