BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2019/50

Participating students in Shanghai, Beijing, Jiangsu and Zhejiang snagged top scores in all three of PISA’s major categories (reading, mathematics and natural sciences). The Chinese students posted particularly high scores in mathematics and natural sciences. Only 2 % of the students scored poorly in math, the smallest percentage of any PISA participant country.

Notably, China does not PISA-test at the national level. Instead, the OECD uses an abbreviation for the major cities involved in the study with the moniker S-P-J-Z (China). While the population covered in the S-P-J-Z cities totals 180 million, it is unclear how well the performance in these relatively wealthy areas are applicable to the country as a whole. The quality of teaching varies considerably within China. In assessing the effectiveness of school systems, PISA researchers also determine time spent on school work. Chinese students spent about 57 hours a week studying, which was the second highest number of hours for any country. Finnish students, in contrast, spent about 37 hours a week studying, the lowest amount of time for any of the countries surveyed.

Students in Hong Kong and Macao also posted strong scores. Student scores have traditionally been excellent in developed Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea. Estonia and Finland were Europe’s top-scoring countries. Russian students posted scores slightly below the OECD average in all three categories.

Every three years, the OECD conducts its internationally coordinated PISA testing of 15–16-year-olds. Not all of the 80 survey participant countries are OECD members, and not all students in the age cohort are tested. Instead a sample of schools is chosen. Schools can opt out of the sample and not all students in participating schools necessarily take part in the test.