Singapore students ace collaboration, but will they top test on global thinking and creativity?

OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher speaking at the release of the Pisa test results on Nov 21, 2017. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The last round of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) study measured half a million students from more than 70 economies on their strengths in mathematics, science and reading.

For the first time, the triennial test conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also included an assessment on an important 21st-century driver - collaborative problem-solving skills - which students from 52 economies, including Singapore, participated in.

It was part of the move in recent years by the OECD to broaden the test to measure social and emotional skills that are becoming increasingly crucial to thrive in the new economy.

On Tuesday afternoon (Nov 21), Singapore was named the top-performing economy in collaborative problem solving, with its students performing significantly above those from all other education systems.

The next round of tests - Pisa 2018 - will include a test on global competence which would look at how well students can navigate an increasingly diverse world, with an awareness of different cultures and beliefs.

In 2021, Pisa is looking at assessing creative thinking.

The organisation headquartered in Paris has defined global competence as "the capacity to examine global and inter-cultural issues, to take multiple perspectives, to engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with people from different cultures and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development".

So how exactly will students be assessed on this?

In the first part, students will read about a case study, and respond to questions that evaluate their capacity to understand the complexity of the case, the multiple perspectives of the diverse actors involved, and suggest solutions.

This will be followed by a questionnaire to gauge their openness towards people from other cultures, respect for cultural otherness, global-mindedness and responsibility.

Teachers and school heads will also be given a questionnaire which aims to provide a comparative picture of how education systems are integrating global, international and inter-cultural perspectives through the curriculum and other activities.

OECD, in its proposal to include this measure of global competence, has said it is the first step towards assessing what students are learning about the complexity of a globalising and multicultural world, and to what extent they are prepared to address global developments and collaborate productively across cultural differences.

It also hopes that the data will provide worldwide, comparative information on what schools and teachers are doing to prepare young people for global citizenship and hopefully surface best practices.

Dr Andreas Schleicher, OECD's director for education and skills, said it was important to measure students' capacity to work with others, because in today's increasingly interconnected world, people are often required to collaborate in order to achieve their goals.

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He was in Singapore on Tuesday afternoon to reveal the results of the Pisa study on collaborative problem solving.

In an earlier interview with The Straits Times on Pisa's move to test global competence, he said it was important to nurture the capacity of students "to look at the world through different lenses and perspectives, appreciate different ways of thinking and different cultures".

Why is this important?

He said: "Openness and tolerance are very important... to cope and live in a complex world that is multidimensional, that has multiple perspectives."

He also said that in the years to come, Pisa will go more and more into assessing other capacities and skills.

When asked how the OECD picks which skills to test, Dr Schleicher said the people who design the test look carefully at the evolution of skills demanded in the workplace and by societies.

Many of the skills that were emphasised in the past, such as memorising content, are becoming less important. In contrast, creative thinking, collaborative problem solving and social skills are becoming more important.

He pointed out that digitalisation and artificial intelligence are increasingly replacing routine cognitive skills and routine manual skills. This, in turn, has increased the value of non-routine analytic skills, creative skills and social skills.

In fact, there is a growing global consensus about the kinds of capabilities which matter, and they include perseverance, curiosity, creativity, tolerance of diverse opinions and empathy.

Thriving in today's fast-changing world requires a breadth of skills rooted in academic competencies such as literacy, numeracy and science. At the same time, factors such as teamwork, critical thinking, communication, persistence and creativity are becoming more important.

Education has always been the way to pass down knowledge, skills, values and culture to enable subsequent generations to thrive. Educators, as well as parents, need to foster the full range of skills to enable young people to adapt and thrive in this rapidly changing world.

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