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15-year-olds in Luxembourg scored below the OECD average for maths, reading and science in the 2018 Pisa test
Luxembourg’s educational attainment lags behind on a global comparative scale as per the recent Pisa results. However, the outlook is more nuanced when seen through a European lens.
The European Commission representation presented its 2019 monitor of education and training for Luxembourg on Friday in which it pointed out a number of successes, failings and suggestions for improvement.
Among the former group, the report found Luxembourg had already achieve four out of six 2020 educational targets:
Luxembourg counted 18% of adults in lifelong learning, well above the 15% goal and the EU average of 11.1%;
Roughly 88% of recent graduates were in employment, above the 82% target and EU average of 81.6%;
Some 96.6% of pre-school aged children were in education, above the 95% target and EU average of 95.4%;
And the proportion of people with higher education qualifications—56.2%, was above the 40% goal and 40.7% average. However, the report cautioned that this was somewhat artificially boosted by Luxembourg’s unusually high rate of highly qualified migrants.
Where Luxembourg struggled to keep up was in school drop-out rates, where the real rate was thought to be around 12%, above the 10% target and 10.6% EU average.
And then there were the findings of the 2018 Pisa tests, published 3 December 2019, which found 27% of 15-year-olds were underperforming in sciences, 27% in maths and 29% in reading. These rates were almost twice the 2020 goal of 15% and above the EU average of 21.6%, 22.4% and 21.7% respectively.
That wasn’t the only critical Pisa finding
The tests on 15-year-olds conducted every three years test their applied knowledge in the three categories. In addition to seeing reading performance fall slightly compared to previous years, the Pisa report found serious gaps between social origins and test results. “Students from disadvantaged backgrounds scored 122 points lower than students from privileged backgrounds in reading. It’s the highest rate of any country participating in Pisa,” Pisa analyst Pauline Givord said on Friday in a pre-recorded audio message.
She further pointed out Luxembourg’s specific context in which 55% of students participating in the tests were from a migratory background, up from 40% in 2015, the strongest growth of any participating country. “For all participating countries, students from an immigration background performed less well than those born in the country they were tested,” Givord said. She added that in Luxembourg it was often students who were born in Luxembourg to migrant parents who fared less well in the reading tests than students born outside of Luxembourg.
Givord’s last point highlighted a glaring lack of resources in the most disadvantaged schools. She said that 84% of students enrolled in a disadvantaged school and 50% of students enrolled in an advantaged school attended a school whose principal reported a lack of teaching staff hindered their ability to offer a quality education. “It’s a lot more than we observed elsewhere in the OECD,” she said.
Luxembourg’s education ministry announced earlier this year it would skip the next round of testing and participate every six years instead of every three. European Commission political analyst Livia Ruszthy shared three examples of best practices from which Luxembourg could draw inspiration. These included Ireland, Poland and Estonia, which are today ranked among the top performing countries in the Pisa tests.
Ruszthy excluded the idea of creating an EU-educational test similar to that offered by Pisa, saying that until now it was the “most established and known system which allows for an international comparison” on the basic skills of 15-year-olds.
European Commission representative in Luxembourg Yuriko Backes, meanwhile, said that Luxembourg had done a lot already to improve its educational performance in several areas.
She mentioned the relaxing of entry requirements for teachers to fill the teacher shortage in the country. But, she said more still needed to be done to improve the attractiveness and conditions for teachers across the EU.
*On 17 December this article was updated to reflect Yuriko Backes is a representative of the European Commission. It clarifies that her observation about improving the attractiveness and conditions for teachers was a general observation from across the EU.