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Pisa to test skills more relevant to changing world

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Singapore's educators deserve applause for the Republic's showing in the latest international benchmarking tests conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Singapore's 15-year-olds took top placing, outperfoming their peers in 71 other countries and economies in using science, mathematics and reading skills to solve problems.

It shows that indeed, the deliberate curricular shifts we made over the years to emphasise higher-order critical thinking skills have worked in moving our students beyond mastering content knowledge to become problem solvers.

Beyond this, we need to look out for Singapore's placing in another Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which will be out by the middle of next year.

Besides assessing the students' strengths in mathematics, science and reading, Pisa also assessed them on an important 21st-century skill - collaborative problem solving.

It was part of the move in recent years by the OECD to broaden the test to measure the other skills that are becoming increasingly crucial to thrive in the workplace.

To assess collaborative problem solving, students were asked to solve a problem by working with a partner. In this case, the problem was in a software program.

The students had to use their interpersonal and communication skills to engage the program, and pool knowledge and skills to complete a task.

As the OECD explained, the ability to collaborate is a vital skill as much of the problem-solving work done in the world today is performed by teams in an increasingly global and computerised economy.

A University of Phoenix Research Institute study also identified virtual collaboration as one of 10 key skills for the future workforce. The OECD is looking at testing other skills as well.

The next round of Pisa tests, which will be in 2018, is likely to include a new measurement of global competence. It will look at how well students can navigate an increasingly diverse world and their awareness of different cultures and beliefs.

Broadly defined as the ability to critically analyse global and intercultural issues to aid social cohesion, global competence is a game-changer, according to Dr Andreas Schleicher, OECD's education and skills director who oversees Pisa.


Writing earlier this year, Dr Schleicher said that increasingly, schools also have to ensure that children develop "the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world".

To assess global competence, students will be tested on their comprehension of a range of global and intercultural issues such as the environment, poverty, economic integration, inequalities, and migration.

The students will be asked how much they know about these topics. They will then be given some source material to exercise their critical and analytical skills - for example, opinions on whether the sources are reliable.

When asked how the OECD picks which skills to test, Dr Schleicher said the people who design the test look carefully at the evolution of skills demanded in our societies.

As he noted, many of the skills that schools have traditionally emphasised, such as requiring students to memorise content, are becoming less important.

In contrast, creative thinking, and collaborative problem solving and social skills are becoming more important.

OECD looks at how the skills that people need and the world are changing, and then tries to reflect that in its measure.