Pisa 2018: Students from lower-income homes in Singapore do better than students overseas

Some 6,300 students from all 153 public secondary schools and 376 students from 13 private schools were randomly selected to take part.
Some 6,300 students from all 153 public secondary schools and 376 students from 13 private schools were randomly selected to take part.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Students from lower-income homes in Singapore not only do better than their peers overseas but also outperform the average international student, the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study found.

The results of the 2018 study, carried out every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), were released on Tuesday (Dec 3).

Singapore students from what was labelled as the bottom 25 per cent of socio-economic status (SES) homes performed better than the overall OECD average - across all income levels - for all three domains of reading, mathematics and science that featured in the survey.

They scored 495 in reading, versus an overall OECD average of 487; 520 in mathematics (489); and 501 in science (489).

The study also measured three types of academic resilience among such students.

It found that 47 per cent of Singapore's lower-SES students - up from 43 per cent in 2015 - were "core-skills resilient", which means they attained at least proficiency level three in all domains of reading, mathematics and science. This proportion is about twice that of the OECD's 23 per cent.

Level three indicates "necessary core competencies to participate fully in society". The highest proficiency level is six.

When it came to "international resilience", which looked at how the students' reading scores fared against their peers elsewhere , a majority of those from Singapore - 53 per cent - featured in the top quarter compared to 33 per cent of OECD students.

But on "national resilience", which looked at how they fared against the top performers in their own countries, only one in 10 of Singapore's disadvantaged students met the mark. This was similar to the performance of OECD students.

 
 
 
 

In reading, there was a score gap of 104 between the lower- and higher-SES students in the Republic in the latest survey , just slightly down from 108 in 2015.

In comparison, the OECD score gap in the same domain was 89, up from 86 in 2015.

Mr Sng Chern Wei, the Ministry of Education's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said: "(Singapore's) gap is a large one because our high performers do very well in such benchmarking studies."

The way to bring down the performance gap is not to cap the top, but to help the low-performers level up and do better, Mr Sng added.

He said: "Through our learning support programmes, through the initiatives we have introduced, through Uplift (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce), we hope that our low-progress learners will over time strengthen in their mastery of foundations and do better - and through this, narrow the performance gap that we are seeing today."

Pisa examines and compares how well education systems are helping their students acquire the knowledge and skills needed for full participation in modern societies.

 
 
 

There were 79 participating education systems in Pisa 2018. This is the fourth time that Singapore has participated in the study.

Some 6,300 students from all 153 public secondary schools and 376 students from 13 private schools were randomly selected to take part.