Lessons beyond the final score of Pisa

Any discourse on the effectiveness of our education system using the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results would do well to go beyond the scores and get down to the detailed statistics.

The Pisa test can provide insight into trends developing within the student populace.

Dr Pasi Sahlberg of Finland leveraged the information provided ("What's behind Finland's Pisa slide"; Dec 12) in the detailed report, pointing out the worrying trend of Finnish boys scoring discernibly lower than their female counterparts, among other learning points.

Nevertheless, the Pisa test should not be taken as the ultimate arbiter of the overall effectiveness of any education system, which is a largely subjective concept.

Less tangible aspects of education or learning that emerges over the long term cannot be fully encapsulated by the test.

This is inherent to the constraints of test design for a large, global population.

For instance, the Pisa test can evaluate one's reading comprehension, but it does not quantify a student's capability for critical appreciation of literature, a lifelong skill that pervades daily life, is developed over time and is not expressed in a consistent manner.

Additionally, it cannot be overstated that most of the top scorers in East Asia, such as Japan and Hong Kong, are known for a culture of hothousing students through cram schools and tuition.

It remains to be seen how much the tuition culture is central to the levels of achievement attained by such countries.

This correlation to high scores in international standardised testing may further stoke a pervasive tuition culture, to the detriment of rest and self-actualisation for students, which can, in turn, adversely affect creativity, quality of life or self-fulfilment in later life.

These factors, like so many others in real life, lie in a domain beyond mere numbers.

Tay Hong Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2016, with the headline 'Lessons beyond the final score of Pisa'. Print Edition | Subscribe