Warsaw, Poland – Presented this week, the results for the OECD’s latest global test of 15-year-olds, known as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), show that Polish schoolchildren rank among the best in reading, maths and science.
Slightly above average, Czech pupils also rank highly in all three subjects while schoolchildren in Slovakia and Hungary still lag behind the OECD average.
Conducted by the OECD in cooperation with representatives from the educational systems of participating member states, the test is a triennial survey of 15-year-old students from the world’s richest countries. Used by some to measure which countries are best preparing their students for the future, the test focuses on proficiency in reading, mathematics and science.
Despite some detractors, it is still widely considered to be the best method currently available to compare the level of educational systems on an international scale.
Polish schoolchildren in the European Top 3
Polish schoolchildren have excelled in the latest edition of the test. They rank tenth in the world in reading comprehension and maths, up from 13th and 17th in 2015, and eleventh in science, which is a significant improvement from 22nd in 2015.
Compared to the OECD average, a larger proportion of students in Poland performed at the highest levels of proficiency in at least one subject while a larger proportion of students also achieved a minimum level of proficiency in at least one subject.
Notes from Poland points out that the latest data come from tests administered in 2018, before Polish middle schools were abolished by the Law and Justice (PiS) government in a controversial reform of the education system.
While Asian countries came out once again on top, with China and Singapore topping the ranking worldwide, Estonia is noteworthy for its performance. “Europe’s newest education powerhouse”, according to the BBC, the Baltic state ranked the highest in Europe in reading, maths and science.
In all three subjects, Polish schoolchildren finished ahead of their Central European counterparts in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
Czechs performed while Slovakia and Hungary lag behind
While students in the Czech Republic scored not significantly different from the OECD average in reading, they scored higher in mathematics and in science.
Compared to the average, a similar share of students in the Czech Republic performed at the highest levels of proficiency in at least one subject but a larger proportion of students achieved a minimum level of proficiency in at least one subject.
When announcing the results on Tuesday, supreme school inspector Tomas Zatloukal said that one fifth of Czech students had very bad results in reading literacy and they might fail in school and in their professional career in future due to it. He added that, in general, public schools fared better than private and church schools.
On the other hand, pupils in Slovakia and Hungary scored significantly lower than the OECD average in all three subjects.
“It means that they will have a problem to keep on educating themselves, orientate in the world, make a responsible decision as voters,” explained Romana Kanovská, director of the Slovakia’s National Institute for Certified Educational Measurements (NÚCEM), as quoted by Sme. “They can be manipulated into a decision they are not able to evaluate critically”, she added.
Showing a slight improvement compared to the 2015 scores, Hungarian students only achieved 30th place in reading, 32nd in Science and 33rd in Mathematics.
Improving education systems or killing the joy of learning?
“PISA is not only the world’s most comprehensive and reliable indicator of students’ capabilities, it is also a powerful tool that countries and economies can use to fine-tune their education policies,” wrote Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the OECD, in the latest report.
In fact, the OECD says the point of PISA is to help education systems improve by offering data and transparency. According to Andreas Schleicher, Division Head and coordinator of PISA, “the aim with PISA was not to create another layer of top-down accountability, but to help schools and policy makers shift from looking upwards within the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school, the next country”.
However, critics believe it trying to do too much, that it distorts what is important, and that it creates “an arms race in education”. Back in 2014, more than 100 academics around the world wrote a public letter to Andreas Schleicher expressing deep concern about the impact of PISA tests and calling for a halt to the next round of testing
“We assume that OECD’s PISA experts are motivated by a sincere desire to improve education, but we fail to understand how your organisation has become the global arbiter of the means and ends of education around the world”, they wrote, adding that “OECD’s narrow focus on standardised testing risks turning learning into drudgery and killing the joy of learning”.