Thursday 23 November 2017

Singapore students are best team players: PISA 2015 study on Collaborative Problem Solving

Singapore students top OECD global survey in problem solving through teamwork
Republic had the highest proportion of top performers, over 20%, in the global PISA test
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2017

Singapore students are world beaters not just in science, mathematics and reading, but also in the ability to solve problems in teams, according to new findings from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Republic topped a global test of collaborative problem-solving skills under the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test conducted in 2015.

Singapore had the highest mean score of 561 points, followed by Japan with 552 points, Hong Kong with 541 points and South Korea with 538 points.

The PISA 2015 Collaborative Problem Solving results, released yesterday, are the first test of such skills to help countries see where they stand in preparing students to live and work in an interconnected world.

Some 125,000 students across 52 economies around the world took part in the test, which measured students' ability to solve problems collaboratively, negotiate and come to agreement, for instance.

The PISA test has traditionally assessed abilities in science, mathematics and reading - core subjects in which Singapore was ranked first in the latest 2015 exercise - but is including skills that are increasingly important in the new economy.

Singapore had the highest proportion of top performers - more than 20 per cent of students here achieved the highest level of proficiency (level 4) in collaborative problem-solving. This means they could carry out tasks needing high levels of collaboration, maintain an awareness of group dynamics and had the initiative to take action or make requests to overcome obstacles and resolve disagreements.

On average, only 8 per cent of students could perform at this level.

The results also showed that students here have positive attitudes towards collaboration. More than nine in 10 said they are good listeners, enjoy seeing their classmates be successful, take into account what others are interested in and like cooperating with their peers.

Dr Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said: "Singapore demonstrates that strong academic performance does not have to come at the expense of weaker social skills. In fact, Singapore scores even better in collaborative problem-solving than it does in science and mathematics."

Mr Sng Chern Wei, the Ministry of Education's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said the results reaffirm schools' efforts to create group learning experiences through initiatives like project work and community projects.

"We need to ensure that such experiences are common for every student, and they are able to benefit fully from them," he said.

To assess collaborative problem-solving, students had to tackle a problem by collaborating with a partner, in this case, a software program. In a computer-administered assessment that simulates team members, the student interacts with conversational agents via messages to carry out tasks like planning a presentation or a field trip.

Besides gathering information and devising strategies, they had to consider what their team members knew, decide who takes which actions and maintain assigned roles.

MOE noted that the study design is a standardised way of measuring and comparing collaborative problem-solving skills, but real-life settings may be more complex.

Principals said teamwork is part and parcel of students' life.

At Beatty Secondary, Secondary 2 students work together on a project on local pioneers and have to do research and present their findings.

Said Beatty's principal, Mr Ling Khoon Chow: "The problems (in today's world) moving forward are quite unique. The answers do not come so readily, so these are important skills for students to pick up."

Students work in teams to solve problems in water, energy and food sustainability
Tackling real-world problems together
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2017

Solving problems in groups is the norm at Queenstown Secondary School, where students work on sustainability projects on water, energy and food.

In groups of four to five, they are given real-world problems, from checking out the quality of water in Singapore River to building a prototype of a solar-powered device.

The school's principal, Madam Rasidah Rahim, said the school decided on the theme of sustainability for its applied learning programme to challenge students to apply their knowledge of science and geography, and come up with solutions.

"We want students to look at problem-solving and collaborative skills, which will be more critical, compared with content knowledge, which they can Google," Madam Rasidah said.

Students in Singapore are top worldwide in the ability to solve problems collaboratively, according to the results of a test released yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

About 20 science and geography teachers are involved in Queenstown Secondary's programme, which started in 2014 with the lower secondary cohorts.

The programme was extended last year to Secondary 3 students.

Secondary 1 students Beatrice Song and Marcus Teh, both 13, came up with a water filtration system using different materials such as charcoal, sponge, cotton and pebbles.

"It was a lot of trial and error to find out which method was the best in filtering water," said Marcus.

"We learnt how to work with each other. Each of us has different opinions and strengths... some of us can lead better, some of us remember things better."

At Queensway Secondary, students also learn to work in teams to construct an underwater robot with the best aerodynamics.

The activity was part of the school's applied learning programme, which started in 2015.

Using materials such as plastic, PVC pipes, foam and cable ties, students bounced ideas off one another, tweaked their designs, and put their remotely operated vehicles to the test through a competition that was held last month.

Secondary 2 student Lucas Chin, 14, said there were definitely problems in the process.

"Sometimes, the pipes were too short, not tight enough or they kept falling apart... but we learnt to communicate well with one another, to try and include everyone's ideas in the design."

Singapore students ace collaboration, but will they top test on global thinking and creativity?
Vital to foster full range of skills to thrive in today's world
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2017

The last round of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study measured half a million students from more than 70 economies on their strengths in mathematics, science and reading.

For the first time, the triennial test conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also included an assessment on an important 21st-century driver - collaborative problem-solving skills - which students from 52 economies, including Singapore, participated in.

It was part of the move in recent years by the OECD to broaden the test to measure social and emotional skills that are becoming increasingly crucial to thrive in the new economy.

Singapore was yesterday named the top-performing economy in collaborative problem-solving, with its students performing significantly above those from all other education systems.

The next round of tests - PISA 2018 - will include a test on global competence which would look at how well students can navigate an increasingly diverse world, with an awareness of different cultures and beliefs.

In 2021, PISA is looking at assessing creative thinking.

The organisation headquartered in Paris has defined global competence as "the capacity to examine global and inter-cultural issues, and take multiple perspectives, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development".

So, how exactly will students be assessed on this?

In the first part, students will read about a case study, and respond to questions that evaluate their capacity to understand the complexity of the case, the multiple perspectives of the diverse actors involved, and suggest solutions.

This will be followed by a questionnaire to gauge their openness towards people from other cultures, respect for cultural otherness, global-mindedness and responsibility.

Teachers and school heads will also be given a questionnaire which aims to provide a comparative picture of how education systems are integrating global, international and inter-cultural perspectives through the curriculum and other activities.

OECD, in its proposal to include this measure of global competence, has said it is the first step towards assessing what students are learning about the complexity of a globalising and multicultural world, and to what extent they are prepared to address global developments and collaborate productively across cultural differences.

It also hopes that the data will provide worldwide, comparative information on what schools and teachers are doing to prepare young people for global citizenship and hopefully surface best practices.

Dr Andreas Schleicher, OECD's director for education and skills, said it was important to measure students' capacity to work with others, because in today's increasingly interconnected world, people are often required to collaborate in order to achieve their goals.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times on PISA's move to test global competence, he said it was important to nurture the capacity of students "to look at the world through different lenses and perspectives, appreciate different ways of thinking and different cultures".

Why is this important?

He said: "Openness and tolerance are very important... to cope and live in a complex world that is multidimensional, that has multiple perspectives."

Dr Schleicher said many of the skills that were emphasised in the past, such as memorising content, are becoming less important. In contrast, creative thinking, collaborative problem-solving and social skills are becoming more important.

He pointed out that digitalisation and artificial intelligence are increasingly replacing routine cognitive skills and routine manual skills.

In fact, there is a growing global consensus about the kinds of capabilities which matter, and they include perseverance, curiosity, creativity, tolerance of diverse opinions and empathy.

Thriving in today's fast-changing world requires a breadth of skills rooted in academic competencies such as literacy, numeracy and science. At the same time, factors such as teamwork, critical thinking and creativity are becoming more important.

Education has always been the way to pass down knowledge, skills, values and culture to enable subsequent generations to thrive. Educators, as well as parents, need to foster the full range of skills to enable young people to adapt and thrive in this rapidly changing world.

PISA 2015 Results (Volume V) Collaborative Problem Solving -21 Nov 2017

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