A comparison of PISA scores in Asia

Written By: Cudy

23rd February 2021

The average math score in the five countries

In PISA, the average math score of students in the five countries was 5002. The average score in Singapore was the highest at 5475. Also, that of students in Sri Lanka was the lowest at 4201.

The average score of students in Malaysia and Indonesia were approximately 5200. Hence, the average math score of students in Philippines was 5191.

This is according to the most recent PISA test (from 2012) for which data is available.

In general, students in India and Sri Lanka seem to do better in math. Than their counterparts in South East Asia. Yet, when one compares results within South East Asia.

It seems that students in Malaysia do better than Indonesia. As well as, students from Singapore do better than Malaysia. It is similarly with other countries from the region, such as Philippines or Thailand.

So clearly there is a huge variation within the region.

The average of science scores in five countries

In science, the average score of students in five countries was 5053. The average score in Singapore was the highest at 5475. Meanwhile that of students in Sri Lanka was the lowest at 4963.

The average score of students in Malaysia and Indonesia were approximately 5100 and that of students from Philippines was 5152.

In this case, it is clear that there is much greater variation among individual countries. Briefly, there is within regions when comparing across countries.

One thing to note here: Students in Singapore tend to do better. More than their counterparts from other countries. Although they have fewer resources or smaller class sizes (on average).

This is something not often discussed or framed by proponents. According from resources for school education. Such as, teachers and textbooks or more government funds for education.

Moreover, the outcome is not just that Singapore has more resources or lower class sizes. Because in fact, other countries in Southeast Asia have higher budgets and greater teacher-student ratios.

Breakdown of Socio-Economic status of the students

PISA also provides a breakdown by socio-economic status (SES) of students. For math scores, students from low SES families have lower scores than students from high SES families in all countries.

But the difference is much larger for Malaysia (4633 and 5128), Indonesia (5047 and 5108) and Philippines (4957 and 5107) than it is for Singapore (5623 and 5475). In India, low SES students do better than high SES ones.

But, there are fewer poor students compared with other countries so the effect is less drastic. In Sri Lanka, the average math score for students from low SES families was 4652 while that for high SES students was 4848.

While in theory it would seem like the presence of poor students and the larger role government plays in education. It is also including subsidizing primary school attendance.

This would make low SES students do better, this is not borne out by the data on average scores from PISA.

At least part of the reason for this may be that in some countries where government subsidizes education, efforts to get more kids into school.

It is also to provide some subsidized food does not necessarily translate into better academic outcomes.

Relation of sufficient resources and study motivation

For children from disadvantaged families who often live in remote areas. Or else for those who don’t have parents with sufficient resources to motivate them to study.

In science, students from low SES families in all countries have lower scores than students. Compare to the high SES families except Indonesia. They have this difference is the smallest with a score of 5009 for low SES students and 5024 for high SES students.

In Singapore, the average score for students from low SES families was 5251. While that for high SES ones was 5475. The impact of these socio-economic differences on math scores is clear across countries within South East Asia.

Similarly, it is like the large gap between Singapore and other countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

But in science, this gap is much smaller with scores of 4983. For those from low SES families compared with 5073 for high SES students in Singapore. Students from low SES families do better in science than students from high SES families in Indonesia, Philippines and India.

However, this variation within countries is much larger than that between upper and lower class students across countries. Students from low SES families perform worse in science than their counterparts from high SES ones in Sri Lanka.

And there are some ways that Singapore’s model may not work for developing economies.

Wide variation of scores based on Socio-Economic Status

You might have noticed the wide variation of scores based on socio-economic status (SES) which is why we included it even though it is not a particularly significant variable across regions.

Among developing economies, the data shows that this socioeconomic gap has a much more significant impact on math scores than it does in Singapore.

India and Sri Lanka have some of the highest rates of enrollment but one of the worst school attendance (at least by primary schools) in South East Asia.

So even though in theory, government efforts to get more kids into school and provide subsidized food should translate into better academic outcomes, this is not necessarily the case.

This may be because poor students tend to live far away from school or don’t have parents that are educated enough or motivated enough to send them to school.

In India, for example, there is a lot of variation among states when it comes to education performance. While most states do poorly on average (as discussed earlier), some like Himachal Pradesh score on par with Hong Kong (5102).

In math and are only slightly below Singapore’s score for math of 5475. But the impact of these individual state results on the overall PISA scores for India (which is similar to a national average) is limited.

Because there are many states that do not perform as well as those performing better like Himachal Pradesh. If one looks at science, low SES students in India have the lowest scores among South East Asian countries shown in PISA.

Students from low SES families in China score higher than students from high SES families, which suggests that despite greater government efforts to get more kids into school and provide subsidized food.

It does not necessarily translate into academic outcomes for poorer children.

Socioeconomic differences on math scores

The impact of socioeconomic differences on math scores is much greater for students from low SES families than it is in Singapore. These differences in math scores based on SES also have a much smaller impact on scores in science.

In Sri Lanka, the average science score of students from low SES families was 4921 while that of high SES students was 5067 and these gaps are wider than those in Singapore.

But the variation within Sri Lanka itself is even larger than it is for India, with some states scoring on par with high performing Asian countries like Vietnam (5240) and others more similar to Nepal (4209).

In Sri Lanka, there was no difference in science scores between low and high SES groups. As well as the terms of math, however, the difference based on SES was greater.

In Nepal, low SES students have an average math score of 4165. Also, they have high SES students score 4234, while in Indonesia, the scores are 4944 for low SES students and 5090 for high SES students.

In Sri Lanka, there is almost no variation in scores between low and high SES groups which is probably because the country has made it a policy to provide free education at all levels.

In many countries of South East Asia where government provides subsidized food at primary schools as well as better teacher-student ratios, these interventions do not necessarily lead to higher academic performance.

Socio-economic Gap

The socio-economic gap may also have a larger impact on math scores than science scores in Nepal and Indonesia. Or this may be because of the greater variation of scores within these countries.

In India, the difference is greater than in Pakistan or Sri Lanka but this is possible. Because, there are many states that don’t do as well as Himachal Pradesh.

Which performed very well compared with other states (ranking among the highest in math and science).

So while Singapore’s model has its flaws, it can still provide some lessons to other countries. For how to make educational outcomes better if they face bigger challenges.

Particularly in developing economies where children from poorer families who live in remote areas. Where there are low teacher-student ratios have a harder time being motivated to study.

For math, the variation in scores based on SES is particularly high in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. This can be partly attributed to the differences among states in these countries.

Educational variation outcomes

Since, certain states like Himachal Pradesh or Gujarat have done well. Meanwhile, others such as Maharashtra or West Bengal haven’t fared as well.

But it also points to the fact that even within countries like India, certain regions or states are doing much better than others. This may make it difficult for policymakers.

Who want to target interventions within a country where educational outcomes vary so widely both across individual schools and even between rural and urban areas. This may make it harder to evaluate the impact of interventions on student performance.

In terms of science scores, the difference in scores based on SES is greater in India and Sri Lanka than in Malaysia and Indonesia. This may be because there is greater variation among individual states.

Because there are more poor students overall in these countries. In Sri Lanka. However, this effect is not as large and at least some regions seem to do well.

Whether they have a lot of poor students or not. This may be because of the country’s focus on providing free education at all levels. In fact, the incentivizes of schools to enroll more kids.

Even if they’re not necessarily from wealthy families who can support their educational needs later on.

Read similar article about What do students learn for Mathematics in different Grades? and What is PISA? on Cudy Blog page.

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