Sunday, March 20, 2011

Qatar and the PISA test

Less than a week ago Qatar held a ceremony to recognize the schools that did the best on the recent PISA test. That in and of itself was nice as it publicly announced those schools whose students did well on the test but even more impressively at the website for the Supreme Council of Education they actually reported the scores that those schools had on the test.

So before we take a look at that lets recap some of the scores from the PISA results:

Shanghai 556
Korea 539
Finland 536
Hong Kong 533
United States 500
OECD average 493
Qatar 372

Shanghai 600
Singapore 562
Hong Kong 555
Korea 546
OECD average 496
United States 487
Qatar 368

Shanghai 575
Finland 554
Hong Kong 549
Singapore 542
United States 502
OECD average 501
Qatar 379

Ready for how some of the local schools did?

In first place was Al-Khur International School (Indian stream, they also have a British stream)
Reading 603.77, Mathematics 591.73, Science 565.98

Take a look at those scores again, and compare them to the country averages.

Wow!! Those are some very impressive scores! The reading score absolutely destroyed any country average.

The reading and math score was what propelled the school to the top of the Qatar chart, believe it or not despite their great science score there were a few schools that scored better than they did in science with the best of them, Birla Public-School, scoring 586.

Ultimately 14 schools in Qatar had scores that exceeded the OECD average, for which they were honored in the ceremony. Another 16 schools were also given certificates for high achievement. A number of the schools in the top 14 were Indian or South Asian. I wish that India and other countries in that region would also sign up to do the PISA test as it would be interesting to see what the overall country scores in that region would be.

It is great that the Supreme Council for Education is really embracing the PISA test and not trying to hide what are clearly difficult results in terms of country average. Hopefully they will continue to implement reforms in order to improve education for students.

Now for the tough question: according to the article students in 153 schools were tested and the average for all categories was in the 360 to 380 range, which is a pretty poor score (search for PISA on this blog to get an idea of what countries were below that score). If Qatar has a number of schools that perform really well on this test, what does that say about the state of education in many of the other schools who participated? By the time you got to the 30th school the scores were still in the mid-400 range yet the average was a lot lower. This means there are a lot of schools who likely scored in the high 200s-low 300s, and if the SCE is not asking what the heck kids in those schools are learning during their time there -- they should. Children are either:

1) Not be getting an adequate education; or
2) there is some significant external factors affecting the scores (language difficulties?)

In either event a thorough investigation is needed.

No, I don't want to hear any excuses about how some of them are religious schools that focus on Islam, that does not excuse abysmal scores in reading and mathematics, especially reading. In fact one would think a religious school would score pretty high in reading given the focus on the Qur’an, Sunnahs and Hadiths. No, those schools are in need of significant reform of some sort and I hope the SCE are looking at these schools carefully.

In my next blog post we will compare how Qatar has scored in the 2009 test with the previous tests that it wrote to see if there have been any improvements. I recall a couple of comments on this blog pointing out that Qatar had improved, but had it improved significantly compared to its peers?

For the article and the list of schools please go to the link below:


Student 16y/o said...

a reason why "other" schools got a lower mark is that student do not care about the English language and so they did not do so great in reading. Quraan and hadeeth are in Arabic.

Glen McKay said...

It is an interesting point by why then did the UAE do so much better than Qatar? (see post of January 1, 2012)

Student said...

Because UAE has more "Indian" schools! And teaching systems differ.

Anonymous said...

The Indian stream schools seem good only because there are too few Chinese there. You can take a look this document:

Anonymous said...

Using the utmost top school to compare with other countries common average look not a good comparison. Can we have other countries' top school performance here for comparison? The number of students together with the percentage of students who can attain this level is also an important indicator for comparison.

Mohanad Memo said...

I liked your article, and I want to ask one question, if Qatar's schools have improved indeed, why they still in the bottom of the rank table? From educational point of view, I believe that PISA test is not necessary a real test for educational improvement, it might help to figure out how countries perform in one national test, but it ignores other important elements such as language and culture. For examples, many phrases in English don't mean the same in Arabic culture and it might confused students because it is not their first language.

Glen McKay said...

Qatar is still low but not at the bottom. Qatar's scores have improved compared to 2009 and 2006 while scores in most countries stayed relatively flat, so while Qatar has started from a low position it has improved, but there is a long way to go.

Language and culture are likely not the main reason. Most countries taking the test are not English-speaking countries and the top countries are places like China, Korea, Finland and Japan. Similarly other Muslim countries also perform better than Qatar (and many students in Qatar are not Qatari but instead from countries all over the world).