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Japanese Students Move Up PISA Rankings; Now 3rd in Reading; Shorter School Closures in Pandemic May Be a Factor

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry

Japanese students ranked third, their highest level ever, in reading literacy in a global academic achievement survey for 2022, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a report released on Tuesday.

The survey by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) covered about 690,000 15-year-old students from 81 countries and regions.

In reading literacy, Japanese students improved their rank significantly from 15th in the previous survey in 2018 to third this time.

They also ranked second in science literacy and fifth in mathematic literacy, improving on their previous high rankings in those two categories.

The implementation of curriculum guidelines that emphasize the development of thinking skills and Japan’s shorter period of pandemic-related school closures, compared to other participating countries, are believed to have contributed to Japan’s good results.

The PISA survey was postponed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic and was conducted in Japan from June to August last year. About 6,000 first-year high school students from 183 randomly selected schools nationwide participated in the survey.

Japan’s average score for reading literacy was 516 points, up 12 points from the previous survey. The percentage of Japanese students in the lowest level (less than 408 points) of six levels was 13.8%, down 3.1 percentage points from the previous survey, increasing the average score.

Japan’s average score for mathematic literacy was 536 points, up from 527 points and the sixth rank in the previous survey. That of science literacy was 547 points, up from 529 points and the fifth rank in the previous survey.

China (students from Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang), which ranked first in the three areas in the previous survey, did not participate in the 2022 survey due to the pandemic, while Russia and Belarus were not given the right to take part in the survey. This time, Singapore dominated first place in all three areas.

Japan’s reading literacy ranked eighth in 2015, and dropped to 15th in 2018. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry believes that the recent improvement may be due to progress in improving classes at schools, as the curriculum guidelines for elementary, junior high and high schools implemented from the 2020 school year aim to foster the ability to think and express oneself.

At the same time, the OECD points out that Japan’s shorter school closure period due to the pandemic compared to other countries had an impact on the results.

In this survey, the first conducted since the global COVID-19 pandemic, worldwide average score in each of the three areas was lower than in the previous survey. The average scores tended to be better in countries and regions with shorter school closure periods, according to the report.

In addition, as a computer method was introduced in the PISA survey in 2015, test takers’ unfamiliarity with the operations of information and communication technology was considered to be one reason for these lower scores.

The ministry asserts that Japan’s scores have improved with the deployment of one learning terminal for each student.