The state of learning and equity in education

By the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)

PISA 2022 assesses reading, science, and, as its main subject, mathematics. Being proficient in mathematics today is more than the mere reproduction of routine mathematical procedures. Rather, PISA considers a mathematically proficient person to be someone who can mathematically reason their way through complex real-life problems and find solutions by formulating, employing and interpreting mathematics.

What students know and can do: Student performance

In mathematics

Singapore scored significantly higher than all other countries/economies in mathematics (575 points) and, along with Hong Kong (China)*, Japan, Korea, Macao (China), and Chinese Taipei, outperformed all other countries and economies in mathematics.

Another 17 countries also performed above the OECD average (472 points), ranging from Estonia (510 points) to New Zealand* (479 points).

An average of 69% of students are at least basically proficient in mathematics in OECD countries. This means they are beginning to demonstrate the ability and initiative to use mathematics in simple real-life situations.

In 16 out of 81 countries/economies participating in PISA 2022, more than 10% of students attained Level 5 or 6 proficiency, meaning they are high-performing: they understand that a problem is quantitative in nature and can formulate complex mathematical models to solve it. By contrast, less than 5% of students are high- performing in 42 countries/economies.

In reading and science

Singapore scored significantly higher than all other countries/economies in reading (543 points) and science (561 points). Behind Singapore, Ireland* performed as well as Estonia, Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei while another 14 education systems performed above the OECD average in reading (476 points), ranging from Macao (China) (510 points) to Italy (482 points).

In science, the highest-performing education systems are Singapore, Japan, Macao (China), and Chinese Taipei, Korea, Estonia, Hong Kong (China)* and Canada*. Finland performed as well as Canada* in science. In addition to these nine countries and economies, another 15 education systems also performed above the OECD average in science (485 points), ranging from Australia* (507 points) to Belgium (491 points).

About three out of four students have achieved basic proficiency in reading and science in OECD countries.

In reading and science, an OECD average of 7% of students attained the highest proficiency levels of 5 or 6. In 13 countries/economies, more than 10% of students are top performers in reading. In 14 countries/economies, more than 10% of students are top performers in science.

Trends in performance

No change in the OECD average over consecutive PISA assessments up to 2018 has ever exceeded four points in mathematics and five points in reading: in PISA 2022, however, the OECD average dropped by almost 15 points in mathematics and about 10 score points in reading compared to PISA 2018.

Mean performance in science, however, remained stable. The unprecedented drops in mathematics and reading point to the shock effect of COVID-19 on most countries.

Only four countries improved

Only four countries and economies improved their performance between PISA 2018 and 2022 in all three subjects: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic and Chinese Taipei.

Trend analysis of PISA results reveals a decades-long decline that began well before the pandemic.

Long-term decline

In reading and science, performances peaked in 2012 and 2009, respectively, before dipping while performance began a downward descent in mathematics before 2018 in Australia*, Belgium, Canada*, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Korea, the Netherlands*, New Zealand*, the Slovak Republic and Switzerland.

Four countries and economies are bucking this trend of long-term decline: Colombia, Macao (China), Peru, and Qatar. Their results have improved on average in all three subjects over the full period they have participated in PISA. Four other countries (Israel, Republic of Moldova, Singapore and Türkiye) have improved in two out of three subjects.

Equity in education

Education systems in Canada*, Denmark*, Finland, Hong Kong (China)*, Ireland*, Japan, Korea, Latvia*, Macao (China) and the United Kingdom* are highly equitable by PISA’s standard (combining high levels of inclusion and fairness).

The percentage of 15-year-olds enrolled in school in Grade 7 or above in each country/economy ranges from 36% in Cambodia and 48% in Guatemala to 90% or more in 34 countries and economies. Socio-economically advantaged students scored 93 points more in mathematics than disadvantaged students on average across OECD countries.

The performance gap attributed to students’ socio-economic status is greater than 93 score points in 22 countries or economies and 50 points or fewer in 13 countries or economies.

Boys better in math

Boys outperformed girls in mathematics by nine score points and girls outperformed boys in reading by 24 score points on average across OECD countries.

In science, the performance difference between boys and girls is not significant.

Non-immigrant students scored 29 points more than immigrant students in mathematics on average across OECD countries but non-immigrant students scored only five points more than immigrant students once socio-economic status and language spoken at home had been accounted for.

No money for food

An average of 8% of students in the OECD area reported not eating at least once a week in the past 30 days because there was not enough money to buy food.  In 18 countries/economies, more than 20% of students reported not being able to afford to eat at least once a week.

Trends in equity

The socio-economic gap in mathematics performance did not change between 2018 and 2022 in 51 out of the 68 countries/economies with available PISA data; it widened in 12 countries/economies and narrowed in five (Argentina, Chile, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). The gender gap in mathematics performance did not change between 2018 and 2022 in most countries/economies (57 out of the 72 with comparable data); it widened in 11 countries/economies and narrowed in four (Albania, Baku [Azerbaijan], Colombia and Montenegro).