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What PISA 2012 suggests

Kenichi Arai, Chairperson of CRET



The results of the PISA 2012 conducted by OECD have been announced. Among OECD member countries, Japan was ranked second in the category of mathematical literacy and first in comprehension and scientific literacy. This showed its ranking has returned to the record level demonstrated after PISA 2003, in which Japan showed disappointing results that caused the so-called "PISA Shock." Including non-members, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries occupied higher ranks. In addition, computer-oriented assessments were also conducted for digital mathematical literacy and digital comprehension, whose higher ranks were occupied by the same countries. Finland, which is said to boast the highest levels of academic ability, ranked similarly to Japan in comprehension and scientific literacy categories, but this time a little lower for mathematical literacy.


Regarding the mastery levels of Japanese students, the ratio of Level 1 and below decreased to the same level as PISA 2000, while the ratio of Level 5 and higher recorded the highest in the past. The average no-answer ratio is almost the same as the OECD average, but over time it has been decreasing gradually. In the background of such academic recovery, there is a system that guarantees highly standardized education throughout Japan through curriculum guidelines, school textbooks, and highly qualified teachers. While people concerned about the declining trend of students' academic ability, in the previous year the PISA Shock occurred, which was 2002, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced "Recommendation of Learning," an approach to improve Japanese students' academic ability. For further improvement, the MEXT continued to take measures to bring about these achievements, such as the one for linguistic ability and national achievement examinations, which were carried out within the Japanese educational system. In addition, Japan is also superior in securing the fairness of educational opportunities. I think these excellent points should be kept inherited in our country.


However, we also face some challenges. The levels of the following were improved: interest in learning and awareness that learning is important for the future. Still, they remain much lower than the OECD average. The figures are particularly low for the question, "I enjoy reading about mathematics," which was 17%, and "I am interested in the things I learn in mathematics," which was 38%. In addition, the ratios of students recognizing math’s social utility, saying, "Making an effort in mathematics is worth it because it will help me in the work that I want to do later on" and "Learning mathematics is worthwhile for me because it will improve my career prospects" were the lowest among the surveyed countries. Further, PISA asked students to self-evaluate how much effort they made to answer the test and the result of the Japanese students was again the lowest among the surveyed countries. This shows a continuous trend that our students achieve high scores but have low motivation, leaving us some concerns: Does this make our students passive learners and thus losers in the era of life-long learning? Are they still able to become adults who can get involved actively in society? Some argue there could be Japanese characteristics of modesty behind this survey result. However, humble actions will not be accepted in the global era. Instead of counting only on curriculum guidelines and school textbooks, we need to help students understand the utility of learning and draw out their subjective learning through our efforts to connect classroom lectures with reality and to design class lessons that make students think subjectively. We have to link our high-level education to students’ practices in future society.

(December 10, 2013)

Kenichi Arai

Chairperson, Center for Research on Educational Testing / Chairperson, Board of Directors, Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute

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Areas of Reasearch in CRET

This laboratory conducts research on test evaluation and analysis. We also perform joint research and exchange programs with overseas testing research institutes.

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This laboratory conducts research and development into testing approaches that measure communication skills, teamwork skills, and social skills, etc.

Dr. Atsushi Aikawa

Faculty of Human Sciences,
University of Tsukuba
Ph.D. in Psychology

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This laboratory conducts research on the foundation of computer-based testing, and basic research on media and recognition, as well as applied and practical research
that utilize such knowledge.

Dr. Kanji Akahori

Professor Emeritus of
Tokyo Institute of

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