Pisa: weak links in European education?

The results of the first Pisa study since the Covid-19 pandemic were published on Tuesday. Around 690,000 schoolchildren aged 15 and 16 from 81 countries were tested. Compared to previous surveys, performance has declined in most countries. Almost all the top spots are occupied by East Asian states - along with Estonia. Europe's press looks at why.

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Trud (BG) /

Not dumber, but poorer

In the Pisa study, Bulgarian pupils came last in maths and second-last in reading within the EU. The social circumstances in which these children grow up are a crucial factor that is often underestimated, Trud points out:

“There has been no drop in the examination results of Bulgarian children. The performance of those pupils we categorise as having 'good socio-economic status' is similar to that of their peers in the top countries and has not changed much over the years. The aberration lies in the demographic ratio between these children and the less well-off, but this is a topic we don't seem to be ready to address yet.”

Iltalehti (FI) /

Nationwide exam would be a good idea

Iltalehti would like to see education given higher priority once more:

“Specifically, we could try introducing a 'state exam' like the one held in Estonia, which every young person has to take [in the 9th grade]. ... Such a nationwide exam would encourage schools to work in a more result-orientated way and encourage pupils to work harder. One of the key secrets of Pisa winner Singapore is its culture: the parents of the children attach more importance to education than in other countries. 'It's a question of values: education is the priority and your future,' an OECD expert recently said about Singaporeans' attitude to schooling. In Finland, this attitude has been lost in recent years.”

Õhtuleht (EE) /

Teachers' salaries a key issue

Columnist Mart Soidro complains in Õhtuleht that the government is taking credit for the good Pisa results but ignoring teachers' demands for a pay rise:

“In an ironic twist of fate, it was announced this week that Estonian pupils came fourth in the world and first in Europe in the Pisa test. The credit is naturally going to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who will no doubt be keen to collect the prize. Teachers, on the other hand, are supposed to eat snow in winter and chew grass in the summer. I apologise for my cynical comment, but I'm really surprised that the minister for education and research received no support from the rest of the government for her proposal for teachers' salaries to be increased.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Many contributed to Estonia's success

Estonia's score was the best in Europe. But that success did not come easily, Eesti Päevaleht points out:

“Once again, we can be proud of our education system, which is one of the best in the world. Admittedly, Estonia's performance is a little worse than in 2018, but it seems that the pandemic period hit other countries even harder. One is forced to admit that we don't really know what's behind Estonia's Pisa success, but we all contributed to a greater or lesser extent: students, teachers, parents and the state. ... Many of the teachers who have contributed so much will be retiring in the coming years. ... If we do not make a concerted effort now to replace them with equally talented and hard-working educators, we will be resting on our laurels.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

The search for culprits begins

Helsingin Sanomat blames social changes for the country's worsening Pisa results:

“The Pisa report has triggered a new search for causes and culprits in Finland. It will be hard to reach a consensus, and we certainly don't know why Finland was so good 20 years ago. Part of the responsibility for the downward trend lies with the schools and the reforms implemented there, which are already being called into question. Estonia has avoided Finland's mistakes. The poorer Pisa results are probably due more to changing values and time management in society as a whole, a trend that is more difficult to reverse.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Croatia no better than the others

Jutarnji list explains why Croatia was able to catch up with the OECD average in science and reading literacy seven years earlier than expected:

“It's not Croatia that has come closer to the OECD average, but that the poorer results of the other countries (mostly due to the cancellation of lessons during the pandemic) lowered the average in our favour. ... If we can learn from anyone, it's Germany and Estonia. The takeaway for both countries is the same: teachers are the main reason for student's good results. However, not just any teachers [but good, motivated ones].”

Primorske novice (SI) /

Adults owe it to children to initiate reforms

The Pisa study also shows a decline in knowledge in Slovenia, so the fact that the country is above the OECD average in mathematics and science is no reason for it to rest on its laurels, writes Primorske novice:

“Any delay in making changes will be most harmful for young people entering the labour market, starting a family and doing everything else that adult life entails. ... And they will enter this path as adults who don't know how to calculate credit risks, don't orientate their actions towards protecting the environment, or perhaps don't understand instructions for using appliances. The state, the education system, teachers and adults in general owe it to them to introduce reforms.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Targeted support needed

The increase in migrants is no excuse for the poor results in Germany, Handelsblatt stresses:

“Countries such as Italy, Turkey and Portugal have managed to continuously improve their Pisa results even though migration has exploded globally for political and economic reasons. We have not. The causes are lacking support in language acquisition, a lack of targeted support for migrants, as well as for poor-performing German pupils, and a lack of daycare places. ... Our system was already 'producing' 20 percent school failures who can't read, write or do maths properly when migrants only made up 10 percent of the total population.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Time for a coherent plan

Le Monde is annoyed by the zigzagging in French education policy:

“Due to an incessant waltz of reforms, teachers are subjected to a series of often contradictory regulations. ... Who should we follow? Emmanuel Macron, who emphasises the autonomy of teachers and schools? Or his education minister, who wants to set a nationwide standard for repeating years and forming class groups? The inconsistency is so great that it is impossible to link the Pisa results to a specific policy.”

Le Temps (CH) /

F grade on equal opportunities

Switzerland's relatively good overall results should not obscure the big gap between the best pupils and the worst, Le Temps insists:

“Switzerland's average is driven upwards by a large group of very good pupils. However, the Pisa study also shows that a quarter of pupils do not meet the minimum requirements. That's a lot, and the gap between the best and the rest is widening. Above all, the study also points to a worrying correlation: pupils from privileged backgrounds achieve the best results, while those from disadvantaged backgrounds confirm their status as underachievers. School is there to educate and for learning. However, it is also there to offer all pupils the same opportunities.”

hvg (HU) /

Gap bigger in Hungary than almost any other country

In one category Hungary once again came almost last, hvg laments:

“The study has once again confirmed the most worrying problem in the Hungarian education system, a problem which has existed for many decades: it is not making progress in reducing social differences. The performance gap between children from different family backgrounds is enormous. The scores of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were 121 points lower in the latest Pisa test than children from the most advantaged backgrounds, which is a very poor showing in the international comparison. The OECD average was 93 points.”

Politiken (DK) /

More non-digital teaching

Danish pupils also performed poorly in the Pisa study. Politiken argues that less screen time is key:

“The Covid crisis is behind us and hopefully a more cautious approach will be adopted regarding closing schools in the event of a new pandemic. However, screens are still an integral part of everyday life. It must give us pause for thought that Danish schoolchildren have record levels of screen use. ... Danish schoolchildren spend 3.8 hours in front of a screen at school - almost twice as much as the average in other countries. ... The depressing news about declining results in education clearly shows the direction in which we should be heading: less screen time, more school.”

Pravda (SK) /

Slovakia won't even be good enough for factories soon

Pravda is appalled by its country's results:

“More than 30 years after the revolution, we can no longer use the post-communist legacy as an excuse. Poland and Estonia in particular show that even countries in transition can offer children a high-quality education. The results this time could be due to Covid. But then how can we explain the fact that the neighbouring V4 countries and Austria achieved above-average results? We are simply doing something wrong, and if we don't grasp this, as time passes we'll even cease to be an 'extended factory' for other countries because we lack the skilled workers”