Singapore’s 15-year-olds top ‘global competence’ assessment: PISA study


SINGAPORE: Singapore’s 15-year-olds came out tops in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) global competence study, beating those from 26 other countries. 

PISA defines “global competence” as the ability to examine significant issues, appreciate other perspectives, engage in effective interactions across cultures, and take action for collective well-being and sustainable development. 

About 46 per cent of the 6,676 students that were surveyed in Singapore achieved the two highest global competency proficiency levels, compared to the average of 14 per cent across the 27 education systems that participated in the assessment, said the Ministry of Education (MOE), commenting on the findings in a press release on Thursday (Oct 22). 

All 153 public secondary schools and 13 randomly sampled private schools in Singapore participated in PISA 2018. 

READ: Singapore’s 15-year-olds rank second globally in reading, maths and science: Study

At these proficiency levels, students showed “a strong ability” to identify and analyse different perspectives, evaluate information to differentiate between biased and unbiased sources, assess situations and make connections across multiple activities within a problem, said the Education Ministry. 

“Global competence is an important asset that our students need to be equipped with, in order to thrive in an increasingly interconnected and unpredictable world. We’re therefore encouraged to see that the PISA global competence study findings have shown that our students have the skills, knowledge and attitude to thrive in such a world,” said Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE’s deputy director-general of education (curriculum). 

“The study found that our students regardless of background have shown a strong ability to examine global issues, interact and communicate clearly with people across different cultural backgrounds, and appreciate multiple perspectives. It also found that our students have a strong belief in the ability to influence positively their own lives, as well as the world around them.”

Bottom quarter socio-economic status students also performed well, with about 26 per cent performing at the highest two proficiency levels, compared to 6 per cent of students from the bottom socio-economic status quarter across all participating systems. 

“We will continue to provide all our students with varied curricular and cocurricular learning experiences – such as discussions of contemporary issues, learning journeys to local cultural and heritage sites, research projects on various cultures, and immersion programmes with schools in the region – to help them further develop their GC knowledge and skills,” said MOE.

FAMILIAR WITH CLIMATE CHANGE

Of the seven topics surveyed in the assessment, Singaporean students were most familiar with climate change and global warming, and least familiar with international conflicts and global health. The PISA 2018 test was administered before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, MOE noted. 

The other topics surveyed were migration, equality between men and women in different parts of the world, hunger or malnutrition in different parts of the world, and causes of poverty. 

Eight in 10 students surveyed in Singapore were confident in explaining issues related to climate change, including how carbon dioxide emissions affect global climate change, compared to the OECD average of 63 per cent. 

Students are exposed to climate change in the general secondary science curriculum, as well as economic issues in social studies and elective geography in upper secondary, noted MOE in the press release. 

“To help students gain a better understanding of global issues, we will continue to encourage them to read more widely. This can also help them develop a deeper appreciation of different perspectives, and respect for different cultures,” added the Education Ministry. 

READ: Commentary: The fear of failure cannot help Singapore reach our best

Students reported that their schools have given them opportunities to be exposed to global issues and intercultural interactions both within and outside the classroom, said Mr Sng. 

“This has affirmed our schools’ persistent effort over the years in providing our students with learning experiences to develop their 21st century competencies,” he added. 

MOE developed a 21st Century Competency framework from 2010 that includes civic literacy, global awareness and cross-cultural skills, said the ministry. Curricular and co-curricular learning experiences have been provided in schools to help students develop these competencies, it added. 

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The study has also allowed MOE to pinpoint “some areas for improvement”, said Mr Sng. 

Singapore students performed below OECD peers in terms of their “self-perceived cognitive adaptability”, the study found. Self-perceived cognitive adaptability is defined by PISA as the ability to adapt one’s thinking and behaviour to the prevailing cultural environment or novel situations that might present new challenges. 

Only half of Singapore students said they could deal with unusual situations, below the OECD average of 59 per cent. The study also found that cognitive adaptability is positively associated with students’ resilience, or their confidence in managing difficult situations. 

“For example, our students, compared to their OECD peers, have a lower level of confidence in their ability to adapt in their thinking and behaviour when faced with a novel situation,” Mr Sng noted. 

“We will certainly want to help them strengthen in this area by promoting a stronger sense of growth mindset in them, and also to provide them with varied learning experiences so that they are exposed to novel situations and making decisions in those situations.”

Despite these areas for improvement, MOE “can be proud” of what the students have shown through the global competence study, he added. 

“Their high level of ability in understanding global issues, interacting with people across cultural backgrounds and appreciating diverse perspectives to help them thrive in the world ahead. They have shown us they are progressively growing up into responsible members of our local and global community.” 



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