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S'pore teens ranked No. 1 in problem solving

Publication Date : 02-04-2014

 

Singapore's 15-year-olds do not just excel in mathematics, science and reading. They are world-beaters too in solving problems, according to a global ranking of student skills.

Singapore teens chalked up the highest score of 562, beating students from 43 other economies in a problem-solving test under the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

The results have proven those who criticised Singapore's education system for encouraging rote learning at the expense of creative skills wrong, said education expert Andreas Schleicher at an event to release the rankings.

"It shows that today's 15-year-olds in Singapore are quick learners, highly inquisitive, able to solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar contexts, and highly skilled in generating new insights by observing, exploring and interacting with complex situations," he said.

"Indeed, no education system outperforms Singapore on this test," added Dr Schleicher, a special adviser on education to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which runs Pisa.

Overall, 85,000 students from 44 economies took the computer-based test, which used real-life scenarios to measure the skills young people will use when faced with everyday problems, such as setting a thermostat or finding the quickest route to a destination, said the OECD.

Some 1,394 students from 166 government secondary and six private schools here, including Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah and Canadian International, took the test and had to tackle four to eight problems, which each came with several sub-questions.

Commenting on Facebook last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote: "Who says Singaporean students are rote learners?"

"It shows that we are on the right track, but I don't think we can afford to relax," he added.

Likewise, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat noted on Facebook that the study shows that Singapore students are "thinking, open, daring, have initiative".

He said: "You can't learn this by rote study. Instead, you need a total learning environment - be it in classes, CCAs or other activities - where you can question assumptions, solve things for yourself, try different approaches."

The skills can be seen across Singapore's entire student body of 15-year-olds, regardless of their schools, he added.

MOE in turn said that the latest results, taken with one released in December, show that Singapore has one of the deepest and widest pools of talented students, with the ability to apply thinking skills to solve problems.

Singapore students came second in mathematics and third in science and reading in the Pisa 2012 study released in December.

"Even our proportion of weaker or low performers in problem solving is among the lowest of all participating education systems," said the Education Ministry, referring to the 8 per cent of students here who were classified as low performers. This is a third of the OECD average.

Singapore had a good share of top performers: One in five students here could solve the most complex problems, compared to about one in nine across OECD countries, said the Paris-based grouping of developed economies.

Problem-solving skills matter, noted Dr Schleicher.

"The world economy no longer pays you for what you know. Google knows everything. The world economy pays you for what you can do with what you know," he said.

 

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