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Student comparison PISA survey: young Swiss are the best at maths in Europe

Swiss officials are unhappy with the new PISA methodology but say the triennial survey is the only way for Switzerland to make an international comparison of students’ skills

(Keystone)

Swiss teenagers are the best in Europe at mathematics, according to an international survey. They are also strong at science and reading. However, Swiss education officials are unhappy with the ranking’s new methodology.

Switzerland’s results for maths, science and reading were stable compared with previous years with only small changes, according to the 2015 “Programme for International Student Assessment” (PISA) external linkpublished on Tuesday by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In all, 6,600 Swiss 15-year-olds took part in the survey, out of a total of 550,000 15-year-olds from 72 countries.

The Swiss youngsters were ranked best for maths in Europe in 2015, just ahead of Estonia, but eighth worldwide. The top three were Singapore, China and Japan.

In science, the main focus of the latest PISA study, the Swiss were ranked above the OECD average, at a level comparable to Germany. Neighbours Italy, France and Austria had considerably lower scores for this subject.

For reading, the Swiss scored average marks, similar to Austria, France and Italy. German teenagers were much better readers, according to the survey.

In general, Singapore outperformed the rest of the world.

Questions on methodology

Launched in 2000, the PISA survey is carried out every three years. But this year Swiss education officials have complained about changes to the methodology. For the first time students completed the assessments online rather than via handwritten tests.

In a statementexternal link, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) said this “radical change” raised numerous questions, in particular about whether earlier assessments are comparable with the new figures.

“We can reasonably expect differences depending on whether a test is carried out on paper or on a computer,” it said, while questioning whether the Swiss sample was truly representative.

“The PISA programme is currently the only way for Switzerland to make an international comparison of students’ skills,” SERI said. “The data provided are important for the national monitoring of education. It is therefore regrettable that we don’t have data which are sufficiently reliable for PISA 2015.”

Consequently, the Conference of Cantonal Education Directors and SERI announced they would not make a detailed presentation and analysis of the Swiss results. 

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