Measuring science education standards

The OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is the world’s largest international education survey, involving schools and students in fifty countries, and assessing the knowledge and skills of 15 year olds as they approach the end of compulsory education. Surveys are carried out every three years, with surveys focusing in reading, mathematics and science having taken place in 2000, 2003 and 2006 respectively. The next survey is scheduled for 2009 and repeating the triennial cycle, will focus on reading. The full report from 2006 is available from here, together with a more easily digestible executive summary [PDF].

The chart below (click to open) shows the mean performance of countries surveyed for 2006 (e.g. science). 

pisamean2006.gif
   

The countries are ordered from top-left to bottom-right in the legend by performance. Overall, I think its fair to say that Australia is quite well placed in ninth slot, although there is of course still room for comparative improvement. There are a few surprises. Finland is at the top of the leaderboard, although its much lauded Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway did not fairly nearly so well. The United States is quite far down the list, sandwiched between Latvia and the Slovak Republic, and New Zealand just managed to outperform Australia.

While it is obvious that certain policies may only really work in certain social and cultural environments, and that different nations have different situations to deal with, one would have to think that the governments of the world should be playing fairly close attention to how Finland approaches the education of its students. When it comes to education, it is wonderful to think that Australia could one day be the nation setting the benchmark when it comes to performance metrics like these.

That is just one aspect of the challenge that lies ahead for the Rudd Government and its much vaunted education agenda. There is no excuse for the government not to aim to provide (either directly or indirectly) Australian children with the best education in the world.