Science rocks

Finland took the number one spot in the OECD’s PISA 2006 survey, a comprehensive and much-quoted international yardstick of secondary school student performance.
Finland was followed by Hong Kong- China, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Japan and New Zealand. Australia, the Netherlands, Korea, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Ireland also scored above the OECD average. Mexico finished last among OECD countries.After focusing on reading skills in 2000 and on mathematics in 2003–Finland was among the brightest on these occasions, too–PISA 2006 updates these tests, and turns its attention to science. It examined more than 400,000 15-yearold students in 57 countries (together making up some 90% of world GDP) on both their general scientific knowledge and their ability to apply that knowledge to everyday problems and challenges. The tests involved questions on a wide range of topics, from greenhouse gases to the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. Take this question:The temperature in the Grand Canyon ranges from below 0o C to over 40o C. Although it is a desert area, cracks in the rocks sometimes contain water. How do these temperature changes and the water in rock cracks help to speed up the breakdown of rocks? A. Freezing water dissolves warm rocks. B. Water cements rocks together. C. Ice smoothes the surface of rocks. D. Freezing water expands in the rock cracks.While 67.6% of students got the correct answer (which is D), the future of science is nonetheless a matter of some concern in many countries. Although 93% of students acknowledged the importance of science, only 37% saw it as a potential career (see our book review, page 38). Students who performed better in science showed greater awareness of environmental issues, but were also more pessimistic, with fewer than one in six believing that problems such as air pollution and nuclear waste disposal would improve over the next 20 years.In Australia, Canada, Finland, Japan and New Zealand, at least one in seven students reached the top two levels of scientific literacy. In Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, in contrast, the proportion was lower than one in 20.As for reading tests, the five countries which scored highest were Korea, in first place, followed by Finland, Hong Kong-China, Canada and Ireland. In maths, Finland once again occupies top spot, followed by Korea, Hong Kong- China, Azerbaijan and Canada. Based on this, the overall pattern is hardly a surprise, with Finland, Hong Kong- China and Canada coming in the top five on all three tests. Although several countries have improved their rankings since 2000, there has been little progress on PISA test results for the OECD as a whole. Yet, expenditure on education in OECD countries has risen by 39% on average between 1995 and 2004.Students who scored well on PISA tended to come from wealthier socioeconomic backgrounds. At the same time, higher GDP per head did not deliver best performances in some countries. The survey found that students in schools with high levels of autonomy, accountability and competition also fared better than the average, regardless of background. Higher spending per student is a key part of the mix, though the highest spenders were not necessarily among the best performers. On the other hand, Mexico, one of the OECD’s least wealthy member countries, finished last among OECD countries in all three tests. DKOrder the report at See©OECD Observer No. 263, October 2007

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019