Report seen as global education benchmark
The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) has become the benchmark for comparing how countries fare in education. It began with OECD countries in 2000, but as other countries recognised its worth and wanted to participate, it is now run jointly with Unesco.
The latest report focuses on the 14 non-OECD countries involved, though comparisons are made with data collected from OECD countries in 2000.
Pisa compares student performance when they are close to the end of their schooling, at age 15. While it tests knowledge, its main focus is on how they can apply what they have learned in the real world. The hefty report covers reading, mathematical and scientific literacy, not merely in terms of mastery of the school curriculum but of the knowledge and skills needed in adult life.
Andreas Schleicher, head of the Pisa programme for the OECD, said that Pisa had grown out of government agreements for an international test. 'It has become the benchmark study of performance of education systems,' he said.
Reports since 2000 have sparked major policy reviews, most notably in Germany. The assessment is repeated every three years.
The study is based on paper and pencil tests lasting two hours each, involving both multiple choice and questions requiring students to construct their own answers.
In Hong Kong, 4,500 students were tested, with various students answering different combinations of test items. Tests were taken in the medium of instruction of their schools. The study here was led by Esther Ho Sui-chu, assistant professor at the Department of Education Administration and Policy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Students also had to complete questionnaires about their family backgrounds, study and reading habits. Principals were questioned about their schools.
Reading literacy is defined as the ability to understand, use and reflect on written text in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential, and to participate effectively in society, according to the report.
Reading is tested according to three 'scales' - how students retrieve information from a text; interpret the text; and how they reflect and evaluate text according to their knowledge, ideas and experiences. The combined reading literacy scale summarises these results.
Maths and science are tested using similar scales.
Apart from OECD countries such as Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Britain and the United States, there are also non-OECD Asian participants like Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand. Mainland China, Singapore, the whole of Africa, India and Central Asia are not included.
Between 4,500 and 10,000 students were tested in each of the 43 participant countries.
Dr Ho declined to comment on the findings until later this week.