Pisa results show large gap in literacy between Finnish boys and girls

This survey shows Finnish students are still some of the best in the world when it comes to reading, maths and science but there is work to be done to maintain the scores.

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File photo of tables & chairs in a classroom / Credit: iStock

The OECD’s three-yearly look at how well 15-year olds are doing in maths, reading and science has been published on Tuesday and it shows some worrying trends for Finland.

The Pisa tests – which stands for Programme for International Student Assessment – for 2018 measured dozens of countries that are in the OECD and some other countries like Russia, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates; as well as several cities in China, and some Indian states.

Students in Finland scored higher than the OECD average in reading, maths and science – but the gender gap in reading in particular “was one of the widest across all PISA 2018 participating countries/economies” says the official report.

Pisa tests were launched in 2000, and by 2006 Finland was riding on top of the statistics, something that was used by politicians and diplomats alike to showcase the country’s education system. But since then Finland has slipped down the rankings while other countries – especially Estonia, where there’s a Finnish-style education system – did better and better, and eventually overtook Finland in some areas.

Reading skills 

This year’s Pisa results, which had a particular focus on literacy, show Finnish teens’ reading skills are ranked sixth overall. That’s among the best in Europe and the same as countries like Ireland and Canada, but falls behind neighbouring Estonia, four Chinese provinces (which are counted together), Singapore, Macao and Hong Kong.

However, there’s one of the widest gaps of any OECD country between the reading skills of boys and girls – with the girls having literacy skills about two years ahead of boys.

Eighty-six percent of students attained a level 2 proficiency in reading which is significantly higher than the OECD average of 77%.

Maths & science skills 

Finland also falls behind Estonia when it comes to maths, and is ranked 16th on this latest survey results, but a trend of falling scores in this category in recent years seems to have leveled off.

Finnish students are ranked behind Denmark, Poland, Japan, Taiwan, all four Chinese provinces, Canada, Netherlands and Slovenia.

When it comes to science, Finland is doing better at sixth place on the new Pisa rankings. That’s still behind Estonia, but ahead of South Korea, UK, USA, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Comments from education leaders 

Education Minister Li Andersson (Left) noted the decline in learning outcomes had eased off in this latest survey but voiced her concerns about how income impacts learning.

“The concern is instead that the disparities between students continue to widen and that socio-economic background influences learning outcomes more than before” she says.

Andersson adds that this problem for poorer students needs to be addressed by “investing in support for learning and promoting literacy.”

The Trade Union of Education in Finland OAJ says the results are broadly similar to the last survey three years ago but there are problems on the horizon.

“The skills of Finnish children are still among the best in the world, but the trend is still declining and no clear change for the better can be seen” the union says.