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Young people struggling in digital world

Maths , English
Skills for Life Network

One in four students in OECD countries are unable to complete even the most basic reading tasks, meaning they are likely to struggle to find their way through life in an increasingly digital world. This is one of the findings of the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) global education test, which evaluates the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems.

The OECD’s PISA 2018 tested around 600,000 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economies on reading, science and mathematics. The main focus was on reading, with most students doing the test on computers. Key findings are:

  • Most countries, particularly in the developed world, have seen little improvement in their performances over the past decade, even though spending on schooling increased by 15% over the same period.
  • In reading, Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), together with Singapore, scored significantly higher than other countries. The top OECD countries were Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland.
  • Around one in four students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the basic level of science (22%) or maths (24%). This means that they cannot, for example, convert a price into a different currency.

Students performed better than the OECD average in 11 countries and economies, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom, while the relationship between reading performance and socio-economic status was weakest. This suggests that these countries have the most equitable systems, where students can achieve regardless of their background.

Gender gap

Girls significantly outperformed boys in reading on average across OECD countries, by the equivalent of nearly a year of schooling. Across the world, the narrowest gaps were in Argentina, Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Peru. Boys overall did slightly better than girls in maths but less well in science.

Girls and boys have very different career expectations. More than one in four high-performing boys reported they expect to work as an engineer or scientist compared with fewer than one in six high-performing girls. Almost one in three high-performing girls, but only one in eight high-performing boys, said they expect to work as a health professional.

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