Singapore students rank first in 'global competencies': Pisa study

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore students rank highly when it comes to “global competencies” needed to live in an interconnected and changing world, according to the results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

Based on their mean scores, they came out tops, beating second-placed Canada, with Hong Kong, Scotland and Taiwan rounding up the Top 5.

The findings from a segment of the 2018 Pisa were officially released on Thursday (22 October).

Pisa is a study conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It assesses the ability of 15-year-old students across different countries and territories to apply knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science; and to analyse, reason and communicate effectively with their similarly-aged peers around the world.

Pisa defined global competence as a multidimensional capacity that encompasses the ability to: 1) examine issues of local, global and cultural significance; 2) understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others; 3) engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions across cultures; and 4) take action for collective well-being and sustainable development.

Students from a total of 66 education systems answered questionnaire items relating to global competence.

A random sample of 6,676 students from Singapore – representative of different socioeconomic strata, ethnicity and performance levels, among others – took part in the 2018 study. All 153 public secondary schools and 13 private schools were involved.

Globally competent

Among other findings, Singapore students know how to communicate clearly with people of other cultures.

When speaking to someone who doesn’t understand their language well, 93 per cent of participants said they would try to get around the problem by carefully observing the person’s reactions to understand them better, compared with the OECD average of 82 per cent.

Meanwhile, 92 per cent of Singaporean students said they would use ways such as gesturing, re-explaining or writing to get their point across, compared with the OECD average of 85 per cent.

Singapore students also have a strong belief that they can positively influence their own lives and the world around them, and that they can act responsibly to effect change.

About 81 per cent of students said they feel a sense of responsibility to do something when they see the poor conditions that some people in the world live in, compared with the OECD average of 67 per cent.

Meanwhile, 71 per cent of students said they believe they can do something about the problems of the world, compared with the OECD average of 57 per cent.

Singapore students also tend to keep themselves informed about world events (74 per cent, compared with OECD average of 64 per cent); and expressed a willingness to act for collective well-being, such as reducing the energy they use at home to protect the environment (83 per cent, compared with OECD average of 71 per cent).

More than 80 per cent of Singapore students are confident in explaining issues related to climate change, such as “how carbon-dioxide emissions affect global climate change”, compared with the OECD average of 63 per cent.

But Singapore students performed poorer than their OECD peers in “self-perceived cognitive adaptability”, which is defined as the ability to adapt one’s thinking and behaviour to the prevailing cultural environment or novel situations that might present new challenges.

Only half said they are able to deal with unusual situations, compared with the OECD average of 59 per cent.

As cognitive adaptability is positively associated with students’ resilience, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a press release on the findings on Thursday that it will “continue to help our students strengthen their cognitive adaptability and develop greater confidence when facing new challenges through various learning experiences across subjects and school programmes”.

MOE said it developed a 21st Century Competency framework in 2010 “that articulates the 21st century knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that are important for all students to develop, such as civic literacy, global awareness and cross-cultural skills as well as the values of respect, responsibility, care and harmony”.

Deputy Director-General of Education (Curriculum), Sng Chern Wei, said, “Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, with its worldwide ramifications, have underscored the continued relevance of global competence.

“We are heartened that our students are well-equipped with strong intercultural skills, good awareness of global issues and the ability to appreciate different perspectives, to help them navigate our interconnected, diverse and rapidly-changing world.

“We must continue to nurture such competencies in our students, so that they are empowered to participate constructively as responsible members of the local and global community.”

More information on Pisa 2018 can be obtained online at

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