Macao-China: High-performing and fast-improving basic education system according to PISA 2018

Press Conference

On 3rd December 2019, the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2018 results organized by OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) are released by all participating economies at the same time. Three results are especially commendable. First, amongst the 79 countries/economies participated, Macao’s 15-year-old students ranked third in all the three core literacies assessed, i.e. reading, mathematics and science. Since its first participation in 2003, this is the best results that Macao ever attained amongst past cycles of PISA assessment. Second, percentage of 15-year-olds reaching baseline level in all the three core literacies assessed ranked second in the world. Last, but not the least, OECD pointed out that Macao is the only basic education system amongst participating countries/economies exhibiting not only high academic quality but also fast educational progress over the years in the past decade.

PISA, an international research programme hosted by OECD, seeks to assess 15-year-old students around the world their preparedness to meet the opportunities and challenges in everyday life. PISA’s assessment cycle is triennial, and its assessment foci are on the core competencies and literacies possessed by contemporary citizens in three assessment domains, i.e. reading, mathematics and science. Amongst these three domains reading is the major domain whereas the other two are minor ones.

Around the world more than 600 thousand secondary students from the 37 OECD member and 42 partner countries/economies participated in PISA 2018. Apart from examining the extent of mastery of competencies by the 15-year-old students for full participation in the society, PISA 2018 also collected information pertaining to reading and learning (e.g. context and background data about student, teacher, school, parent and family).

  1. Overall Performance

Macao-China 15-year-old students’ performance in the three core literacies (i.e. reading 525, mathematics 558 and science 544) are significantly above the mean level of the OECD countries. It ranks third in the performance league table and is only lower than China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang) and Singapore.

Table 1: The mean reading, mathematics and science literacy performance of the top-15 countries/economies in PISA 2018

Note: “B-S-J-Z” stands for “Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Zhejiang). These four places are cities or provinces of China sampled in PISA 2018.

  1. Trend of the grade distribution of sampled students

Macao-PISA 2018 has examined the effectiveness of basic education of all of Macao’s 15-year-old students who were born in 2002. The two modal grades are Form 3 (Grade 9) and Form 4 (Grade 10). The percentage of sampled students studying in these two grades is 88% of the total sample. The data shown reveals that Macao is successful to reduce the rate of grade repetition of students studied at the basic education level.

Figure 1: Trend of the grade studied for Macao’s 15-year-old students (PISA 2003 to PISA 2018)

  1. Performance of the three literacies

PISA 2018 reading literacy assessment focuses on the processing of information of different texts encountered in everyday life, as well as inside and outside classroom. There are three levels of the reading processes: (1) locating information, (2) understanding, (3) evaluating and reflecting. Macao’s performance scores for the above-mentioned three literacies are 529, 529 and 534 respectively. Compared with 2009, amongst the three literacies, Macao’s performance in “evaluating and reflecting” is worthy of commendation, as in 2018 there is a growth of 53 score points. Additionally, Macao students’ performance in “single” and “multiple” texts are comparable, and the scores respectively are 529 and 530.

In the combined reading literacy scale, close to 90% of the Macao students reach baseline level (i.e. level 2). Of note is that there is a growth in the percentage of students studying at medium or above levels, and there is a decline of the number of low-performing students. Nevertheless, there is a total of an increase of 14% of high-performing students (i.e. level 5 or 6).

Mathematics is a minor domain in PISA 2018 literacy assessment. Macao’s 15-year-olds maintain abreast of other countries/economies in mathematics performance internationally. On average one out of four students is high-performing, whereas it is one out of ten in the OECD countries. Additionally, 23.5% of sampled students of the OECD countries have not reached baseline level, and it is only 5% for the students in the Macao sample.

Science is also a minor domain in PISA 2018 literacy assessment. Same as that of the reading and mathematics literacy assessment, apart from China (B-S-J-Z), Macao has the greatest percentage of students reaching baseline level. At the low-performance end there has been a decrease to 6%. However, at the high-performance end there is a big increase to 13.6%, which is double of that in the OECD countries, suggesting that these students are able to solve science problems of the highest order, as well as to think like scientists during problem-solving.

  1. Gender differences

Macao females outperformed males in reading literacy (male 514, female 536). From PISA 2009 to 2018 gender difference favoring females has been drastically narrowed from 34 to 22 score points. Because males have improved a lot in reading literacy their mathematics and science performance have also been improved, possibly due to their correct understanding and evaluation of the problems posed to them. In 2018, Macao males revert the inferior trend and are now at par or even begin to out-perform the females in mathematics and science literacies. Comparing the assessment results with PISA 2015 three years ago, the progress in mathematics literacy for males is 2.5 times of that of the females. At the high-end of the mathematics literacy continuum, close to 30% of Macao’s males are high-performing. Likewise, comparing the assessment results with PISA 2015 three years ago, the progress in science literacy for males is 1.4 times of that of the females. At the high-performance end 14.6% of males and 12.7% of the females are high-performing. Despite the progress of Macao’s females is inferior to that of the males, Macao females still out-perform their counterparts as well as the males in the 76 countries/economies participating in PISA 2018.

  1. Educational equity

Same as the past five cycles of PISA assessment, percentage of literacy variance explained by socio-economic status of the home of sampled students for Macao is the lowest amongst participating countries/economies. Other indicators of educational equity includes: (1) the slope of the socio-economic gradients of the three core literacies are small in magnitude; (2) the percentage of resilient students in the student population is large; (3) the between-student variance of the three core literacies are smaller than most other countries/economies. Hence, PISA 2018 results show that Macao’s basic education system continues to provide students education which is not only of very high quality but also equity.

  1. Conclusion

Macao’s brilliant achievement is not possible if not for the unfailing support of the nation, Macao SAR, as well as the schools. That the percentage of medium- and high-performing student increases continuously in the past years indicates that Macao’s basic education system has built successfully a very strong foundation for student learning and fostered in students valuable higher-order thinking skills used in everyday life. The progress as revealed in the PISA assessment reflects that the policies promoted by educational practitioners and the Macao government bear fruits and attain effectiveness. Such policies, amongst others, include higher level of education provision and instructional support, establishment of remedial and enrichment programs, setting up platforms nourishing inner potentials, promotion of student well-being and creative thinking, fostering of reading and learning skills, etc. Many Macao teachers form professional learning communities to enhance exchanges and learning opportunities. At the same time, Macao’s teacher preparation institutes seeks to increase practicing teachers’ self-efficacy, particularly in helping students to learn to read in the early years. These are some examples that have positive influences in the development of a quality basic education system in Macao.

Figure 2: Trend of Macao students’ literacy performance (PISA 2003 to PISA 2008)

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