PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an international survey, initiated by the OECD, which aims to examine the degree to which each country’s education system contributes to the 15-year-old students, who soon will have completed compulsory education, possibility to meet future. Through various tests the students’ abilities in three areas of skills – reading, mathematics and science – was tested.
In the latest survey, PISA 2009, a total of 65 countries and regions, including all 34 OECD countries, took part. It is not encouraging reading from a Swedish perspective. The survey has had reading in focus. But all three areas of knowledge has been investigated.
In the case of reading comprehension, Sweden has fallen from ninth place in 2000 to place fifteen in this survey. This corresponds to an average level in the OECD. The decrease is present among both low- and high-performing students. But it is the weakest students who lost the most during the past decade. One in five students do not reach a basic level in reading. Something that is necessary in order to benefit from other knowledge.
In mathematics, the Swedish results deteriorated among both high- and low-performing students, and Sweden is currently at an average level in the OECD.
In science, Sweden is now below the OECD average and has a declining trend. Nearly one-fifth of the students do not reach the basic levels in science.
Even in the case of equivalence Sweden is slipping from a top position and is today an average OECD country. In comparison with other countries, the difference between high-and low-performing students and schools are increasing, as well as the importance of students’ socioeconomic background.
In stark contrast to the Swedish results are the Finnish results. Finland has the second best performance in reading and mathematics in the world after South Korea, and takes the gold medal in science. Similarly, there is a higher equivalence in Finland.
In a comment on the differences between Sweden and Finland Anita Wester, who is responsible for the Swedish participation in PISA at The Swedish National Agency for Education, presented some factors that explains the Finnish success: A qualified teachers’ education with research links and extensive efforts of special support in the early ages.
But it is impossible not to mention another obvious difference between the two countries’ school systems. Finland still has a state comprehensive school.
The changes in Sweden in recent decades is largely a result of the municipalisation of the school system that the Social Democratic government pushed through in 1989 and the system of ”free schools” (tax-funded, but to a large extent controlled by private equity firms in the aim to make profits) that the right-wing government launched in 1992.
The Swedish right-wing government has had an explicit desire to make Sweden a country among others. PISA 2009 is further proof that we are on track of succeeding.
Personally, I would prefer to stay exceptional. It would be better with a knowledge-based society and a knowledge economy in a globalized world.