The best schools in the world, unprecedented failure and the price of high performance


On December 5, 2023, the results of the new, eighth PISA study, the program for international student assessment, which has been conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) since 2000, were published. PISA results are published every three years and are considered the main indicator of the performance of education systems around the world. The new analytical report was especially long-awaited: due to Covid, testing of schoolchildren was carried out a year later than planned and, since this study was the first since the pandemic, analysts used the data to objectively assess the impact of quarantine on student performance.

Data collection was carried out in 2022, 690 thousand fifteen-year-old schoolchildren from 81 countries took part in testing. By decision of the OECD, Russian schools did not participate in the program for the first time. As before, three types of literacy were assessed - mathematical, reading and natural science. Additional emphasis was placed on math skills.

We talk about the most interesting findings of the PISA 2022 study.

Indicators have dropped to unprecedented levels, but it's not just the pandemic
The authors of the analytical report describe the results of PISA 2022 as unique. Over the entire history of measurements, the indicators have not changed by more than 4–5 points. In 2022, average student scores in OECD countries fell by an unprecedented 15 points in math and 10 points in reading, equivalent to losing nearly eight months of math learning and half a year of reading learning. Average results in natural sciences remained at the same level.

It would seem that the obvious culprits for the sharp drop in school performance are quarantine and the forced transition to distance learning in 2020 and 2021. However, the report's authors note that student scores began declining long before the pandemic. In their opinion, there is reason to talk about long-term problems in the education systems of many countries, which the pandemic has only exacerbated. At the same time, a number of educational systems maintained the same level, and some showed growth. For example, Colombia, Macau (China), Peru and Qatar improved in all three types of literacy.

Average scores in OECD countries 2012–2022
Asian education systems have proven to be the most effective
The absolute winner in terms of literacy levels among schoolchildren in all three areas of PISA 2022 was Singapore, which was far ahead of other study participants. In mathematics and natural sciences, the top five places were occupied by Asian educational systems, and only one European country, Ireland, was among the leaders in reading literacy. The most effective educational system in Europe is the Estonian one: it is among the ten most successful in all three areas.

Top 25 in mathematics
In terms of mathematical literacy, the United States took 33rd place, Turkey - 38th, UAE - 42nd, Kazakhstan - 50th. Among the least effective educational systems were those of Cambodia, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Top 25 in reading literacy
Almost all the places in the third ten were taken by EU countries. Israel was in 30th place, Turkey was in 36th place, the countries of the Middle East, Latin America and Central Asia showed results below the OECD average and were located at the bottom of the table. The lowest reading literacy rates were demonstrated by schoolchildren from Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Jordan and Kosovo.

Top 25 in Natural Sciences
Turkey is ranked 34th, Israel - 37th, UAE - 47th, Kazakhstan - 49th. The list is completed by Cambodia, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Kosovo and the Dominican Republic, which scored 200–230 points less than the leaders.

Girls do better in reading, boys do better in math
On average, boys scored nine points higher than girls on the math test. However, statistics vary greatly depending on the country. For example, if in Costa Rica, Peru, Macau (China), Chile, Austria and Italy, boys’ results were significantly higher (by 15 or more points), then in the Palestinian Authority and Albania the situation was the opposite: girls were noticeably ahead of their classmates in terms of mathematical literacy .

In reading tasks, girls performed better in all countries except two: Chile and Costa Rica, where the difference was not statistically significant. Moreover, the average gap in the level of reading literacy between boys and girls turned out to be significant - 24 points.

In science, the difference between the performance of students of different genders was not statistically significant.

Socio-economic factors still have a strong impact on student outcomes
As in previous years, researchers found large achievement gaps among students from different socioeconomic groups. The results of children from prosperous families were on average 93 points higher than those of their peers in unfavorable social and living conditions. The biggest gap is m

Among students from families with different income levels were found in Romania and Slovakia, followed by Hungary, Israel and Chinese Taipei.

The study found that socially disadvantaged children are seven times more likely to fail to achieve basic levels of math and science literacy and five times more likely to fail to achieve basic reading literacy compared to their peers. At the same time, on average in OECD countries, about 10% of such children persist in their studies and are among the successful schoolchildren. The largest share of purposeful students was found in Uzbekistan: 20% of the total number of socially vulnerable schoolchildren in this country achieved high academic results.

Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong (China), Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Great Britain and Macau (China) have achieved success in solving the problem of inclusion and equal access to education. There, the gap in the level of knowledge and skills of children from different social groups is minimal.

Immigrants find it more difficult to perform well
On average, 13% of fifteen-year-old students in OECD countries are immigrants. Schoolchildren born in the country generally showed better results than their immigrant peers, but the report’s authors attribute this to the latter’s worse social and living conditions: 37% of children who moved to the country live in unfavorable conditions, and for 52% of them the language of instruction is not native. Interestingly, when comparing native and immigrant children from families with comparable income levels, the academic achievements of immigrants were higher in most countries studied.

Some states have managed to organize their education systems to fully integrate immigrant children and close the achievement gap. These include France, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. In Canada, Kazakhstan, Great Britain and Argentina, immigrant students perform better than their local classmates, regardless of social context. At the same time, in the UAE, the already significant gap in favor of local schoolchildren has become even more pronounced over the past 10 years.

Academic achievement directly depends on state spending on general education
Analysts have found a direct correlation between a country's spending on general education and students' academic outcomes. As funding increases, so does the median achievement rate, and 54% of the gap in countries' performance is explained by differences in their spending on education. However, the dependence persists only until the amount of investment in the education of one student reaches $75,000 over the period of study (equivalent to 6.7 million rubles). Investments in excess of this amount do not lead to proportional gains in academic performance; their impact depends on what exactly the money is spent on.

The average level of educational expenses for one student in OECD countries is $102,612 (equivalent to 9.2 million rubles). Cambodia spends the least (less than $5,000 per student), and the most in Brunei (almost $210,000), Macau ($195,000) and Singapore ($165,000).

The relationship between investment in general education and student achievement
The Russian education system was left without guidelines
Russia lost the opportunity to participate not only in PISA, but also in two other authoritative international programs conducted by the OECD - the TALIS teacher assessment program and the PIAAC study of adult competencies.

PISA 2018, the latest available international survey involving the country, found Russian students' reading and science scores were below the OECD average, and their math knowledge and skills were average.

Indicators of Russia and some countries in PISA 2018
The gap in the academic performance of socially disadvantaged schoolchildren and their more advantaged peers in Russia was significant - more than 22 points. But the results of immigrant children, of whom there were 5.8% in the country in 2018, were close to those of local schoolchildren. As in most other countries, girls were 25 points ahead of boys in reading literacy, but were 5 points behind boys in math tests.

In addition to academic results, as part of PISA 2018, researchers measured the level of psychological well-being of schoolchildren. 37% of Russian children reported experiencing some form of bullying twice a month or more, significantly higher than the OECD average of 23%. 85% of students in Russian schools felt happy - this figure is worse than the OECD average (91%), but better than in Georgia (74%), Jordan (81%) and Turkey (81%).

Since 2019, the Federal Institute for Assessment of the Quality of Education (FIOKO) has been conducting an annual domestic test, which largely replicates PISA: schoolchildren are tested on the level of reading, mathematical and natural science literacy, and the results are measured on a scale similar to the international one. The FIOKO test allows you to assess the dynamics of key indicators of the quality of education in Russia, however, it is not equivalent to PISA and does not provide an opportunity It is possible to reliably correlate the indicators of Russian schoolchildren with the global ones. The lack of independent external assessment and the loss of authoritative guidelines can slow down the development of the Russian education system and lead to a decrease in its quality.

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