Shanghai’s students at head of class


By Wang Hongyi
BEIJING, Dec. 5 –As Shanghai celebrates cementing its top position in a global education report, education experts stressed there is still a long way for the country to go in education reform.
Shanghai again ranked first in mathematics, science and reading in the triennial Program for International Student Assessment report released by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday. Shanghai also took top marks in the previous report.
The largest study of global schooling was based on surveys of more than 500,000 15-year-olds in 65 countries and regions. It is highly influential, with participating countries representing more than 80 percent of the global economy and has been dubbed the “World Cup of Education”. Shanghai was the only city on the Chinese mainland to take part in the study.
Zhang Minxuan, president of Shanghai Normal University, believed the performance of Shanghai’s students in the report reflected the achievement of education reform in Shanghai, which has long been at the forefront of the country.
“PISA assesses students near the end of their compulsory education in knowledge and skills that are essential for every student in modern society,” said Zhang, who is also the leader of the Shanghai PISA program.
“It is not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know. In this regard, it has more positive meaning and influence in education. We are glad to see Shanghai has received such good results.”
But Zhang quickly added that the results cannot cover all basic education.
“Reading, math and science are important, but more work is needed, such as how to tap each individual’s potential. There is still a long way for Shanghai and the whole country to go to promote education development,” he said.
Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said the result cannot be regarded as representing the entire country due to the lack of a national sample in China.
In Chu’s view, part of the reason students in China do well is that they have a strong motive to excel.
“In China, there has been a general consensus among teachers, parents and students that the students have to work hard to compete in the college entrance exam. They have to spend more time doing homework,” Chu said. “With such a background, it’s natural that Chinese students performed better than their peers around the world.”
The students took a paper-based two-hour test that mixed open-ended and multiple-choice questions organized in groups based on a possible real-life situation. Students and school principals also answered questionnaires to provide information about the students’ backgrounds, schools and learning experiences and about the broader school system and learning environment.
Around 6,400 students from 155 schools in Shanghai took part in the assessment in April 2012.
The tests are based on a 1,000-point scale. In mathematics, Shanghai had the highest scores with a mean score of 613 points, the equivalent of three years of schooling ahead of students in most OECD countries.
Shanghai also topped the lists in science, with 580 points, and reading, with 570. Over the past years, the country has repeatedly emphasized its reforms in education, trying to improve students’ creative and innovative abilities. Innovation and practical skills were also stressed during last month’s Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
According to the PISA report, Shanghai students spent an average of 13.8 hours a week doing school assignments, almost three times the report average of 4.9 hours.
“Authorities should work out an effective way to better develop students’ individuality and potential. Independent thinking, good hands-on skills and creativity have long been missing in China’s education,” Chu said.
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