Bulgarian Students' Disturbing PISA Results Show Need for New Teaching Methods

Education | December 7, 2016, Wednesday // 11:36|  views

Bulgaria has to do more than overhaul school curricula and to talk about changing methods of teaching, the country's national coordinator for the PISA study has said.

Her comments follow the publication of last year's figures for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The study [PDF] showed Bulgarian ninth-graders' level of functional literacy was much below the OECD average.

Some 41.5% of these have shown difficulties in understanding the meaning of texts. Those below levels of functional literacy in maths amount to 42% of participants. As regards science, the share of low performers was 37.9%.

As many as 6363 ninth-graders (aged 15-16) from 180 schools were involved in the study carried out on May 14-15, 2015.

Bulgarian participants scored 446 in science, 431 in reading, and 441 in mathematics.

OECD's average levels were 493, 493 and 490 respectively. For top performer Singapore, the figures were 556, 535 and 564. The top EU performer, Estonia, scored 534, 519 and 520.

The worst results were those of the Dominican Republic - 332 in science, 358 in reading, and 328 in maths.

On average, the share of low achievers in all three subjects is 29.6%, much bigger than the OECD's average of 13%, Singapore's 4.8% and Estonia's 4.7%.

As regards top performers in at least one subject. Bulgaria's result was 6.9%, compared to the OECD's average of 15.3%. Singapore's result was 39.1% and Estonia's measured 20.4%. At the bottom of the table, the Dominican Republic had 0.1%.

The result of Bulgaria ranks it 45th, out of 72 countries where the study took place.

Teaching lessons as lectures will not teach [students] critical thinking,” Petrova has told Focus Radio's weekly education program.

She has singled out Estonia's achievements in improving the system and helping it improve its standing substantially, leaving long-time EU leader Finald behind. “We should focus on what changes our colleagues in Estonia did to achieve this success,” she has argued, also placing emphasis on Finland's performance in access to education.

Each task given to students in the PISA test consists of a problem that has to be solved through planning a path of steps.

Critial thinking, logical thinking are skills sought [in the test], things that unfortunately are not being targeted,” Petrova has argued.

Asked whether Bulgaria's government supports top performance among school students, she has insisted the country needs to consider such steps.

She has also criticized the lack of proper approach to communicating science the way this is being done in the West and elsewhere. “We still have the understanding that the less clearly we introduce information, the more scientific and adequate it is.”

On Tuesday, outgoing Education Minister Meglena Kuneva said that, although the PISA results were alarming, they showed improvement compared to 2006 and a mixed record (deterioration in reading and improvement in maths) compared to 2011.

Her deputy, Diyan Stamatov, on Wednesday blamed teaching methods, but also the increasing use of Facebook among children which makes them "read less and chat more".

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Tags: Svetla Petrova, school students, OECD, PISA, Meglena Kuneva, Diyan Stamatov


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