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The Straits Times
Dec 6, 2016
One week after scoring top marks in a mathematics and science study, Singapore students aced an even more prestigious international benchmarking test, dubbed the "World Cup for Education".
The Republic's 15-year-olds were ranked No 1 for mathematics, science and reading in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), a study done every three years, and run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to measure how well students use their knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems.
In the last Pisa test in 2012, Singapore students were ranked second in mathematics and third in science and reading.
Pisa 2015 conducted last year saw teens from 72 countries and economies participating. In Singapore, 5,825 randomly selected students, mainly in Secondary 3 and 4, from all 166 public schools; and 290 students from nine private schools, including international ones and a Madrasah, took the computer-based test. Students also filled up a survey questionnaire on their background, including learning habits and motivation.
The Education Ministry (MOE) said on Tuesday (Dec 6) that the results show that Singapore students are not just competent in applying knowledge and skills, but also in analysing, reasoning and communicating as they solve novel problems.
Science was the major domain tested in Pisa 2015 and the results show that teens here are adept at solving science problems. They are particularly strong in evaluating and designing scientific enquiry, and understand the importance of reasoned discourse and the use of evidence to support claims.
The survey results also show that Singapore students enjoy learning science as their teachers make learning authentic and relevant.
MOE said that the latest test, as well as past Pisa cycles, highlight the deliberate curricular shifts it has made over the years to trim syllabuses and give more time to higher order thinking skills. The test results show that students here are able to apply their knowledge and skills to solve problems in various contexts, it said.
Ms Low Khah Gek, Deputy Director-General of Education (Schools), said she was encouraged by the results.
"The results show our students have the necessary skills to deal with real-world situations and contexts. They are motivated learners who enjoy learning, which definitely puts them in good stead to tackle challenges ahead.
"For this, we have to thank supportive parents and dedicated teachers, who have brought out the best in our students - and this is something the students themselves have acknowledged."
Mr Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at OECD, said: "The modern world no longer rewards people for what they know... but for what they can do with what they know.
"It is therefore encouraging that Singapore students are not just leading the world in scientific knowledge, but they excel particularly in their capacity to think like scientists in the way they creatively use and apply their knowledge."
MOE noted that the Pisa 2015 results also show that our education system provides opportunities for all to succeed.
This can be seen by the relatively small proportion of low performers and high proportion of top performers.
Singapore's low performers in each of the three domains stands at about 10 per cent - among the lowest of all participating education systems. Meanwhile, top performers in each domain are the highest among all participating education systems - 24 per cent for science, 18 per cent for reading and 35 per cent for mathematics.
Former Hougang Secondary student Melissa Yong, 17, who is now currently in Serangoon Junior College, said her teachers made mathematics interesting and relevant through their lessons and even field trips, one of which was in Changi Airport.
"I remember the trip to the airport. We were made to use our maths skills to exchange local currency into foreign curriencies. At the taxi queue, we had to figure out how many people it could accommodate. It made maths more interesting and applicable to real life."
The 17-year-old went on to score distinctions in both her mathematics and additional mathematics papers.