European education slips downward, according to PISA report by OECD

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of its 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, showcasing an unparalleled decline in student performance globally.

Between 2018 and 2022, mean performance in mathematics across OECD countries fell by a record 15 points, whilst reading fell 10 points, with science remaining at a fairly constant level.

While Asian countries dominated the top ranks, Europe experienced an unprecedented drop in educational achievements.

European setbacks

Europe grappled with a noteworthy dip in educational achievements, particularly in Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland, which documented significant setbacks in mathematics.

OECD analysts emphasised the multifaceted nature of this decline, pointing to the pivotal role of long-term issues within education systems. The level of support provided by teachers and school staff emerged as a critical factor, with some systems lacking adequate resources for student assistance.

The best European performer in the PISA 2022 results was Estonia, surpassing larger EU nations like Germany and France. The Estonian Minister of Education said Estonia is "quite prepared for change" when it comes to changes in technology and schools.

The PISA data signals a call for re-evaluation and restructuring of education systems, emphasising the importance of investment in teaching quality, teacher autonomy, and overall student well-being to ensure a resilient and successful future.

Asian countries perform higher than average

Singapore emerged as the frontrunner in the PISA 2022 survey, outshining 81 participating countries and economies.

The southeast Asian city-state secured the highest scores in mathematics, reading, and science, indicating a remarkable educational lead of almost three to five years compared to global peers.

Other Asian nations, including Macao, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, also excelled across the board.

Pandemic ‘just part of the story’

The report highlighted that the drop wasn't solely attributed to COVID-19 disruptions, as Finland, Iceland, and Sweden, once education trailblazers, have consistently seen declining scores over the years.

OECD Director of Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher said the pandemic ‘was just part of the story’ during a press conference of the publication of the results.

‘Many other factors impacted learning during this period, such as the quality of remote teaching and levels of support granted to struggling students,” the report stated.

OECD analysts underscored the multifaceted nature of the decline, emphasizing the role of long-term issues within education systems.

The level of support provided by teachers and school staff emerged as a crucial factor, with some systems lacking sufficient resources for student assistance.

Global perspective

While the United States education system showed marginal changes, with weaker performance in mathematics, a noteworthy aspect of the survey was the examination of students' happiness.

Surprisingly, the report indicated that top-performing countries such as Singapore, Macao, and Taiwan reported high levels of fear of failure among students, challenging the assumption that academic success equates to overall happiness.

Long-term trends

A retrospective analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education systems globally revealed a sharp decline in student attainment between 2018 and 2022.

Developed economies were disproportionately affected, with reading and math performance declining, creating concerns about the long-term consequences on labour market outcomes.

As governments globally grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic, the PISA data suggests that addressing structural challenges in education systems is crucial.

Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD, cautioned against over-reliance on rankings, emphasising the need to focus on understanding how systems work to drive meaningful policy changes.