Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

OECD’s PISA survey shows some countries making significant gains in learning outcomes


04/12/2007 - OECD’s latest PISA survey of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds shows that some countries have seen significant improvements in student performance since 2000. Korea further increased its strong reading performance between 2000 and 2006 by 31 score points, the equivalent of almost a school year, mainly by raising the proportion of top-performers. Poland increased its reading performance by 29 score points over the same period. Mexico and Greece saw significant improvements in mathematics performance between 2003 and 2006. However, across the OECD area as a whole learning outcomes have generally remained flat, while expenditure on education in OECD countries rose by an average of 39% between 1995 and 2004.

The survey also revealed widespread pessimism among secondary school students about environmental challenges and limited enthusiasm for scientific careers.

Based on tests carried out among 400,000 students in 57 countries in 2006, the latest PISA survey focuses particularly on students’ abilities in comprehending and tackling scientific problems. It also provides an update on performance in reading and mathematics compared with surveys in 2000 and 2003.

Launching the report at a press conference in Tokyo, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría emphasized the importance of education for the development of people and society."Effective and innovative education policies open enormous opportunities for individuals", he said. "They also underpin healthy and vibrant economies." In the highly competitive globalised economy of today, quality education is one of the most valuable assets that a society and an individual can have." (read his speech)

While most students polled said they were motivated to learn science, only a minority aspired to a career involving science: 72% said it was important for them to do well in science; 67% enjoyed acquiring new knowledge in science; 56% said science was useful for further studies; but only 37% said they would like to work in a career involving science and 21% said they would like to spend their life doing advanced science.

At a time when scientific and technological know-how is helping to drive growth in advanced economies, the results of PISA 2006 reveal wide variations in skills levels. Student attitudes to science will be crucial to countries’ economic potential in tomorrow’s world, and PISA 2006 gives a detailed picture of how well students around the world are prepared for the challenges of a knowledge society.

The top performer in science in PISA 2006 was Finland, followed by Hong Kong-China, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Japan and New Zealand. Australia, the Netherlands, Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Ireland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Macao-China also scored above OECD average. Data for science in PISA 2006 are not directly comparable to data in the previous studies as the nature of the tests has changed.

Students from families with a more advantaged socio-economic background were more
likely to show a general interest in science, and this relationship was strongest in Ireland,France, Belgium and Switzerland. One significant feature of a student’s background was whether they had a parent in a science-related career.

In Australia, Canada, Finland, Japan and New Zealand, at least one in seven students reached the top two levels of scientific literacy. In Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, by contrast, the proportion was lower than one in 20. On average across the OECD, students in private schools outperformed students in public schools in most countries. The picture changed, however, when the socio-economic background of students and schools was taken into account, with public schools taking the lead.

Streaming at an early age tends to increase the impact of socio-economic background on student performance, PISA 2006 indicates. The earlier students were stratified into separate institutions or programmes, the stronger was the impact which the school’s average socio-economic background had on performance. Schools that divided students by ability for all subjects tended to have lower student performance on average.

The survey identified considerable interest among students in some scientific issues. Most, for example, were aware of environmental issues such as forest clearing and greenhouse gases. However, they were generally pessimistic about the future, with fewer than one in six believing that problems such as air pollution and nuclear waste disposal would improve over the next 20 years. Those who performed better in science showed greater awareness of environmental issues but were also more pessimistic.

To obtain an electronic copy of the report, journalists are invited to contact OECD’s Media Division (tel. + 33 1 4524 9700). The report can be purchased in paper or electronic form through the OECD’s Online Bookshop. Subscribers and readers at subscribing institutions can access the online version via SourceOECD.

For further information, journalists can contact Claire Shewbridge in OECD’s Education Directorate (tel.+ 33 1 4524 9963).

To see further information on the report, click here. See the UK powerpoint presentation.


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