Unprecedented Global Decline in Literacy Scores Revealed by OECD Report

OECD Report: Unprecedented Global Decline In Literacy Scores | Future Education Magazine


A groundbreaking education survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has brought to light an “unprecedented” slump in academic progress across numerous countries. Published on Tuesday, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey marked the first of its kind since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a sobering glimpse into the historic setbacks experienced by students worldwide.

The PISA 2022 Results Show a fall in Student Performance

The report disclosed a staggering 15-point drop in the average international mathematics score since the 2018 tests, equating to three-quarters of a year of learning. Similarly, reading scores plummeted by the equivalent of half a year, while science scores remained relatively stable. PISA, conducted every three years, evaluates the knowledge of 15-year-old students in maths, reading, and science across 81 countries and regions.

OECD education analyst Irene Hu expressed concern, stating, “The PISA 2022 results show a fall in student performance that is unprecedented in [the survey’s] history.” The disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to a deviation from the usual survey schedule, with the overall results reflecting changes since the previous tests in 2018 across both affluent and less affluent nations.

Math Scores in the United States Remain Stubbornly Low

In the United States, despite substantial investments in education by President Joe Biden, including a $190 billion pandemic relief package for schools, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona acknowledged that math scores remain “stubbornly low.” He emphasized the critical importance of math to the country’s global competitiveness and leadership.

European countries also witnessed a sharp decline, with Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland notably experiencing lower achievements in maths. Germany and France found themselves in the lower ranks, and German pupils performed worse than ever in reading, maths, and science, signaling a worrying trend.

The Level of Support Students Receive from Teachers is a Key Factor

While some of the decline that can be attributed to COVID-19-related school shutdowns, the report stressed that long-term issues in education systems are contributing to the drop in performance. OECD analysts argued that the problem is systemic, pointing to the level of support students receive from teachers and school staff as a key factor.

Despite investments in education over the past decade, the efficiency and quality of teaching have not seen commensurate improvement, noted Eric Charbonnier, an OECD education analyst. Andreas Schleicher, OECD education and skills director, emphasized that the report underscores underlying structural issues in education systems that policymakers must address seriously.

Asian Students Outperforming Their Global Peers

In contrast, Asian students demonstrated dominance in the survey, outperforming their global peers. Singapore claimed the top ranking, with students equivalent to almost three to five years ahead of their counterparts. Other Asian education systems, including those in Macao, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, excelled in maths, reading, and science.

The survey also marked a notable shift by focusing on the mental state of students, correlating academic performance with anxiety levels. High-performing countries reported higher fear of failure and limited engagement in extracurricular activities while lower-performing countries exhibited lower anxiety levels and a greater focus on sports.

This OECD report serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address systemic issues in education systems globally, ensuring that investments translate into tangible improvements in teaching quality and support for students.

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