PISA Survey: Educators Must Work to Nurture Kids’ Thinking Abilities

It has been shown that the academic achievement of Japanese children is recovering to an internationally high level. Rather than resting on its good results, Japan must put more effort into fostering children’s ability to think for themselves.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, which was conducted last year. It was the first such survey in four years, and about 690,000 15-year-olds from 81 countries and regions participated. In Japan, about 6,000 first-year high school students and others took the test.

Japan’s average scores in the survey’s three areas moved up in rank. In “mathematics,” Japan’s average score ranked fifth, up from sixth in the previous survey. In “reading,” it was third, up from 15th. And in “science,” it was second, up from fifth.

The average scores in the three areas also increased. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has praised Japan’s scores as being at the “world’s top level in all three areas.” There had been a noticeable decline in reading and other areas in recent years, so this is good news.

The OECD believes these results were due to Japan having had a shorter period of school closures than other countries following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

As additional contributing factors, the education ministry also points to the implementation of the new curriculum guidelines, which emphasize the ability to think and express oneself. There is also the establishment of an information technology environment in schools that fostered Japanese students’ familiarity with computer-based examinations such as this one.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, teachers in the field strove to secure as many face-to-face learning opportunities as possible. Their efforts may have been reflected in the results.

It is also worth mentioning that the percentage of children in the lowest-scoring bracket has decreased. Many children in that bracket are said to be disadvantaged in terms of family and economic circumstances. If detailed guidance and support provided by local governments and schools is bearing fruit, it is a welcome development.

However, those involved in education for children cannot simply be complacent with the latest results. Academic achievement as a whole is improving, but scores in reading, an area that is still a concern for Japan, have not reached the high level of 10 years ago. It is necessary to analyze the results in detail and continue to work on overcoming the weak points.

In this survey, it has been confirmed that the more time students spend on social media and electronic games, the lower their average scores tend to be. Although the percentage of children in Japan who do this for more than three hours was lower than the OECD average, there is a need to pay attention to children so that they do not become heavily dependent on electronic devices.

Today’s children, when they do not understand something, immediately try to find the answer on their smartphones. As artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent in the future, there are concerns that this tendency to “not think” could become even stronger.

To develop the ability to think for oneself, it is important for children to broaden their world through repeated experiences of reading books. To be able to express their own thoughts and opinions logically, it is also essential to remember the importance of “handwriting” — by actually writing sentences by hand.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 6, 2023)