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Singapore’s lower-income household students shine on global stage in latest PISA study

In the latest PISA study by the OECD, Singaporean students from lower-income households outperformed international peers across reading, mathematics, and science.

Outperforming both their economic counterparts worldwide and the average international student, they demonstrated remarkable academic prowess and excellence.



SINGAPORE: The recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2022 unveiled remarkable achievements among students from lower-income households in Singapore.

Not only did they surpass their counterparts from similar economic backgrounds globally, but they also outperformed the average international student.

The study published on Tuesday (Dec), revealed that Singaporean students belonging to the bottom 25 per cent of socio-economic status (SES) households demonstrated superior performance across all three assessed domains: reading, mathematics, and science.

Specifically, these students scored an impressive 484 in reading, exceeding the overall OECD average of 476.

In mathematics and science, their scores stood at 515 and 504, respectively, outshining the OECD averages of 472 and 485.

(Source: Ministry of Education, Singapore)

The study further highlighted that 43% of Singapore’s lower-SES students, though slightly lower than the 2018 figure of 47%, exhibited “core-skills resilience,” achieving proficiency level three or higher in all three domains.

This resilience rate was significantly higher than the OECD average of 19%.

In the PISA assessment, level 1 is the lowest proficiency level and level 6 is the highest.

Gap in Math scores, yet 10% display academic resilience

Despite the commendable performance, individual country reports published by the OECD underscored a score gap in mathematics between the top and bottom SES quarters of students in Singapore.

This gap, measuring 112, surpassed the average difference of 93 observed across OECD countries.

However, approximately 10% of disadvantaged Singaporean students showcased exceptional resilience by scoring in the top quarter in mathematics within the country, aligning with the OECD average.

Termed “academically resilient,” these students, despite socio-economic challenges, achieved top-tier results in comparison with peers in their own countries.

Singapore’s 15-year-olds excel across all domains in PISA 2022

In the broader context, Singapore’s 15-year-olds emerged as top performers in all three categories—mathematics, science, and reading—in the PISA 2022 assessment, showcasing their adept application of knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems.

The study encompassed a representative sample of 6,606 students from 149 secondary schools and 15 private institutions, including international schools and madrasahs, who participated in the assessment from April to May 2022.

Notably, Singapore secured the second position in the preceding PISA study in 2018, trailing China.

However, for the latest study, China did not participate as its schools were closed during the assessment period.

In contrast to 2018, students from Singapore who participated in PISA 2022 maintained their achievements in mathematics, and showed significant improvement in science, but experienced a slight decrease in reading performance.

(Source: Ministry of Education, Singapore, and OECD)

The average scores of educational systems participating in Singapore were 543 for reading, 575 for mathematics, and 561 for science. In comparison, the OECD’s average mean scores were 476 for reading, 472 for mathematics, and 485 for science.

In reading, 23% of Singaporean students achieved top proficiency levels, while for mathematics and science, the percentages were 41 and 24%, respectively. Top performers are those who attain proficiency levels five and six.

Likewise, Singapore exhibited a lower percentage of students classified as low performers, standing at 11% in reading and 8% in both mathematics and science. These low performers demonstrate proficiency below level two.

Post-school inactivity and family support perception

However, in comparison to other OECD countries, Singaporean students perceive their families as providing relatively less support.

While nearly 9 out of 10 Singaporean students reported having their main meal with their parents (Singapore: 88%; OECD average: 84%), approximately half mentioned that their parents show interest in their academic pursuits (Singapore: 49%; OECD average: 66%) or engage in discussions about their school-related issues at least once a week (Singapore: 47%; OECD average: 57%).

Additionally, Singaporean students exhibit lower levels of physical activity after school. Only 22% of them reported engaging in exercise or sports practice at least four days a week after school (OECD average: 39%), while 29% stated that they do not engage in any physical activity after school (OECD average: 20%).

In response to the latest PISA results, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Singapore reaffirmed its commitment to supporting students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The MOE highlighted initiatives like Uplift (Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce)launched in 2018, which aims to offer additional support to disadvantaged students, addressing challenges such as long-term absenteeism.

Addressing a slight decline in students’ reading performance, MOE stated, “While our students’ reading performance slightly declined, this trend is consistent with peers in half of the 73 systems with trend data and might reflect global changes in reading habits.”

As such, they affirmed that “MOE will continue to work closely with schools, parents, and community partners to help our students cultivate reading habits from young.”

Recognizing the need for stronger familial connections highlighted in the report, the MOE emphasized the schools’ perspective of parents as essential partners in education. They intend to collaborate closely with parents, providing resources to better support their children.

Furthermore, the MOE reiterated its commitment to fostering an active lifestyle for students both within and outside the school environment.

Schools will continue their efforts in partnering with parents and the community to encourage and support students in leading physically active lives.

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