Singapore students lose PISA top spot to China – which wasn’t in top 5 previously – despite far above global average scores

The latest assessment showed that Singapore had a high proportion of top performers in reading, mathematics and science.
The Straits times

Singapore has lost its top spots in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, thanks to China’s astronomical rise for all three subjects measured.

China’ highest ranking in the 2015 assessment was sixth for mathematics, and it did not even make the top 10 for the other two subjects, science and reading. For the 2018 assessment, it ranked first place for every subject, pushing Singapore to second spot on the three rankings.

Following behind Singapore was Macau, which ranked third place in all three categories.

Singapore students significantly outperform those in most other countries

Despite this, Singapore’s 15-year-olds were found to have significantly outperformed their global counterparts once again in the latest assessment, which takes place once every three years.

The Republic’s 6,676 students who participated in the exam scored higher than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development’s (OECD) average in reading, mathematics and science.

Singapore scored 549 points for reading, 551 for science, and 569 for mathematics.

PISA is a global benchmarking study which tests how well students apply their knowledge and skills to solve problems. There were 600,000 students from 79 participating countries and economies in the 2018 study.

The latest assessment also showed that the Republic had a high proportion of top performers, with 37 per cent doing well in mathematics, 26 per cent doing well in reading, and 21 per cent doing well in science.

The OECD average across the three categories ranged from 7 per cent to 11 per cent.

Singapore also had notably lower proportions of low performers in all three subjects at 7 per cent for mathematics (third lowest in the world), 9 per cent for science (fourth lowest in the world) and 11 per cent for English (fourth lowest in the world).

Low performers are defined as those who scored below a Level 2 proficiency for the subject.

At the same time a larger proportion of Singapore students achieved a minimum level of proficiency (Level 2 or higher) in at least one subject.

Singapore students scoring higher now

Singapore’s average scores across the three topics also improved since it first participated in 2009, with the largest area of improvement being literacy.

Mean mathematics performance stood close to the average level observed over the years of assessment, but improved by five points.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) credited the improvement in reading to the strong emphasis on development of critical reading skills in secondary English language curriculum, as well as the literacy foundation provided in primary schools.

In a press release, Sng Chern Wei, Deputy Director-General of Education, said that the PISA 2018 results show that Singapore students are “well-equipped with critical skills and the resilience that would serve them well in a rapidly changing and complex world”.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Dec 3) that “doing well in international rankings is not our end goal“.

“But such benchmarking is useful to gauge where we stand internationally, and to reflect on where we can improve, such as making education more holistic, inculcating greater joy for learning, and creating an environment where failure is more accepted,” Ong said.


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