Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

S’pore students top in science, maths and reading in Pisa test

SINGAPORE — The Republic can now officially lay claim to having the best education system in the world: For the first time since it started participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) in 2009, Singapore students have topped all three categories — science, mathematics and reading — in what has been dubbed the most influential international scorecard for education systems around the world.

S’pore students top in science, maths and reading in Pisa test

Montfort Secondary School teachers seen guiding students through a project under the Applied Learning Programme on Nov 15, 2016. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — The Republic can now officially lay claim to having the best education system in the world: For the first time since it started participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) in 2009, Singapore students have topped all three categories — science, mathematics and reading — in what has been dubbed the most influential international scorecard for education systems around the world.

The triennial test is conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to evaluate the “quality, equity and efficiency of school systems”. The results for the 2015 study were released on Tuesday (Dec 6), with Singapore ranked first, ahead of Japan in science, and Hong Kong in both maths and reading. 

(Click to Enlarge)

Singapore’s performance saw it dethrone Shanghai, which had topped all three categories in the 2009 and 2012 editions of what BBC had once described as “the world’s most important exam”, and the “World Cup of school standards”. In the latest study, Shanghai was assessed together with other Chinese cities Beijing, Jiangsu and Guangdong to provide a better representation of China’s education system as a whole. China came in 10th in science, 6th in maths and 27th in reading. 

The OECD tested around 540,000 15-year-old students in 72 countries and economies on science, reading, maths and collaborative problem-solving. The main focus this time was on science, which the organisation described as “an increasingly important part of today’s economy and society”.

A total of 6,115 randomly-selected 15-year-olds from public and private schools in Singapore took part in the assessment. In terms of mean scores, the Republic was ahead of its closest rivals in science and maths by 18 and 16 points, respectively. In reading, Singapore’s lead was eight points. 

The study also found that Singapore’s proportions of top performers (between 18 and 35 per cent) in the various subjects were the highest among all participating education systems, while its proportions of low performers (between 8 and 11 per cent) were among the lowest. 

The Republic’s stellar showing in Pisa comes a week after it also topped all the charts in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss), which assessed the math and science abilities of 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds. 

Compared with Timss, Pisa has a greater emphasis on high-order, critical thinking skills including the ability to reason, evaluate pros and cons of different ideas and apply existing knowledge to a new problem.

Praising Singapore’s students on how they “excel particularly in their capacity to think like scientists in the way they creatively use and apply their knowledge”, OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher, said: “The modern world no longer rewards people just for what they know — Google knows everything — but for what they can do with what they know. It is therefore encouraging that Singapore’s students are not just leading the world in their scientific knowledge.”

The Ministry of Education (MOE) attributed the good showing to the deliberate curricular shifts made over the years, to move learning beyond classroom content and help students solve real problems.

MOE deputy director-general of education (schools) Low Khah Gek drew attention to the fact that more than eight in 10 participating students from Singapore felt that teachers gave extra help when they needed it, and continued teaching until they understood the science lessons. “We think a lot of the good performance of our students is also because of the dedication and the kind of approaches our teachers are (taking),” she said.

Example of a math question in Pisa:

Example of a science question in Pisa:

Example of a reading question in Pisa:

Dr Timothy Chan, director of SIM Global Education’s academic division, agreed that Singapore’s performances in the Timss and Pisa tests reflect how schools here have “changed the way we teach over the last five to 10 years”. He said: “In Math, for example, during my time, there was a lot of formulae tables, memory work. Now, the subject includes more real-life and day-to-day examples ... Teachers have been trying to go for more depth instead of breadth.”

He added: “The perception that Singaporeans are only good at rote learning is an over-generalisation. If students have a good grasp of the concept, they are better able to understand and apply, they won’t even need to memorise.” 

Nevertheless, he suggested that schools focus even more on “21st century skills like creative and critical thinking”. Students should continue to be taken out of classrooms to analyse and apply their knowledge to real-world situations, he said. In the classrooms, teachers should discuss more “multi-disciplinary scenarios” that straddle across different subjects, he added. 

Concord Primary principal Tonnine Chua said she believes that the Singapore educational system — starting from primary schools — is moving “in the right direction of equipping our students for the future and preparing them for the unknown challenges ahead”. 

“Even in terms of assessments, there has been a gradual shift in focusing on knowledge application rather than mere rote learning in as early as the Primary School Leaving Examination,” she said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KELLY NG

 

Read more of the latest on

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa