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East Asia Again Leads PISA Survey


FILE - Students wait to attend tutoring classes after school in Hong Kong Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. In Hong Kong, attending an after school tutorial academy is standard practice for many students. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)


From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

East Asian countries again lead all others in the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) education survey.

Singapore placed number one overall, according to the most recent results from 2015. The other top ten countries and territories included: Japan, Estonia, Taipei, Finland, Macao, Canada, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong China, or B-S-J-G China.

The PISA is run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based in Paris, France. Every three years, it measures science, math, reading, and collaboration problem-solving among students. Around 540,000 15-year-old students from 72 countries and regions took the test.

Western countries performed much weaker on average. The United States, in particular, placed only 38th overall. It was 30th in math and 19th in science.

Singapore leads in Science

Singapore outperformed all other participating countries in science. Japan, Estonia, Finland and Canada were the next four highest-performing countries.

According to the data, 1 in 4 students in Singapore perform at the highest level in science. At this level, the students have the skills and knowledge about science to creatively apply them to a wide variety of situations, including unfamiliar ones.

The study said the majority of countries scores in science changed very little since 2006. However, in some countries, including Portugal, and Qatar, not only did their percentage of top-performing students increase, their share of low-performing students also decreased.

Results from 2015 PISA study
Results from 2015 PISA study

Mathematics and reading

More than 1 in 4 students from B-S-J-G China, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and Singapore were top performers in mathematics.

In reading performance, the difference between male and female student’s performance decreased. However, the study found that while the scores of higher-achieving males were improving, those of lower-achieving female students were not.

The study did find that about 20% of students surveyed did not attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading. This percentage has remained the same since the 2009 survey.

Education culture

The strong showing by East Asian countries reflects the overall culture surrounding education in the region. Minh Tran is Senior Director of Research for the education training organization Education First. He said that countries like Singapore and Hong Kong succeed due to the standards and effort placed on students and teachers.

“…They want their students to be very competitive in the region and in the world. So they do invest in education quite a bit… But I think another really important factor is how hard the students are working every single day, and how much they understand the value of that hard work, because students are told by their parents and teachers day in and day out how important it is that they do well. And they are trained to take exams.”

Europe leading in equity

The PISA also assessed countries by how equal the education opportunities were for students. This was one category where Western countries scored higher. Canada, Denmark, and Estonia scored highest in this category. Hong Kong and Macao were also in the top 5.

The study found that students living in poverty are more likely to not reach a baseline level of proficiency in science. However, some students living in poverty still performed at high levels. The study found the most disadvantaged students from Macao and Vietnam still outperform the advantaged students in about 20 of the countries in the survey.

Tran said this is the trend in some Asian countries. In places like China, he said the best students often come from rural areas because they have to fight that much harder to get into good schools. This reflects, Tran said, the overall culture of grit with Asian students, meaning their desire and perseverance to work hard through difficult situations.

Educational equity was one area where the U.S. did show improvement since the last study.

Some question PISA results

Not everyone agrees with the PISA results. Some have criticized the PISA assessment for how it selects its population sample from each country.

Each country or education system is responsible for recruiting the schools. In some countries, including China, only the best schools and students were chosen to participate in the study. This potentially does not reflect the true level of education across the country.

I’m Phil Dierking

And I'm Lucija Millonig

This story was written by Phil Dierking for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

How did your country perform on the PISA? Do you think the results are accurate of your country’s education system? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

collaboration – n. to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something

grit – n. mental toughness and courage

perseverance – n. the quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult

sample – n. a small amount of something that gives you information about the thing it was taken from

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