Cyprus is failing the education grade

7 mins read

Cyprus scored below average in yet another international student assessment to measure school standards, but stakeholders argue such tests are not a clear reflection of a country’s education system.

In the 2018 International Student Assessment known as PISA, Cyprus came 50 among 77 countries when for reading and understanding a text, dropping 3 spots compared to the 2015 report.

Cypriot pupils under 16 came 43 and 47 for maths and science respectively.

PISA 2018 assessed the cumulative outcomes of education and learning at age 15 a point when most children are still enrolled in formal education, before leaving the school system.

The test is carried out in maths and science by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD average was 487. Pupils in Cyprus scored 424 points, ranking Cyprus 50th of 77 countries (there was no data for Spain). In 2015 Cyprus ranked 47, so improvement has been marginal if any.

Math’s: The OECD average was 489. Cyprus scored 451 points and shared 43rd place with Greece among 78 countries. In 2015, it was ranked 49.

Science: The OECD average was 489. Cyprus scored 439 points placing it 47 from 78 countries, two places up from 49 in 2015.

The Ministry of Education voiced concerned over the results of the PISA international competition, as, even though Cyprus has improved its position slightly compared to 2015, student performance remains below the European average.

Speaking to Active radio Athena Michaelidou, director of the Education Ministry’s Cyprus Pedagogical Institute, admitted the results were not exactly what was expected or wanted, but said two of the three subjects (mathematics and science) a significant statistical increase was recorded.

“The PISA assessment will be evaluated and used as an important tool in the hands of the Ministry to improve Cyprus students’ standards. The PISA assessment gives a specific direction on how we can move forward, to identify what’s wrong with our system and to be able to improve it,” said Michaelidou.

She said the education systems of other countries should be studied but explained that copying them is doomed to fail due to differences in culture and mentality.

Michaelidou said that experts from Finland, Estonia and Poland will visit Cyprus soon as there is much to learn from these countries.

China did extraordinary well scoring first place in all three subjects. Internationally, the top five places were:

– Reading and Understanding a text: China, Singapore, Macao China, Hong Kong and Estonia

– In mathematics, China, Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong and Taipei.

– In the natural sciences, China, Singapore, Macao, Estonia and Japan.

Ministry to blame

The teacher’s union of Cyprus tertiary education (OELMEK) says responsibility for student failure in PISA, but also in other international assessment programs falls squarely on the shoulders of the Ministry of Education.

OELMEK President Costas Hadjisavvas told the Financial Mirror that due to the volume of work and the increased level of difficulty of the syllabus, teachers do not have time to prepare students for this competition.

“If the Ministry wants our students to do well, they should differentiate analytical school schedules to include preparation for these contests,” he argued.

Hadjisavvas also argued that the results of the PISA competition do not reflect the real level of the education system in Cyprus, which he believes is quite high.

He pointed out, the poor performance of pupils in the assessment has to do with the inability of teachers to find time to teach them what PISA is asking for, and this, he said, should be a concern for the Ministry.

He said teachers are trying to make time to prepare children for the demands of such tests.

“Our curriculum and teaching methods are different from what these contests require. It would be like asking pupils of a state school to take a GCSE exam or the other way around. In both cases, students would fail.”

“Math teachers are squeezing in 10 -15 minutes of teaching time to prep students to be able to solve equations, which they are not taught during school hours,” he added.

Hadjisavvas noted that despite frequent failures in such assessments, Cypriot students have excelled in competitions like the International Maths Olympiad, but those particular students have spent hours after school prepping at private institutions.

“The results of such tests should really trouble the Ministry of Education which needs to make decisions on whether excelling at such competitions and assessments is that important, and then decide on how and what the students are to be taught.”

Associate Dean Professor of the Department of Education at the University of Nicosia Elena Papanastasiou, urged for the results of PISA not to be examined as a contest with other countries.

“It would be wrong to compare our 15-year-olds with those of other countries, as they are being taught a different curriculum, and in some cases, they could be in a different grade according to the organisational structure of each country’s educational system,” argued Papanastasiou.

She said the assessment should, however, be used as criteria, a base with which we compare our improvement and draw conclusions over how changes we applied to the educational system have contributed to improving student performance.

Papapanastasiou is involved in a similar assessment dubbed TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.

She said the education system of a modern country should be focusing on teaching kids 21st-century analytical skills.

The professor said it is no longer important to memorise dates and places of wars that took place in history.

“It is not even so important to know the exact number of casualties of WWII. But it is important to teach pupils how to evaluate events that led up to these atrocities and how to avoid them from being repeated,” said Papanastasiou.