Thursday, 5 December 2019

PISA 2018: 15-year-old students in Singapore express greater fear of failure compared to their peers overseas

China pips Singapore to top spot in PISA education ranking
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2019

Students in Singapore are more afraid of failure compared with their 15-year-old counterparts overseas, the results of a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released yesterday show.

The Republic had one of the highest proportions of students - more than 70 per cent - who expressed concern about failure in a questionnaire that was part of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Students were asked to indicate how they felt about failure through three statements. These related to whether they were worried about what others thought of them if they failed, or that they might not have enough talent. The third statement concerned whether failure made them doubt their plans for their future.

In comparison, the OECD average was slightly more than 50 per cent. In response, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday that an excessive fear of failing could be "disabling" and that it is making changes to dial back the obsession with grades.

Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said the results suggest students are "a bit worried about not doing well in different parts of school life, and worried about how others view them when they experience setbacks". "I think we can help more students to view such setbacks as a natural part of learning and growing, and to view them constructively."

Secondary 4 student Adeline Leong, 16, said she is afraid to fail in subjects that she has consistently done well in, such as history.

"I would be pressured to keep up the streak of doing well. But if it's a subject that I know I'm not strong in, I would not have that high expectations for myself and I would not be so afraid."

The latest PISA study also showed that 60 per cent of Singapore students had a "growth mindset" - meaning that they believe their intelligence can change with effort that they put in. The opposite is a "fixed mindset", where people think their talent or intelligence is limited.

While Singapore's figure is slightly lower than the OECD average of 63 per cent, it is higher than those of most other top-performing Asian systems like China, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Said Mr Sng: "Where we think we can do better in is actually encouraging more students to have a growth mindset, and also helping them to see failures constructively.

"(Having a) growth mindset is important because that's a mindset where students believe that through their efforts, they could improve their intelligence, which will then actually prepare them better when they face challenges in life."

PISA 2018: Singapore slips to second place behind China but still chalks up high scores
Republic's 15-year-olds come second in maths, science and reading covered in OECD study
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2019

Singapore's 15-year-olds emerged among the top performers in an international benchmarking study released yesterday that tests how well they apply knowledge and skills, and solve problems.

The Republic slipped from its previous No. 1 position in 2015 to rank second in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a study done every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Singapore came in second in all three subjects covered in the study - mathematics, science and reading - losing out to China. In 2015, China was not among the top five scorers.

Macau was ranked third in all three categories, followed by Hong Kong in fourth place for reading and mathematics. Estonia, another top performer, was fourth in science and fifth in reading.

Compared with 2015, Singapore students showed significantly better literacy skills in the latest PISA test, which focused on reading. They scored higher than the OECD average in higher-order abilities like evaluating content and assessing credibility.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) attributed the improvement in reading to English language curricula in primary and secondary schools that hone critical reading skills across a range of texts, as well as the rising trend of English-speaking homes.

Last year was the fourth time that Singapore took part in PISA, with the first in 2009. The study involved about 600,000 students from 79 countries and economies.

In Singapore, 6,676 teens, most of whom were in Secondary 4, were randomly selected to take the test. The sample came from all 153 public secondary schools and 13 private schools, which include international and religious schools.

Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said: "We are pretty happy with the 2018 PISA findings because they show that our students are equipped with the critical skills and the resilience to cope with the challenges of a rapidly changing world."

On losing the top spot to China, he said: "We are happy that China is doing well. We didn't take part in PISA to try to beat every country."

He said that the PISA results are a useful reference for MOE as it develops education policies and programmes, and it will look into improving problem areas highlighted in the study.

These include a high proportion of students who expressed concern about failure, and a decline in teenagers enjoying reading.

Similar to their international counterparts, Singapore teenagers said they did not like reading as a hobby or read only to get information they needed. For example, 49 per cent of them said reading was a hobby, down from 54 per cent in 2009. In addition, 46 per cent said they read only if they had to, up from 35 per cent in 2009.

National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said that competing demands for students' time due to the rise of smartphones and social media play a key part in the drop in enjoyment of reading as a hobby.

"This whole business of non-stop Instagram and Twitter is much more attractive because it's interactive... compared to reading traditional print books that is a much more solitary activity," he said.

The latest PISA cycle also showed that Singapore continued to have high proportions of students who did well and low proportions of low performers. In reading, 26 per cent of students in Singapore were top performers. For mathematics and science, the figures were 37 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. The OECD average ranged from 7 per cent to 11 per cent.

Singapore had fewer students who were low performers in reading at 11 per cent, or about half of the OECD average of 23 per cent. The Republic also had markedly lower proportions of low performers in mathematics and science, at 7 per cent and 9 per cent respectively.

PISA 2018: Students from lower-income homes in Singapore do better than students overseas
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2019

Students from lower-income homes in Singapore not only do better than their peers overseas but also outperform the average international student, the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study found.

PISA assessed 4,000 to 8,000 15-year-old students in each country enrolled in formal education, whether full-time or part-time.

The 2018 study released yesterday showed that Singapore students from the bottom 25 per cent of socio-economic status (SES) performed better than the overall OECD average across all income levels. This was true for all three domains of reading, mathematics and science featured in the survey.

They scored 495 in reading, versus an overall OECD average of 487, 520 in mathematics (489) and 501 in science (489).

The study also measured three types of academic resilience among students. It found 47 per cent of Singapore's lower-SES students - up from 43 per cent in 2015 - were "core-skills resilient", which means they attained proficiency of at least level three in the three domains. The OECD score was 23 per cent.

"Level three" indicates "necessary core competencies to participate fully in society", meaning they are equipped to meet real-world demands. The highest level is six.

On "international resilience", which measured their reading scores against others elsewhere, 53 per cent of those from Singapore made the top quarter, compared with 33 per cent of OECD students.

But on "national resilience", which looked at how they fared against top performers in their own countries, only one in 10 of Singapore's disadvantaged students met the mark. This was similar to the performance of OECD students.

In reading, there was a score gap of 104 between the lower-and higher-SES students in Singapore, down from 108 in 2015. In comparison, the OECD score gap in the same domain was 89, up from 86.

The Education Ministry's deputy director-general of education (curriculum) Sng Chern Wei said the gap is a large one as "our high performers do very well in such bench-marking studies". The way to reduce the gap is not to cap the top but to help low-performers level up through schemes such as the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce, he said.

National University of Singapore economics lecturer Kelvin Seah said measures to narrow the gap are "unlikely to work overnight". But he added that the findings "bode well... because it indicates that how one performs academically is not rigidly determined by one's SES".

PISA report: Students' fear of failure tied to focus on results
Experts say this is due to the culture of merit being linked to academic showing
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent and Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2019

The fear of failure resonates with Singapore teens and this does not surprise observers, who note that a student's sense of self-worth and confidence is often influenced by how well he does academically. This is the result of a culture here where, for decades, merit has been intertwined heavily with academic results.

Ms Annelise Lai, a clinical psychologist at Resilienz Clinic, said: "Before the phasing out of academic streaming by 2024, failing an exam could mean being ranked at the bottom of society or discriminated since a young age."

An international benchmarking study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), released on Tuesday, found that Singapore had among the highest proportions of 15-year-olds who were anxious about failure.

Although the country was ranked second in the world in the Programme for International Student Assessment test for how well 15-year-olds apply knowledge and skills, and solve problems, the study also showed that more than 70 per cent of the students reported being afraid of failure. The OECD average last year was about 50 per cent.

While excessive fear can be disabling, the Ministry of Education said a rational and moderate sense of fear, taken in a positive spirit, can motivate students to work hard and do better.

The Government has taken steps to reduce the over-emphasis on academic grades, from introducing a new Primary School Leaving Examination scoring system to removing academic streams.

But experts said the change in the attitudes of students and parents will not be immediate.

"Our education system is built on the idea of merit, so people... equate merit with performance in exams," said Associate Professor Jason Tan from the National Institute of Education.

Secondary 4 student Tasha Leah Santiago, 16, said she defines failure as not doing well in a subject she is usually good at. "I also consider failure as doing significantly worse (in my studies) than all my friends, as it tells me I am not as good as the rest."

Accounts executive Wong Mei Lan, 51, whose two children are in secondary school, said parental expectations are a source of pressure. "It could be the way we have projected on them how we think academic results can affect their future. I'm not a tiger mum, but I do have expectations... I still have targets for them."

Education economist Kelvin Seah, from the National University of Singapore, said this fear of failure may prevent students from taking risks. "Thinking out of the box and giving creative answers, especially in exams, rather than sticking to established answers might be too risky for high performers because it could cost them their As."

This may mean students do not have a "certain risk appetite" that is required for innovation and entrepreneurship, he added.

Ms Lai said that while fear is a normal emotion, it becomes "disabling and unhealthy when it triggers avoidance and a sense of hopelessness".

"Fear should help young people grow by wanting to overcome what they are afraid of, but shouldn't impede them."

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