Thursday, 8 December 2016

PISA 2015: Singapore students top global ranking in reading, maths and science

Singapore students bag education 'World Cup'
They come out tops among 72 economies for their showing in maths, science and reading
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2016

One week after scoring top marks in a mathematics and science study, Singapore students aced an even more prestigious international benchmarking test, which is dubbed the "World Cup for Education".

The Republic's 15-year-olds were ranked No. 1 for mathematics, science and reading in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial study run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to measure how well students use their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems.

In the last PISA test in 2012, Singapore's students were ranked second in mathematics and third in science and reading.

PISA 2015 conducted last year saw teens from 72 countries and economies participating. In Singapore, 5,825 students, from all 168 public schools sat for the computer-based test, alongside 290 students from nine private schools, including a madrasah. The students were randomly selected and also had to fill in a questionnaire on their learning habits.



The Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday that the results show Singapore students are not just competent in applying knowledge and skills, but also in analysing and communicating as they solve novel problems.

It added that the deliberate curricular shifts made by MOE over the years to trim syllabuses and give more time to higher-order thinking skills have borne fruit.

Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, in a Facebook post, yesterday congratulated Singapore students on their top placing in PISA as well as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study released last week. They are equipped with some of the skills needed for the future, he said.

"Heartened too that our teachers' dedication to plan engaging lessons has built a strong foundation for our students," he added.

Deputy director-general of education (schools) Low Khah Gek also noted the finding that more than eight in 10 students here agreed that they have fun when learning science.

Mr Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at OECD, said: "The modern world no longer rewards people for what they know... but for what they can do with what they know. It is therefore encouraging that Singapore students are not just leading the world in scientific knowledge, but they excel particularly in their capacity to think like scientists."



MOE noted that the PISA 2015 results also show relatively few low performers and a high proportion of top performers.

Singapore's proportion of low performers in each of the three domains stands at about 10 per cent - among the lowest of all participating education systems. Meanwhile, Singapore's proportion of top performers is the highest among all economies - 24 per cent for science, 18 per cent for reading and 35 per cent for mathematics.

Former Hougang Secondary student Melissa Yong, 17, who is now in Serangoon Junior College, said her teachers used card tricks and even a Changi Airport field trip to make the subject interesting. "At the airport, we had to use maths to exchange different currencies. At the taxi stand, we had to figure out how many people could be accommodated." She went on to score distinctions in both her mathematics and additional mathematics papers.













Students showing skills as problem solvers
Now to await PISA test result on how Singapore students are doing in collaborative efforts
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2016

Singapore's educators deserve applause for the Republic's showing in the latest international benchmarking test conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Singapore's 15-year-olds took top place, outperforming their peers from 71 other countries and economies in using science, mathematics and reading skills to solve problems.

It shows that the deliberate curricular shifts Singapore has made over the years to emphasise higher-order critical thinking skills have worked in moving our students beyond mastering content knowledge to become problem solvers.

But beyond this, what we need to look out for is Singapore's placing in another PISA 2015 test result that will be out by the middle of next year.

Besides assessing students' strengths in mathematics, science and reading, PISA 2015 also assessed students on an important 21st century skill - collaborative problem solving.

It was part of the move in recent years by the OECD to broaden the test to measure other skills that are becoming increasingly crucial to thrive in the workplace.

To assess collaborative problem solving, students were asked to tackle a problem by collaborating with a partner, in this case, a software program.

Students had to use their interpersonal and communication skills to engage the program and pool knowledge and skills to complete a task.

As the OECD explained, the ability to collaborate is a vital skill as much of the problem solving work done in the world today is performed by teams in an increasingly global and computerised economy.

A University of Phoenix Research Institute study has also identified virtual collaboration as one of 10 key skills for the future workforce.



The OECD is looking at testing other skills as well. The next round of PISA tests, in 2018, is likely to include a new measurement of global competence, which will look at how well students can navigate an increasingly diverse world, with an awareness of different cultures and beliefs.

Broadly defined as the ability to critically analyse global and intercultural issues to aid social cohesion, global competence is a game changer, according to Dr Andreas Schleicher, the education and skills director of OECD.

Writing in the media earlier this year, he said that increasingly, schools also have to ensure that children develop "the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world".

To assess global competence, students will be tested on their comprehension of a range of global and intercultural issues such as the environment, poverty, economic integration, inequalities and migration.

The test details have yet to be confirmed, but students may be asked how much they know about these topics and then given some source material to exercise their critical and analytical skills, for example, opinions on whether the sources are reliable.

When asked how the OECD picks which skills to test, Dr Schleicher said that the people who design the test look very carefully at the evolution of skills demanded in our societies.

Many of the skills that schools have traditionally emphasised, requiring students to master content, are becoming less important for success in the real world, he noted.

In contrast, creative thinking, teamwork and social skills are becoming more important.

The OECD looks at how the world and the skills that people need are changing, and then tries to reflect that in its measures.














Useful PISA takeaways for Singapore education
Yes, our students aced the global test. But the real value lies beyond rankings - it shows what works and what doesn't in education systems
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2016

Singapore students aged 15 years old were ranked No. 1 in maths, science and reading in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, whose results were released on Tuesday.

PISA is a prestigious international benchmarking test, dubbed the "World Cup for education", and has been held six times since 2000.

The top score follows good results in the last PISA test in 2012, when students here were ranked second in mathematics and third in science and reading.

While the results must be gratifying, such global rankings have in fact stirred controversy.

Over the years, PISA, the triennial study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has come under attack. Besides queries on the validity of the tests, there have also been accusations of cheating by some countries.

Just two years ago, an open letter was sent to Dr Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the test at OECD, urging him to scrap PISA. The letter, signed by 120 academics and teachers from a dozen countries, said the tests were imperfect and narrowly focused on economic goals.

"PISA, with its three-year assessment cycle, has caused a shift of attention to short-term fixes designed to help a country quickly climb the rankings," it said.

Here, however, Ministry of Education (MOE) officials have made it clear that the regular reviews of curriculum and pedagogy - including the current overhaul of the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) - that it undertakes are not done to "game" the PISA test or any other test.

It is to ensure that Singapore students gain the necessary knowledge and skills to lead a successful and meaningful life, the ministry has said.

A big-picture take on the usefulness of PISA comes from Dr Schleicher, often referred to as "the World's Schoolmaster". He argues that the test's international comparisons have opened up a perspective to a wider range of policy options.

Underperforming countries have looked beyond their borders for evidence of effective policy, and PISA, by picking out the characteristics of high-performing systems, has allowed educators to identify those that work and adapt them to local contexts.

By some estimates, half the countries that have taken PISA tests since they started in 2000 have reformed their education systems in the light of the results.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK

For one, PISA has shown that rote-learning and hours of tuition do not work.

The top placings of East Asian nations, including Singapore, were initially attributed by some detractors to rote-learning and the many hours of tuition that Asian students receive outside school hours.

However, PISA has shown no positive correlation between tuition and performance.

And the charge on rote-learning proves false when one looks at the kind of questions posed in the tests.

Remembering formulas or chunks of content won't do. PISA's questions require students to use their knowledge and skills to solve problems in unfamiliar contexts.

It's also not about money. PISA studies comparing student scores with spending per student explain only about less than 20 per cent of the performance variation among countries. Also countries with similar spending achieve very different results.

PISA results also show that parents sending their children to private schools are wasting their money.

In countries where a substantial proportion of students attend private schools, pupils in public schools score lower in science than students in private schools. But this is not the case once you take into account the socio-economic background of the pupils.

Parents here and in many other Asian nations clamour for smaller class sizes, but PISA data again shows that it is not about smaller class sizes.

The top-performing East Asian nations have larger classes.

NO HIGH-TECH ADVANTAGE

Another useful insight from the PISA data: computers and classroom technology do not improve student performance.

The study, done last year, found "no appreciable improvements" in reading, mathematics or science in countries that invested heavily in information technology.

In fact, the frequent use of computers in school is more likely to be associated with lower marks,

Of the seven territories that had the highest levels of Internet use in school, three - Australia, New Zealand and Sweden - were found to have "significant declines" in reading performance, while another three - Spain, Norway and Denmark - had results that had "stagnated".

The territories with the lowest levels of Internet use in school - South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan - are among the top performers in international tests.

In Singapore, students who reported that they "never or hardly ever" browse the Internet for schoolwork in school, performed the best in the digital reading test. They scored more than 30 points better than students who reported browsing the Internet in school "at least once a week".

Similarly, students who reported that computers are not used in maths classes scored the highest in the computer-based maths test.

So, what counts in raising standards?

TEACHERS, ENVIRONMENT MATTER

What six cycles of PISA data have also shown is that the quality of teachers and the learning environment matter. Also, in top-performing countries, importance is placed on education.

PISA officials have noted the high expectations that Asian parents and teachers have of their young charges. There is also a strong belief that all children are capable of success and education will help them achieve success.

PISA surveys on student attitudes in learning mathematics, for example, have shown that student attitudes and motivations matter.

Students who believe that they can improve their mathematics skills through more practice and effort tend to do better in the subject than students who put it down to innate ability.

As Dr Schleicher told The Straits Times: "Students in North America would tell us that talent counts. If I'm not born a genius in maths, I'd better study something else. But the majority of students in Asian countries such as Singapore would say that it depends on how much time they spend, and how much effort they put in.

"So for them, their achievement depends on how much time and effort they put in, rather than inherited intelligence, which suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling values that foster success in education."

STREAMING AT LATER AGE

There is another PISA finding that is significant for Singapore in the light of the debate on PSLE.

Although the MOE has announced changes to the PSLE scoring system to reduce the competition and stress, many have asked if children as young as 12 should be subjected to a high-stakes examination - and one that routes them into different paths in secondary school, at that.

Singapore, despite its high scores, should look to Estonia, Finland and Canada. Many here have suggested routing students into technical or academic paths at age 15 or 16 instead. These countries show that streaming children into academic or vocational streams may work better at a later age.

PISA has also found that when pupils are diverted from academic tracks at an early age, whether towards a vocational school or a less rigorous stream, it widens the gap between rich and poor children.

Take the Netherlands, for example. Pupils at its vocational schools have results equivalent to about three years less of schooling than their peers at general schools.

As the demands of societies and work change, so too has PISA to remain useful. And in the future, PISA is planning on broadening what it measures. This will add to the test's value.

Next year, the OECD will publish the results of an additional 2015 assessment on collaborative problem-solving, and it has drawn up plans for assessing inter-cultural sensitivity in 2018.

PISA officials say creativity, entrepreneurship and ethical thinking are all under consideration for future cycles.

These are skills which are increasingly demanded by employers.

As technology reduces the demand for routine skills, it is simultaneously increasing the demand for more difficult-to- automate social skills.

PISA, through a questionnaire that it administers along with the tests, has also started looking at social and emotional skills such as perseverance and self-esteem.

These are important measures as research clearly shows that cognitive and socio-emotional skills interact and cross-fertilise to put children on the path to success.

Such measures help to better assess children's current skill sets and their future needs . They also help teachers and parents to adapt their teaching and parenting styles and environments accordingly.

PISA, like all tests, may have its limitations. But it is called the "World Cup for education" for good reason.




























Kids with tuition fare worse
Analysis of PISA data throws up surprising results for Singapore parents paying high tuition rates to help their children do well at school
By Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng, Published The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2016

Back in the 1990s, when I was a secondary school student, only a few of my friends had access to private tuition. Today, however, it is not uncommon for the majority of one's classmates to have this. Some may even have tuition in several subjects.

In 2011, 71.3 per cent of secondary school students received some form of tuition - defined as receiving out-of-school extra lessons, whether paid for or otherwise. By contrast, only 33.9 per cent received tuition in 1995.

Three questions arise:

• 1. Why are tuition rates so high and increasing in Singapore?

• 2. Who are the children that attend tuition?

• 3. Do these children perform better than their peers who don't?

To answer the first point, tuition rates tend to be high in countries where high-stakes exams prevail because parents see a need to prepare their children adequately for these assessments.

Because performance in exams such as the Primary School Leaving Examination, O and A levels plays an important role in determining admissions to selective schools and universities, it is not surprising that parents in Singapore focus a lot of attention on programmes they perceive will ensure their children's academic success.

So the growing prevalence of tuition has largely been demand-driven, but part of the increase is likely also due to peer pressure. When parents see others enrolling their children for tuition, they worry that their child might be at a disadvantage if they do not act likewise. Consequently, some may enrol their children even when they are doing well academically.

To answer questions 2 and 3, I analysed data from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is a large-scale international survey involving 15-year-old students.

A comparison between children who received tuition and children who did not reveals that the former are more likely to be from affluent families. For instance, those who received tuition were more likely to be from families who owned at least one car and are English-speaking.

This finding is consistent with the fact that richer families are able to afford more educational resources for their children.



A more pertinent question is whether children who choose to receive tuition actually perform better than their peers who choose not to.

Surprisingly, a simple comparison indicates that this is not the case. In fact, children who received tuition actually scored about 0.256 standard deviations lower on their tests than those who did not (standard deviation is a measure of how spread out test scores are from the average).

Even after adjusting for differences in students' age, gender, home language, family structure, native-born status, material possessions, grade-level and schools, as well as parents' education levels and employment status, those who received tuition were found to perform 0.133 standard deviations worse.

The same findings emerge even when comparisons are made within-students (when test scores were compared across subjects for the same students, if they had tuition in one subject but no tuition in another). Although these results pertain to mathematics achievement, similar results are found for science and English. These findings are consistent with those found earlier by professors Euston Quah and Roland Cheo in a 2005 Singapore-based study.

SO WHY THE SURPRISE RESULT?

There several explanations for the negative association between tuition and performance. The first is that students who receive tuition choose to receive it precisely because they are not doing well in school. In other words, weak performance may be what is driving students to enrol for tuition.

An alternative explanation is that tuition is counterproductive. How can this be? Well, students might end up disliking the subject if they are forced to attend extra classes. This might be especially true if they are subject to long hours of tuition every week. Indeed, the benefits of an additional hour of tuition might fall, and even become negative at some point as the number of hours spent on it increases.

Another possibility is that the mere access to a tutor may alter the learning attitudes of students. They might reason: "I don't have to pay much attention in school since I always have my tutor to depend on." Thus, there may be a tendency to slack off on regular classes, to their detriment.

While it is unclear which of the explanations is correct, the negative association is clearly large and highly statistically significant.

Do the results imply that all parents should now stop sending their children for tuition?

Not really. As mentioned, the results show only that a relationship between tuition and performance exists. However, this relationship may not necessarily be causal (tuition may not cause weaker performance).

Secondly, even if the results were causal, they reflect only the average effect of tuition across all 15-year-olds. The precise effect of tuition for any one child could still be positive, depending on factors specific to the child, such as the quality of his tutor and how the child responds to tuition.

In making decisions, parents should consider questions such as:

• Does the tutor have the relevant skills to guide my child well?

• Does the tutor possess a proven record?

• Will tuition help to clarify my child's misconceptions?

• Or will it simply cause him to become confused and lose interest in the subject? Answering these questions will help focus a parent's decision on the question of tuition.

The writer is a lecturer in the department of economics, National University of Singapore. His research focuses on the economics of education.
















Why East Asia continues to top PISA leaderboard
By Mark Boylan, Published The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2016

The results speak for themselves.

The latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have been released - and, once again, East Asian countries have ranked the highest in both tests.

Over recent years, other countries' positions have gone up and down in the tables, but East Asian education - which includes China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan - continues to dominate. And the gap between these countries and the rest of the world is getting wider.

The reasons why East Asian countries are way ahead of the pack as far as education is concerned have long been debated - but it essentially seems to come down to four factors.

1. CULTURE AND MINDSET

There is a high value placed on education and a belief that effort rather than innate ability is the key to success. East Asian researchers usually point to this as the most important factor for this region's high test results.

The positive aspect of this approach is that there is an expectation that the vast majority of pupils will succeed. Learners are not labelled and put into "ability" groups - as they are in England, where this is the norm even in many primary schools. So, in East Asian countries, everyone has the same access to the curriculum - which means many more pupils are able to get high grades.

Formal schooling is also supplemented by intensive after-school tuition - at the extreme, this can see children studying well into the night - and sometimes for up to three hours of extra school in the evening on top of two hours of homework a day.

But while this intensive after- school study can get results, it's important to recognise that in many East Asian countries, educators worry about the quality and influence these "crammers" have on the mental health and well-being of children. And many studies looking at pupils' experiences in these schools have reported high levels of adolescent stress and a sense of pressure to achieve - for both the students and their parents.

2. THE QUALITY OF TEACHERS

Teaching is a respected profession in East Asia, where there is stiff competition for jobs, good conditions of service, longer training periods and support for continuing and extensive professional development.

In Shanghai, teachers have much lower teaching workloads than in England - despite the bigger classes. And they use specialist primary mathematics teachers, who teach two 35-40 minute lessons a day. This gives the teachers time for planning - or the chance to give extra support to pupils who need it - along with time for professional development in teacher research groups.

In Japan, "lesson study" is embedded in primary schools. This involves teachers planning carefully designed lessons, observing each other's teaching and then drawing out the learning points from these observations. And lesson study also gives teachers time to research and professionally develop together.

3. USING THE EVIDENCE

Ironically, the theoretical basis for East Asian education has been heavily influenced by research and developments in the West. For example, Jerome Bruner's theory of stages of representation, which says that learners need hands-on experiences of a concept - then visual representations - as a basis for learning symbolic or linguistic formulations. This has been translated in Singapore as a focus on concrete, pictorial and abstract models in mathematical learning. For example, this might mean arranging counters in rows of five to learn the five times table, then using pictures of hands that each has five digits, before writing multiplication facts in words, and then adding in numerals and the multiplication and equals signs.

4. A COLLECTIVE PUSH

In the 1970s, Singapore's educational outcomes lagged behind the rest of the world - the transformation of Singaporean education was achieved through systemic change at a national level that encompassed curriculum development, national textbooks and pre-service and in-service teacher education.

Similarly, in Shanghai and South Korea educational change and improvement is planned and directed at a national level. This means that all schools use government approved curriculum materials, there is more consistency about entry qualifications to become a teacher and there is much less diversity of types of schools than in the UK.

The success of East Asian education has turned these countries into "reference societies" - ones by which policymakers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere measure their own education systems and seek to emulate. Interest in East Asian education in the UK has informed the current "mastery approach", which is used in primary mathematics. Teaching for mastery uses methods found in Shanghai and Singapore and has been the basis of many recent research projects - some sponsored by government funding and others promoted by educational charities or commercial organisations.

But of course, only time will tell if some of the success of these two education systems can be reproduced in the UK, while avoiding some of the negative experiences - such as stress and burnout - associated with the East Asian approach to education.

The writer is a reader in education at Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom.

This article first appeared in theconversation.com, a website of analysis from academics and researchers.










What's behind Finland's PISA slide
Finnish expert weighs in on falling scores and cautions against looking only at global tests
By Joe Heim, Published The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2016

Finland's schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they're slipping. What has happened?

That's a question educators around the globe are asking in the wake of the latest results of an ongoing study that measures academic achievement in 73 countries.

For much of the 21st century, Finland has been one of the very top performers in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Administered every three years, it tests the reading, mathematics and science literacy of 15-year-olds.

PISA does not measure memorisable facts, but rather how students apply theory and thinking in answering questions. Finland's students had been so successful in these tests that educators and leaders of other countries began looking to the country as an example of how to run an effective education system.

Headlines show a world smitten with the Finnish approach: "How Finland broke every rule - and created a top school system"; "What Finland can teach China about education"; "What if Finland's great teachers taught in US schools"; and "Happy teaching, Happy learning: 13 secrets to Finland's success".


But in the 2015 PISA iteration, the results of which were released last week and which Singapore topped, Finland continued a slide first evidenced in the 2012 results, when the country's maths score dropped out of the top 10 for the first time. The drop-off in maths scores from 2009 to 2012 was 2.8 per cent. Science scores dropped 3 per cent, and reading 1.7 per cent.

In the 2015 results, Finland's scores dropped in all three categories: 11 points in science, five points in reading and 10 points in maths.

Finland is now ranked 12th in maths, fifth in science and fourth in reading. Its high-achieving students were seen as an example to be emulated. Now, there are questions about what is causing the drop-off and how it should be addressed.

Some of those questions were put to Dr Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and leading figure in education policy and the author of the best-selling book, Finnish Lessons 2.0 What Can The World Learn From Educational Change In Finland.







Q What do you think best explains Finland's drop in the PISA results? Is it that more countries have simply caught up to what Finland was doing, or is there a fundamental change that has taken place in Finland as to how and what children there are learning?

A It has been difficult to explain why some countries, including Finland, have been performing well in international school system comparisons. It is equally difficult to explain precisely why countries are slipping down in these same charts.

One important dimension is the equity of education, that is, how fair is the school system for children from different backgrounds?

Even in this broader perspective, there has been a notable decline in Finland's performance, both in terms of students' learning outcomes and equity of the education system (as we know now, these two dimensions often go hand in hand). I have suggested three main reasons for this decline that already started some eight or so years ago.

First, there has been a visible and alarming downward trend in Finnish schoolboys' educational performance during the past decade. This inconvenient phenomenon is stronger in Finland than in any other OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country.

As a result, Finland is the only country where girls significantly outperform boys not only in reading but also in maths and science. One factor that explains this is related to the diminished role of reading for pleasure among boys.

Finland used to have the best primary school readers in the world until the early 2000s, but not any more. PISA test items rely heavily on the test-taker's reading comprehension. Appearance of handheld technologies like smartphones among school-aged children in this decade has probably accelerated this trend.

Second, rapidly increased "screen time" with media is often eating into the time spent with books and reading in general. According to some national statistics, most teenagers in Finland spend more than four hours a day on the Internet (not including time with TV) and the number of heavy Internet and other media users (more than eight hours a day) is increasing just as it is doing in the United States, Canada and beyond.

Emerging research on how the Internet affects the brain - and thereby learning - suggests three principal consequences: shallower information processing, increased distractibility and altered self-control mechanisms. If this is true, there is reason to believe increasing use of digital technologies for communication, interaction and entertainment will make concentration on complex conceptual issues, like those in maths and science, more difficult. Interestingly, most countries are witnessing this same phenomenon of digital distraction among youth.

Third, Finland has had a very serious economic downturn since 2008 that affected education more than other public sectors. Sustained austerity forced most of its 300-plus municipalities to cut spending, merge schools, increase class sizes and limit access to professional development and school improvement.

The most harmful consequence is the declining number of support staff, classroom assistants and special education personnel. Finland's strength earlier was its relatively small number of low-performing students. Now, the number of those students with inadequate performance in reading, maths and science is approaching international averages. In Finland, this is probably the most significant driver of increasing inequality within education.

I think that the fact that most OECD countries have shaped their national education policies - that is, curriculum, instruction time and testing - to be aligned with PISA, hoping that this would increase their PISA scores, has affected Finland's position internationally. Education policies in Finland are not targeted to do well in PISA at all.



Q Can you foresee any changes that Finland would consider to address this fall-off?

A PISA is not seen in Finland as a trigger for education reforms. There will be no new policy changes that would be inspired by PISA in Finland. The Ministry of Education has launched a national programme that aims at improving primary and lower secondary education.

This includes more student-centred pedagogies, strengthened student engagement in school, more physical activity for all students and more technology in classrooms.

The Finnish way of thinking is that the best way to address insufficient educational performance is not to raise standards or increase instruction time (or homework) but make school a more interesting and enjoyable place for all. Raising student motivation and well-being in school in general are among the main goals of current education policy in Finland.



Q Many countries tried to learn from what Finland has accomplished in education. Should these new results give other countries pause?

A What we need to underline here is that PISA tells us only a small part of what happens in education in any country. Most of what Finland does, for example, is not shown in PISA at all. It would be shortsighted to conclude by only looking at PISA scores where good educational ideas and inspiration might be found.

The country's early-childhood education, highly regarded teaching profession, strong focus on well-being and whole child development, and alternative models of accountability still continue to be useful areas of interest for others.

I would argue that it is now very interesting for others to take a closer look at how Finland will deal with this new situation of slipping international results.

The first lesson certainly is that the best way to react is not to adjust schooling to aim at higher PISA scores. In the coming years, foreign observers will see more integrated interdisciplinary teaching and learning in Finnish schools that actually will decrease instruction time in maths and science. They will also witness more emphasis on arts and physical activity in all schools.

The second lesson is that sustainable improvement of education requires protecting and enhancement of equity and equality in education. International visitors are likely to see intensified conversation in Finland across political parties and opinions on making the education system better serve everyone.

Finally, what Finland should learn from these recent results is that reducing education spending always comes with consequences. It is very shortsighted to think that high educational performance and continuing betterment of schools would be possible when resources are shrinking. Whether Finland's politicians and bureaucrats take these lessons seriously remains to be seen.


WASHINGTON POST


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