|Shanghai High School Students during hands-on work|
The PISA assessment items focus not on rote learning but creative problem solving of real-life cases (see examples here).The 5,100 15-year-olds assessed in Shanghai outperformed students from all other countries by a margin. Shanghai — an industrial powerhouse with some 20 million residents - is a magnet for the best students in the country, and therefore not representative of all of China.
The real significance of these results is that they refute the commonly held hypothesis that China just produces rote learning. Chinese students spend less time than US students on athletics, music and other activities not geared toward success on exams in core subjects (see documentary: Two million minutes). In recent years, teaching has become a more attractive profession with rising salaries in China. In Shanghai, the authorities have undertaken important curricular reforms, and educators have been given more freedom to experiment.
US president Obama adressed these new findings in a recent speech in which he called it 'the Sputnik moment of this generation'. He refers to the wake-up call when the first man-made object in space was Sowjet and not American. Now the new competition is which country can create the most educated workforce.
Read article about PISA results: In PISA Test, Top Scores From Shanghai Stun Experts - NYTimes.com