The new PISA benchmark study of the OECD
In the current PISA benchmarking study "Learning for the world of tomorrow: First results of PISA 2003" of the OECD, Germany is only centerfield. The German results are better than in the first study. But the necessary education reforms have only just been launched. The BMBF's all-day school programme, the educational reporting cofinanced by the Federal Government and the Länder and improvements in the teaching of maths and the sciences in joint projects can only be first steps to improve school education in Germany.
PISA - The background
With the PISA studies
("Programme for International Student Assessment"), the OECD studies how well young people are prepared for the challenges of the knowledge society. The target group are fifteen-year old pupils, for whom compulsory education soon ends in many countries. The first PISA study took place in 2000, the second in 2003. The third survey round is being prepared. The main test of the third round will be in 2006. The OECD is planning for further survey rounds.
The results obtained serve as a basis for comparison between the performance of the education systems in the participating states and as indicators for possible further developments of the education systems. PISA is education monitoring with a long-term orientation. The surveys are implemented every three years with a coordinated test programme. This reveals in how far measures taken were able to bring about the desired effects.
PISA compares the performance of education systems.
The study tests the skills of fifteen year-old school students in the areas of mathematics, reading and the sciences. One priority is studied in a comprehensive way in every survey round. The priority of PISA 2000 was reading skills, that of PISA 2003 was mathematics.
PISA also surveys cross-cutting competences. While self-organized learning was at the centre of the 2000 survey, problem-solving was at the centre of these so-called cross-curricular competencies in 2003. Surveys on learning strategies, learning motivation and familiarity with information technologies complement the cross-curricular section of the survey.
PISA 2003 furthermore asked school students for their perception of school and teaching as well as for characteristics of the family environment. This enables an analysis of how far social and cultural background determine differences in competences, whether the conditions and environment I which our youth grows up lead to different opportunities for learning and development and whether cognitive potential is promoted and used differently in the education systems.
41 states participated in PISA 2003 (30 OECD states and 11 partner countries) with a total of about 250,000 pupils. 216 schools and 4660 pupils in Germany participated in the international benchmarking study. In 2003, too, Germany used the opportunity to enlarge the samples in a way that meaningful comparisons between the German Länder can be made.
41 states participated in PISA.
The results of the Länder comparison (PISA-E) with extensive analyses on the interrelation between migration background and success in education will be published as a second national report in autumn 2005. In spring 2006, the main results of the repeat study with entire classes will eventually be presented.
The positive results of the study are that Germany has improved its overall position slightly.
There is clear progress in skills in the sciences and mathematics. With regard to problem-solving skills, German pupils are even above international benchmarks. However, we are still lagging behind in reading skills.
A negative result is that the gap between good and poor pupils has become even wider. The scattering of PISA results is broader than in almost all other countries - across the different school forms as well as within one school form. Improvements are exclusively due to improvements in academic secondary schools. In secondary general schools, however, no progress was reached. Particularly unsettling is the fact that nothing has changed for the poorest pupils since the last PISA study. 22% of the pupils belong to the so-called "risk group", i.e. pupils whose education results are not sufficient for successfully completing occupational training or getting a first job.
Slight improvements but no all-clear.
In spite of slight improvements it should be clear that the situation in our education system has aggravated. Children from the lower income levels have far poorer education opportunities, weaker pupils are neglected in our schools. One of the reasons the OECD states is the early selection of ten-year olds after the fourth grade. The OECD doubts that a further optimization of the existing tiered education system alone can bring about considerable improvements in terms of equal opportunities and thus also in the overall performance of the education system.
What has been achieved, what remains to be done We need better teaching, better supervision and better individual support. In 2000, the Federal Government and the Länder agreed on an action programme for an education reform. With its all-day school programme, the Federal Government launched the biggest German school programme ever. All-day schools are being established all across Germany with the four billion euro made available. All-day schools provide more time for learning every day. They provide better opportunities to cater to the needs of every individual child and to provide the best-possible support. However, we are still at the beginning of our reform efforts.
Bringing successful concepts into schools
The present PISA result documents improvements in skills in mathematics and the sciences. This should be an incentive to broaden the reform steps in order to improve the teaching of mathematics and the sciences which were developed in the SINUS-Programme co-financed by the Federal Government and the Länder. The BMBF also participates in the transfer of the SINUS results into schools by 2007. Similar programmes exist for teaching chemistry and physics.
Investment in education
We need better child care and early childhood education. The PISA study shows that children who participated in kindergarten or pre-school education achieve better results. Abolishing the owner-occupied homes premium would set free over 3 billion euro for education in the budgets of Länder and municipalities. Teachers, youth and community workers or kindergarten teachers could be employed with the money.
Educational reporting and education standards
PISA shows that the decisive factor is not full curricula and regulations but rather uniform national education standards and their monitoring. Schools and teachers need leeway for the development of individual school profiles as well as a clear orientation as to which competences their pupils must achieve. The result of the work can only be surveyed in national benchmarks in order to further increase the quality of performance. The Federal Government and the Länder have agreed on joint educational reporting which is to provide meaningful indicators for central areas of education in order to know where the German education system stands. The first report is to be published in 2006.