SINGAPORE - The ability to understand and act on intercultural and global issues saw Singapore's 15-year-olds claim the top spot in an international test.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducted the test in 2018, announced the findings on Thursday (Oct 22).
In the Global Competence test, conducted as part of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), Singapore students scored an average of 576 marks, followed by their peers from Canada who on average scored 554, Hong Kong (542), Scotland (534) and Taiwan (527).
About 46 per cent of the Singapore students who took the test achieved the highest global competency proficiency levels - four and five.
This is the highest proportion compared to the average 14 per cent across the 27 education systems which participated in the assessment.
In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said to achieve proficiency levels four and five, Singapore students had to demonstrate a strong ability to identify and analyse different perspectives, evaluate information to differentiate between biased and unbiased sources, assess situations and make connections across multiple activities within a problem.
Pisa is conducted by the OECD every three years to assess students on their reading, maths and science skills, but in recent years, the OECD has added more assessments on other competencies and skills.
In 2015, students were tested on collaborative problem-solving skills. Students from 52 economies, including Singapore, were involved in the assessment. For 2018, the OECD decided to test students on their global competency.
It said learning to participate in interconnected, complex and diverse societies is no longer a luxury, but a pressing necessity. The OECD added that schools are "central" to the teaching of these skills.
The results on the maths, science and reading tests were released in December last year by OECD, with Singapore coming in second place after China.
In its statement, MOE said that in 2010, it had developed the "21st Century Competency (21CC) framework" where it identified the knowledge, skills and values that are important for all students to thrive in the new economy and interconnected world.
Schools since then have provided both curricular and co-curricular learning experiences to develop competencies in these areas.
In the global competence study, Singapore students on average reported being exposed to eight out of 10 learning activities surveyed by Pisa, while the OECD average was five.
The MOE said Singapore's language policies and programmes also contributed to the nurturing of global competency knowledge, skills and attitudes.
For example, the bilingual policy and programmes allow students to learn the language of another community at a conversational level.
This has resulted in more than nine in 10 Singapore students having the ability to speak at least two languages, said the MOE.
The OECD noted from the findings of the Pisa 2018 test that speaking multiple languages facilitates dialogue with people from other cultures, and promotes social cohesion.
In fact, the study found that students who can speak two or more languages have generally higher global competence knowledge and skills and more positive attitudes.
MOE deputy director-general of education (curriculum) Sng Chern Wei, said schools and the ministry were heartened by the results of the global competency test.
"Recent events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, with its worldwide ramifications, have underscored the continued relevance of global competence," he said.
Mr Sng added that the MOE will continue to focus on these areas outside of the academics.
The MOE noted that students from the bottom quarter socio-economic status (SES) also did well in the assessment, with about 26 per cent performing at the highest two proficiency levels compared to the OECD average of 6 per cent.
It also noted that while Singapore students were most knowledgeable on topics such as climate change and global warming, they were less confident in explaining issues related to the global economy. For instance, only about half of them could establish a connection between prices of textiles and working conditions in the countries of production.
The ministry said schools will continue to provide all Singapore students with varied curricular and co-curricular learning experiences, to help them further develop their global competence knowledge and skills.
These include discussions of contemporary issues, learning journeys to local cultural and heritage sites, research projects on various cultures, and immersion programmes with schools in the region.
The Pisa assessment is used to construct a global league table of students' skills around the world.
Maths, science and reading have been the key measures in the past. But in recent years, the OECD had also included assessments to measure skills that are becoming increasingly crucial to thrive in the new economy.
In 2022, Pisa is looking at assessing creative thinking.
OECD director of education and skills Andreas Schleicher told The Straits Times that Singapore's performance in the global competence test is not surprising.
He said: "Whether it is the open and outward-looking curriculum, the active promotion of student exchanges or celebrating festivities of multiple cultures, few countries do more to help students see the world through different lenses, navigate different ways of thinking and appreciate different cultures and traditions.
"And the Pisa results show that those activities shape students' attitudes towards others and the world which, in turn, are reliable predictors for global competence."