CYPRIOT 15-year-olds were the worst in Europe last year when it came to sciences, second worst in maths and they had the third worst reading skills among member states, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment.
The report was presented in Brussels yesterday in cooperation with the European Commission.
According to Yves Leterme, Deputy Secretary General of the Organisation for OECD and Jan Truszczynski, European Commission Director General for Education and Culture, the latest OECD report on the maths, science and reading skills of 15-year-olds revealed mixed results among member states.
The EU as a whole is seriously lagging behind in math, but the picture is more encouraging in science and reading where Europe is on track to achieve its 2020 target for reducing the percentage of low achievers to below 15 per cent.
Regarding Cyprus, in 2012, some 32.8 per cent of 15-year-olds had poor skills in reading, the third worst in the EU after Bulgaria and Romania. A total of 42 per cent also exhibit problems so far as math was concerned, ranking second to worst in the EU after Bulgaria while in sciences, the percentage was 38.6, which was the worst in the EU.
Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education congratulated those member states which had improved their performance and underlined that it was “clear that the EU as a whole needed to work harder. Member States must sustain their efforts to tackle low achievement in school education to ensure that youngsters have the skills they need to succeed in the modern world. The results are a reminder that investment in quality education is fundamental for Europe’s future,” she said.
This view was echoed by Yves Leterme who said “the PISA study shows what 15-year-olds know and what they can do with what they know. In a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing education systems. The results for the EU underline that the pace of improvement needs to increase if member states are to avoid falling behind other economies,” added the former Belgian Prime Minister.
PISA 2012 is the programme’s 5th survey. It assessed the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science (with a focus on mathematics) in 65 countries and economies.
Around 510,000 students between the ages of 15 years 3 months and 16 years 2 months participated in the assessment, representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally.
The students took a paper-based test that lasted two hours. The tests were a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that were organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation.
Regarding reading, the report showed that the percentage of low achievers had declined from 23.1 per cent in 2006 and 19.7 per cent in 2009 to 17.8 per cent in 2012. If this trend continues, the 15 per cent benchmark may be achievable by 2020.
In math, there was no progress in improving the percentage of low achievers at EU level since 2009. However, four member states, Estonia, Finland, Poland and the Netherlands were among the top performing countries world-wide with a rate of low achievers in math below the EU benchmark of 15 per cent. No other member state has yet reached this level.
There has been a steady improvement in science skills across the Union. The EU percentage of low achievers has dropped from 20.3 per cent in 2006 to 17.8 per cent in 2009 and 16.6 per cent in 2012.
The analysis highlights that the socio-economic status of pupils has a significant bearing on performance levels, with those coming from low-income households much more likely to be low achievers in math, science and reading. Other significant factors include the mainly negative effects of being of migrant background, the importance of attending early childhood education and care, as well as the gender gap in reading proficiency (girls do much better than boys).
The Commission will discuss the PISA 2012 findings with member states to help identify measures to remedy weaknesses. A first exchange is planned at the next meeting of EU Education Ministers on February 24. The results will also be used for the Commission’s 2014 ‘European Semester’ which produces country-specific recommendations linked to basic skills.
The new Erasmus+ programme for education, training and youth, which starts in January, will support projects aimed at developing and upgrading school education. The survey results can also help member states define priorities for support from the European Social Fund, which is a key source of investment in skills and training and can also improve education possibilities for vulnerable groups.