International Reads: Education Reports of Note

This month’s feature takes a look at international education rankings, published by The Economist Intelligence Unit, and two different OECD briefs that examine the latest PISA data in relation to classroom instruction time and student motivational levels.  On a national level, new studies were recently published that highlight the United States’ challenge in improving high school reading and math proficiency and closing the achievement gap, Finland’s struggle to help immigrant students advance to upper-secondary school and ensure gender equality in education, and Israel’s difficulty in aligning its VET offerings to its workforce needs.

StudentsNew Education Rankings: South Korea Tops, Finland Slips, Poland on the Rise
The Economist Intelligence Unit has released its latest rankings of education systems worldwide for Pearson’s The Learning Curve.  Asian countries dominated the rankings this year, with South Korea ranking number one followed by Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.  Finland, previously ranked number one, has slipped to fifth after its scores on PISA declined during the last administration of the test.  Poland, on the other hand, with successful reforms to its education system and higher scores on PISA, has risen from fourteenth to tenth.  The report aims to examine what happens inside the ‘black box’ of education, based on 2,500 data points on educational, economic and social indicators, including from PISA, TIMSS and PIAAC.  According to the report, the top perfoming Asian countries reflect a culture in which teachers and schools are highly respected and “teachers, students and parents all take responsibility for education”.  Read more at BBC or the Strait Times.

OECD on Classroom Teaching Time
The OECD has released a new Education Indicators in Focus issue that looks at the relationship between classroom instruction time and student performances on PISA 2012 mathematics.  The brief reports that six subjects (reading, writing and literature, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign languages and arts) make up approximately 75 percent of compulsory curricular time in OECD countries, however, the time spent on instruction varies significantly across OECD countries with the average annual instruction time coming in at 7,751 hours per year. The size of the difference between the country with the lowest instruction time (Hungary) and the highest instruction time (Australia) is indicative of the lack of consensus among policymakers on appropriate teaching time, according to the brief.  Comparing country-level data on instruction time and PISA 2012 data on student performances in mathematics does not support the hypothesis that more instruction time leads to better student outcomes. In fact, the 10 PISA countries with the highest instruction time have a mean PISA score in math that is 20 points below that of the 10 countries with the lowest amount of instruction time.  What is important to note, according to the brief, is how countries whose student performance is high use classroom instructional time and, that in many high performing countries, time away from the classroom where students are involved in play or organized activities outside of school, are important contributors to student performance.  The brief is available here and an OECD blog post provides further analyses.

OECD on the Role of Motivation in Student Learning
The OECD PISA in Focus looks at how motivation determines student performance in mathematics. Students who are highly motivated to learn mathematics and believe mathematics will help them later in life score better in mathematics by the equivalent of half a year of schooling than students who are not highly motivated. Motivation is strongly associated with the performance of highest-achieving students; the difference in PISA scores in OECD countries associated with motivation is 21 points, on average, among top performers while it is only 11 points among low achievers. The other important lesson from this study of students’ motivations is that education systems who sort and group students into different schools and programs reduce students’ motivation to learn mathematics, on average.  The selection and segregation of students often reinforces socio-economic disparities, results in different opportunities to learn, and de-motivates a significant number of students in mathematics. The PISA in Focus article explores students’ motivation and performances in different OECD countries.  See also an OECD blog post about this issue.

Nations Report Card coverMath and Reading Performance Remains Stagnant Among U.S. 12th Graders
The National Center for Education Statistics released The Nation’s Report Card, 2013 Mathematics and Reading, Grade 12 Assessment (12th Grade NAEP).  Trends in national average scores for U.S. 12th graders show no significant changes in mathematics and reading performance from 2009 to 2013 and a widening achievement gap between white students and African-American students.  Only 26 percent of students scored at or above the proficient level in math while only 37 percent of students scored at or above the proficient level in reading.  Education Week quotes U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as saying, “We project that our nation’s public schools will become majority-minority this fall—making it even more urgent to put renewed attention into the academic rigor and equity of course offerings and into efforts to redesign high schools. We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as [a] nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students.”  The full report can be explored in detail for student groups and selected states.

Immigrants Struggle to Advance to Upper-Secondary School in Helsinki
Young immigrants in the Helsinki region are experiencing difficulties advancing to upper-secondary school, according to a new study commissioned by the City of Helsinki.  Fourteen percent of the 13-29 year-old residents in Helsinki do not speak Finnish or Swedish as their mother tongue.  Roughly half of this population has lived in Finland for less than six years and needs extra support or assistance in finding a suitable place to study according to the report.  In order to advance to upper-secondary education and beyond, students must have completed compulsory education which is “close to impossible” for some immigrants, according to a source at the Helsinki Education Department interviewed by the Helsinki Times In early April, a task force at the Department released a proposal to enhance the education opportunities made available to young immigrants in the Helsinki area.

Why Do Finnish Girls Stay in School Longer Than Finnish Boys?
Finnish women are increasingly more likely to get post-secondary degrees, according to Statistics Finland.  Sixty-two percent of the 111,000 people who graduated from Finnish universities from 2006 to 2010 were women.  Almost one in five men in Finland has only a primary school education, compared to one in ten women.  Seppo Mäkinen, a child and youth psychiatrist, suggests this may be due to developmental differences in adolescent boys and girls.  He says that the current school system supports the learning pace of girls who are developmentally two years ahead of their male peers.  Mäkinen even suggests separate schools or curricula for boys and girls.  Others worry that students are expected to decide on their future schooling options while they are too young, and this may lead to boys giving up on education too soon.  Read more at YLE News.

New OECD Review of VET in Israel
The OECD A Skills beyond School Review of Israel examines how aligned the vocational education and training (VET) programs are to the needs of a small open economy in a globalized world.  Israel faces a number of difficulties in developing its skills base and reducing skills shortages  employers are voicing concerns about the inadequacy of vocational skills, highly skilled migrants from the former Soviet Union are retiring and the growing Arab-Israel and Ultra-Orthodox populations have limited VET options available to them.  The report finds that Israel has less VET offerings available compared to other OECD countries and that funding in the sector is inadequate and sometimes declining.  The OECD recommends various actions to develop and expand quality VET programs including legislative changes and collaborating with industry and social partners.  The full report is available here.