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China knocks Singapore from the number 1 spot in reading, maths & science

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China emerged as number one due to a number of factors with the main one being the sheer number of hours put in by its students

Singapore — In the latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is taken every three years, China emerged as number one in reading, maths, and science, displacing Singapore, which is now in second place.

In 2015, the last time PISA results were announced, China wasn’t even in the top five of the list of high scorers.

Students from Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang scored 555 points in reading, 591 points in mathematics, and 590 points in science, while students from Singapore scored 549, 569 and 551, respectively.

How did China emerged from the pack to take the number one spot could be due to a number of factors, but one thing stands out: the sheer number of hours students in China (and other East Asian countries including Singapore) study.

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Practice, as they say, makes perfect.

A Sydney Morning Herald article published on December 3 quotes 16-year-old Nicholas Zhang, a Chinese exchange student at Scotch College, Melbourne, as saying that when he was a student in China, he studied maths for 20 hours each week, while in Australia, he only studied maths for 3 hours weekly.

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Mr Zhang said of his studies in China, “We always needed to compare ourselves with other school students. It was really competitive.”

The article also quotes a student who had moved to Australia from Singapore, Maria Lin, whose academic background allowed her to skip two grades in Adelaide and graduate from Year 12 this year at 16.

According to Ms Lin, Singapore is advanced in teaching subject matter. Case in point, she studied Physics in year 7 in Singapore that is not part of Australia’s curriculum until year 11.

She added that in Singapore students were expected to find answers on their own.

“In Singapore when you did practical assignments in science, usually the teacher wouldn’t give you the steps. They would say what they expect you to form, then you figure out the steps yourself. In Australia, the teachers tend to guide you through the steps you could take.”

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Ms Lin was also grateful for the required extracurricular activity in Singaporean secondary school, which for her was guitar ensemble. Although she called it stressful, she also admits that it taught her proper time management.

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The Sydney Morning Herald article pointed out that for reading, maths, and science, the scores of Australian students have gone down by 26, 33 and 24 points respectively since the last assessment in 2015. At this point, Australian students’ maths score of 491 is just a shade above the OECD median of 489.

The average Australian student is now over 3.5 years behind Chinese students, and 3 years behind Singaporean students. 

Dr Sue Thomson of the Australian Council for Educational Research said that while Australia may have much to learn from countries who have scored better, some parts of the traditional East Asian way of studying may not suit Australians.

She said, “They might be higher than us in maths and science but maybe not in student wellbeing,” Dr Thomson said.

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In an opinion column on December 3 entitled, “Pisa: It’s OK to be No. 2 in academics, Singapore should focus on student well-being,” Sandra Davie writes, that students’ stress levels must also be monitored, as Singaporean students are scoring higher than the OECD average for anxiety and fear of failure.

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Ms Davie also raised the concern over inequality. While Singaporean studnets from lower income families performed better than those from other countries, “excellence in education without equity risks leading to large economic and social disparities.” -/TISG

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New secondary school system allows students to take subjects according to their strengths


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