Results for Programme for International Student Assessment

The results of each period of assessment normally take at least a year to be analyzed. The first results for PISA 2000 came out in 2001 (OECD, 2001a) and 2003 (OECD, 2003c), and were followed by thematic reports studying particular aspects of the results. The evaluation of PISA 2003 was published in two volumes: Learning for Tomorrow’s World: First Results from PISA 2003 (OECD, 2004) and Problem Solving for Tomorrow’s World – First Measures of Cross-Curricular Competencies from PISA 2003 (OECD, 2004d)

In 2003, in literacy Finland came first overall, followed by Korea, with Canada third. At the bottom of the list came Indonesia. In science, Finland, Japan, Hong Kong and Korea had roughly equal scores. In problem-solving, South Korea came first, with Finland and Hong Kong second.

Professor Jouni Välijärvi was in charge of the Finnish PISA study: he believed that the high Finnish score was due both to the excellent Finnish teachers and to Finland's 1990s LUMA programme which was developed to improve children's skills in mathematics and natural sciences. He also drew attention to the Finnish school system which teaches the same curriculum to all pupils. Indeed individual Finnish students' results did not vary a great deal and all schools had similar scores.

On the other hand, Finnish professor Pauli Siljander believes that Finland's good results are due to many sociopolitical decisions, factors related to the history of ideas and education, macro-level changes affecting the educational system and learning theoretical ideas and practical measures, in which the various contributing factors are linked firmly to each other. He emphasizes that education is an important project in the Finnish welfare state. Therefore education cannot be considered in separation from the sociopolitical context.

An evaluation of the 2003 results showed that the countries which spent more on education did not necessarily do better than those which spent less. Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands spent less but did relatively well, whereas the United States spent much more but was below the OECD average. The Czech Republic, in the top ten, spent only one third as much per student as the United States did, for example, but the USA came 24th out of 29 countries compared. This may be due to the large difference between teacher salaries in different countries. The average American teacher is paid around US$40,000 per year. The average Finnish teacher is paid €25,000 per year.

Compared with 2000, Poland, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany all improved their results. In fact, apparently due to the changes to the school system following PISA 2000, Polish students had above average reading skills in PISA 2003; in PISA 2000 they were near the bottom of the list.

Another point made in the evaluation was that students with higher-earning parents are better-educated and tend to achieve higher results. This was true in all the countries tested, although more obvious in certain countries, such as Germany.