Teenagers in Shanghai and Singapore have retained their leading position in an international test of maths, science and reading, according to new results which cast doubt on teaching methods in higher-spending systems such as the UK and US.
The OECD’s Pisa tests – taken by more than half a million 15 year-olds across 65 countries – show East Asian countries surging ahead while traditionally strong Scandinavian countries plummeted down the league. The UK and US remained in the middle-rankings, around the OECD average, despite spending more than other countries on their education of six to 15 year-olds.
Accelerating declines in maths scores across Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark caused particular surprise.
The political debate is most intense in Sweden, which fell the fastest of any country over the past decade in the Pisa maths results – and many on the left were quick to point the blame at its free schools, much coveted by the UK’s Conservative party.
Stefan L?fven, leader of the centre-left Social Democrats, called the results a “national crisis”. He added: “We are losing something in Sweden that we have rightly been proud of. I am genuinely worried.”
The fall from grace was just as painful in Finland, which ranked second in the world for maths a decade ago but is now 12th, behind its close Baltic neighbour Estonia.
Perhaps the most unexpected response came from table-leader Shanghai, where the education system has come under continued criticised from parents, students, and government officials for focussing too much on rote learning.
Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, a state-recognised NGO, said that even Shanghai students’ strong performance might appear impressive, Western countries should not seek to emulate this teaching model.
“Scoring high in the PISA test should not be seen as a point of pride for the Chinese educational system, but a reflection on its flaws. It actually means nothing to compare the results of students from totally different educational models and different study hours,” he said.
官方认可的非政府组织——21世纪教育研究院(21st Century Education Research Institute)的副院长熊丙奇说，上海学生此次的突出表现或许令人瞩目，但西方国家不应试图效仿这种教学模式。