… Gasp! The Asians?
Singapore and Korea top OECD’s first PISA problem-solving test
01/04/2014 – Students from Singapore and Korea have performed best in the OECD PISA first assessment of creative problem-solving. Students in these countries are quick learners, highly inquisitive and able to solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts.
85,000 students from 44 countries and economies took the computer-based test, involving real-life scenarios to measure the skills young people will use when faced with everyday problems, such as setting a thermostat or finding the quickest route to a destination.
Japan, Macao‑China, Hong Kong-China, Shanghai-China and Chinese Taipei were also among the top-performing economies.
Students from Canada, Australia, Finland, England, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United States and Belgium all scored above the OECD average.
Not all countries that did well in school subjects like mathematics or science did well on the problem-solving test. Conversely, students in the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan did better on problem-solving than in key school subjects.
“Today’s 15-year-olds with poor problem-solving skills will become tomorrow’s adults struggling to find or keep a good job,” said Andreas Schleicher, acting Director of Education and Skills at the OECD. “Policy makers and educators should reshape their school systems and curricula to help students develop their problem-solving skills which are increasingly needed in today’s economies.”
Around one in nine (11.4%) of 15-year-old students across OECD countries are able to solve the most complex problems, compared to one in five in Singapore, Korea and Japan. But on average across OECD countries about one in five students are able to solve only the simplest problems, meaning they lack the skills the modern workplace needs.
Huh? But aren’t Asians supposed to be just rote-learners devoid of creativity?
And The World’s Best Problem-Solvers Are…
American students are barely above the average of 44 countries and economies in problem-solving skills, far behind teens in Asia, according to the first international test of that attribute in 15-year-olds.
U.S. teens on average earned a score of 508 on the Programme for International Student Assessment — Creative Problem Solving test, between top-ranked Singapore’s 562 and bottom-ranked Colombia’s 399. The PISA results, released Tuesday, put U.S. students in the middle of the pack, hardly supporting the American workforce reputation for creativity.
The top-performing Asian countries are known as “pressure-cooker countries,” according to Amanda Ripley, whose recent book, The Smartest Kids In The World, followed American high school students in exchange programs in Finland, Korea and Poland to better understand how those countries’ education systems fare so well on PISA. Korea in particular has an intense culture around tutoring.
“The big criticism of these systems — the one you hear most often from people within these countries — is that they aren’t teaching kids to think creatively and problem-solve,” Ripley said. “Well, now we have a test that gets closer to measuring those skills than any other — and they are killing it. Again. So what does this mean?”
Ripley suggested two likely factors. First, critics may be “underestimating just how effective their system is in helping kids think for themselves.” Second, while the exam is probably among the best tools for measuring problem-solving skills, “it probably still is not measuring all the many, many ways in which humans can be creative,” Ripley said.