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PISA 2015: Finnish youth still at the top despite the drop

Ministry of Education and Culture
Publication date 6.12.2016 12.00 | Published in English on 7.12.2016 at 15.34
Press release

The focus in the OECD’s PISA 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment was on scientific literacy. In the triennial survey, Finnish 15-year-olds ranked in third place among the OECD countries in scientific literacy. Finnish students were still among the best in reading literacy, and mathematical literacy has remained unchanged. There is a lack of enthusiasm for science, however, and this is reflected in a drop in score points.

The mean score points (531) in scientific literacy placed Finnish 15-year-olds in third place among the OECD countries. Japan’s score points (538) were higher than the rest of the OECD countries. The difference in the score points of Finland, Estonia and Canada (528) was not statistically significant.
Singapore (556), Japan, Estonia and Taiwan (532) ranked higher than Finland among all the participating countries and economies. The score points of all these countries and economies were substantially higher than the average for the OECD countries.

Finland’s average score in scientific literacy has dropped by 32 score points relative to 2006, when the focus was last on science performance. The drop amounts to nearly one full academic year’s performance. The PISA assessment shows that every year the basic skills in scientific literacy of over 6,000 students in Finland are inadequate. This increases the risk of coping with further studies and with the demands of modern working life.

Reading and mathematics

Finnish students were still among the best in reading literacy. The level of proficiency in reading was by far the best in Singapore, where the average score points of students were 535, followed by a group of fairly equal proficiency consisting of Hong Kong (527), Canada (527), Finland (526) and Ireland (521). The best performer among Finland’s neighbouring countries was Estonia, which came in sixth place, close behind the best five countries. Finnish students were the second best among the OECD countries, and when all the countries and economies are included, Finland came in fourth place. Finland’s reading literacy score was two points better than in the previous survey.

Mathematical literacy has remained unchanged in Finland, ranking in shared seventh place among the OECD countries together with Denmark. Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Estonia, Canada and the Netherlands ranked higher. Finland was in thirteenth place among all the participating countries and economies. In 2013 Finland came sixth among the OECD countries and twelfth among all the participating countries and economies.

-The PISA 2015 scores send an ambivalent message. On one hand, Finland is still a top-ranking country in education. The decrease in learning outcomes, observed already for the past ten years, has levelled off in reading literacy and slowed down in mathematical literacy. The differences between the Finnish schools are still minimal. On the other hand, the scores raise concern for equality in education, especially for the situation with boys. The influence of the socio-economic background on the learning outcomes has grown. We must consider which of the changes occurring in our schools or society have led to the situation where so many boys are not interested in the learning model applied. The scores indicate that the comprehensive school is in urgent need of reforms, as too many pupils are already lacking motivation. The reforms that have already been launched, such as the new core curricula and the continuing education of teachers, are very much needed, says Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen.

Lack of enthusiasm for science

The survey shows that the number of poor performers in science is growing and the number of top performers is declining, especially among boys, and regional equity is deteriorating.

-The number of students who perform poorly in science has nearly trebled and the number of top performers has dropped by nearly one third. Altogether 65 per cent of students who performed poorly in science also did poorly in mathematics and reading. Of these, two thirds are boys, observes University Researcher Jouni Vettenranta.

The gap in performance between the genders is growing and was the biggest among the OECD countries – 19 score points in favour of girls. Relative to all the participating countries and economies, Finnish girls were second best after girls in Singapore. In the comparisons among boys, Finnish boys came in tenth place. Finland was the only country where majority of the top performers were girls. The decline in the performance of boys further increases the gender gap to the advantage of girls.

Differences between schools are still minimal in Finland relative to the participating countries and economies, but regional differences in Finland are greater than ever before. The outcomes of students in metropolitan Helsinki were substantially higher than in the rest of the country, especially relative to western and eastern Finland.

Motivation to study science, valuing of science and degree of confidence in scientific knowledge were substantially below the OECD average in Finland or at best in the same range as the OECD average. However, there is a strong connection between factors related to motivation and attitudes and scientific literacy.

-In Finland, motivation plays a part in student performance whereas in the OECD countries socio-economic background had the greatest effect. Motivation and knowledge form a self-perpetuating cycle, where motivation improves knowledge and knowledge fuels motivation. This is a cycle that should be achieved as early as possible, says Professor Jouni Välijärvi.

-I still have a strong belief in our educational system. We must be able to keep the strengths that exist in our system, such equal learning opportunities, highly educated teachers, responsibility and freedom devolved to the local level, support in learning, and multi-professional cooperation. We also need to focus on ways to engage, activate and motivate students so that every child and youth can find their own strengths at school, says Minister of Education and Culture Grahn-Laasonen.

Altogether 73 countries and economies took part in PISA 2015

PISA 2015 is the sixth survey in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) produced through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
PISA is a triennial survey which has been carried out since 2000, assessing learning outcomes in reading and mathematical and scientific literacy. The focus in the assessment rotates every assessment year. In 2006 and 2015 the focus was on scientific literacy. The focus area is assessed in detail while the other areas are looked at more briefly, mainly from the viewpoint of general developments in learning outcomes.

The PISA 2015 survey in Finland was carried out by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research and the Helsinki University Centre for Educational Assessment Consortium.

Reform of the comprehensive school is a government key project

The new core curricula for the comprehensive school were introduced in grades 1-6 in August 2016. The new curricula for grades 7-9 will be introduced in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The new core curricula steers children and youths to assume more responsibility for their schoolwork and every student will be supported in their studies. The goal is to develop the learning environment and working methods of the comprehensive school so that they inspire learning. The pupils set goals, solve problems and assess their learning based on the set goals. The objective of the new curriculum is to increase the pupils’ motivation towards studying, to develop learning-to-learn skills, thinking skills and team work skills.

The government key project New Comprehensive School supports the reform of the comprehensive school in 2016-2019. As part of the project, every comprehensive school is granted a tutor to guide other teachers, to support the realisation of new pedagogy, and to promote and advance the digitalisation of teaching. A trial centre will be established under the Finnish National Board of Education to coordinate world-class trials based on the most recent research data. The development and support of the basic and continuing education of teachers is also a part of the New Comprehensive School key project. For this purpose, the Teacher Education Forum has drawn up a development programme for teacher education in extensive cooperation with stakeholders. The programme was published on 13 October 2016. A total of EUR 90 million will be spent for the implementation of the project New Comprehensive School during this government term.

As part of the reform of the comprehensive school, Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen has invited all political parties in the Parliament to attend a parliamentary working group of the comprehensive school forum to draw up theses for the future comprehensive school. The forum and the working group will carry out their work during the centenary year of Finland's independence. The theses will be published in August 2017 in the beginning of the school year.

The Schools on the Move programme is another part of the Government's key project for reforming the comprehensive school. The objective of the programme is to encourage every child and young person to engage in physical activity for at least one hour a day. Exercising during the school day increases the pupils’ school satisfaction, and the integration of physical exercise into the contents of different subjects brings variety to the teaching methods. A total of EUR 21 million has been allocated to the implementation of the Schools on the Move programme for 2016-2018.

A national development programme LUMA Finland has been launched to support children's and youths’ competence in mathematics and natural sciences. The programme will be introduced all over the country in the beginning of 2017. The programme supports inquiry-based learning in natural sciences, mathematics and technology education all the way from early childhood education and care to the final grade of the comprehensive school. A total of EUR 5 million have been reserved for the implementation of the programme in 2014-2019.

The Government will also implement a programme for developing multiliteracy in early childhood education and care, pre-primary education and primary education. The aim is to enhance children's multiliteracy skills in connection with the instruction of all subjects so that children's everyday language skills are developed into proficiency in the language used in the different fields of knowledge. The programme will be carried out in 2016-2018 following competitive tendering.


Finnish Institute for Educational Research:
- Professor Jouni Välijärvi, National coordinator for PISA, tel. +358 50 567 7210
- University Researcher Jouni Vettenranta (science), tel. +358 40 805 4285

Ministry of Education and Culture:
- Tommi Karjalainen, Counsellor of Education, tel. +358 295 3 30140
- Eeva-Riitta Pirhonen, Director General, tel. +358 295 3 30258
- Heikki Kuutti Uusitalo, Special Adviser, tel. +358 50 302 8246

PISA 2015