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Although this publication is devoted to covering higher education news, developments in secondary education can (and should!) catch our attention from time to time. Such is the case with the 2009 PISA results, known more formally as the Programme for International Student Assessment. The latest PISA findings were released on 7 December by the OECD. These data relate to the OECD’s efforts to assess the performance of 15-year-olds in school in 65 different countries, in three main fields: reading, mathematics and science. Through standardised assessment activities developed jointly every three years by the participating countries, PISA aims to help nations make sense of the quality, equity and efficiency of their school systems through international comparisons of performance.
In the 2009 iteration of the PISA project, many of the ‘usual suspects’—wealthier countries, those that have invested heavily in education and others that typically exhibit strong cultural and political support for student achievement—made strong showings on the PISA results. To no one’s surprise, leading the pack were countries like Korea, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Surprising to many, however, was Shanghai-China’s outstanding performance in all three subject areas. Analysts suggest that Shanghai, which had never before participated in the PISA exercise, is reaping some returns on its recent investments in teacher training and vigorously reinforcing studying rather than extracurricular activities among students.
China’s position on the global education landscape is significant. It has been taking bold steps to expand and improve its higher education system. It is also a goliath in terms of international student mobility, principally as a sending country but with growing aspirations to attract more students from abroad. This impressive performance by a supposedly representative sample of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds may not tell the whole story of what China’s secondary education activities are producing. But, it would be unwise not to recognise that China is increasingly keen to compete globally in a variety of spheres, including higher education, and that the lower levels of education constitute an essential building block for strong higher education institutions and systems. Developments in this area will be important to watch.OECD – Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)