Home' Teacher : October 2009 Contents LEADERSHIP 59
or science articles in newspapers or visiting
Top performers in science are also
highly motivated by the belief that science
will benefit them academically and in the
future, with 81 per cent of top performers
reporting they study science because it is
useful for them, 76 per cent because it will
improve their career prospects and 70 per
cent because they will need it for their pre-
ferred future studies.
Furthermore, they are confident in their
own ability to handle specific scientific tasks
effectively and overcome difficulties. In fact,
top performers rate 40 per cent higher on an
index of self-efficacy than strong performers.
While, generally, top performers value
their science learning and find it relevant to
themselves and their future, there are sig-
nificant numbers of top performers in some
countries who show comparatively low lev-
els of interest in science. The PISA analysis
suggests these countries, where education
systems have succeeded in conveying scien-
tific knowledge and competencies but not a
love of science, may not be fully realising the
potential of their students.
The importance of high performance
in science should not be underestimated
because, as Maarten Goos and Alan
Manning note in 'Lousy and lovely jobs:
The rising polarisation of work in Britain,'
high science proficiency is related to a coun-
try's abilities to staff future knowledge-
driven industries with home grown-talent.
In assessing the level of high science pro-
ficiency in a country, both the proportion
of top performers within a country and the
size of the country matters when establish-
ing the contribution of countries to the glo-
bal talent pool. For example, even though
the proportion of top performers in science
in the United States is comparatively low at
less than 10 per cent, the US provides 25 per
cent of high performers to the global talent
pool because of its size. In contrast, Finland
with 20 per cent of its cohort in the high
performing level, contributes one per cent
to the global pool, and Australia with 14.6
per cent of its cohort in the high perform-
ing level contributes three per cent. Other
strong contributors to the global talent pool
are Japan at 13 per cent, Germany and the
United Kingdom each at eight per cent and
the Russian Federation at six per cent.
While it's not possible to predict how
the performance of current 15-year-old
students will influence a country's future
performance, the PISA report draws a cor-
relation, although not necessarily a causal
relationship, between high performance and
research and innovation, and points out that
gross domestic expenditure on research and
development is an important indicator of
the innovative capacity of countries.
In this regard, Finland, with 20 per cent
of students in Levels 5 and 6 on PISA, has 17
full-time researchers per thousand employees;
New Zealand, with 18 per cent of student
in Levels 5 and 6 has around 10 full-time
researchers per thousand employees; and
Australia with 14.6 per cent has eight full-
time researchers per thousand employees.
The average percentage of top performers
in private schools across OECD countries
is about 14 per cent and in public schools
about 9 per cent. The report, however, cau-
tions against placing too much significance
on this figure because other data confirm the
strong correlation between socioeconomic
background and performance, and suggest
that after adjustment for differences in the
socioeconomic intake between public and
private schools, there is a small significant
advantage to public schools.
Nevertheless, attendance at a private
school does confer an advantage on stu-
dents studying science. According to the
OECD's Proble m Solving for Tomorrow's
World report, PISA shows a strong correla-
tion between schools with more advantaged
socioeconomic background and stronger
disciplinary climate. In addition, as Henry
Levin points out in 'What are the mecha-
nisms of high-poverty disadvantages? On
the relationship between poverty and cur-
riculum,' schools with a larger proportion
of students from more advantaged back-
grounds often provide a learning program
with more demanding curriculum and
instruction that benefits all members of
the student body, including, of cou rse, less-
While the results of PISA contribute
only one measure to the assessment data
individual students will receive about their
performance over the course of their school
lives, the extent of that contribution is sig-
nificant. PISA, being one of only two assess-
ments that allow relatively developed coun-
tries to compare performance, is particularly
useful because it directly measures both the
academic accomplishments and attitudes of
students, and also explores how these relate
to the characteristics of individual students,
schools and education systems.
This allows countries to examine com-
prehensive data and make changes to their
education programs in ways that may ben-
efit individual students and full cohorts of
students, and contribute to their country's
and the global talent pool.
Robyn Collins is a research office r for
Independent Schools Queensland.
This article first appeared in Independent
Schools Queensland Briefings . 13(5) June,
2009: 1-4. Reproduced with kind permis-
Photo by Tory Byrne courtesy of stock.
Goos, M. & Manning, A. (2007). Lousy
and lovely jobs: The rising polarisation
of work in Britain. Revie w of Economics
and Statistics. 89(1): 118-33.
OECD. (2009). Top of the Class: High
performers in science in PISA 2006.
OECD. (2004). Problem Solving for
Tomorrow's World: First measures of
cross- curricular competencies from PISA
2003. Paris: OECD.
Levin, H. (2007). What are the mecha-
nisms of high-poverty disadvantages?
On the relationship between poverty and
curriculum. North Carolina Law Re view.
85(5): 1,381- 418.
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