What is PISA shock and why is it the norm and not the exception

Last Updated on December 21, 2023

For a long time, Germany drove its education model of the Weimar Republic, like an excellent Benz car. And in 2001, it suddenly turned out that the car was slightly outdated. The surprise was called a PISA shock. Then the educational machine was given a kick, without changing anything in the construction. The kick didn’t have an effect long.

German Gymnasium school. Profile choice, marks and inclusion
German Gymnasium. Grade 7
4th grade. Gymnasium or Realschule?
Gymnasium. First year
School system in Saxony
Secondary schools in Schleswig Holstein
Secondary schools in Bavaria
Rheinland Pfalz education system
Education system in Baden-Württemberg
Secondary school in Berlin – Brandenburg

PISA is an international test that assesses the basic knowledge of 15-year-old schoolchildren. In German reality this is 9th grade. After this, they can already go to vocational schools. The test has been conducted every three years since 2000. PISA shock is the results of German schoolchildren in the very first test. Suddenly it turned out that the Germans, who for some reason are terribly proud of their education, were somewhere far from the top of the table.

In 2022, Germany again “distinguished itself”, partially worsening even the results from 2000.

German results of PISA 2022

Mathematics is described in most detail, since in 2022 it was the main object of close attention of testers (the main subject changes each time). 6,116 German schoolchildren born in 2006 took part in the testing, a little more than 38 percent of them study in gymnasiums.

In mathematics, Germany 2022 was behind Estonia, Switzerland, Canada, Latvia, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, not to mention Japan and Korea (a total of 20 countries out of 37 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). It is a slight consolation that France is a one point lower.

30 percent are not able to solve a simple mathematical task at all. Of the schoolchildren attending gymnasiums, 4 percent failed.
Only 9 percent can solve the most difficult tasks (level 5 and 6). And only 21 percent of gymnasial students.

In my opinion, such a failure of gymnasial students should be looked for in the G8 (gymnasium in 8 years instead of 9 years). Just look at the 5th-6th grade math program, when 35 topics are covered in 35 weeks. And these are exactly the basic topics that include in PISA tasks: negative and positive numbers, percentages, exponent, fractions, square, diagrams. And excuse me, if in the 7th grade you have 5 lessons of Latin and 4 lessons of mathematics, what kind of results do you generally expect?

At the same time, in the available sample tasks there are few tasks similar to school ones. There is no need to solve big equations or the same tasks. You need to apply your basic knowledge and mathematical thinking: read the diagram, find the relationships between the part and the whole.
You can get acquainted with the tasks on the official website.

For example:
arrange the planets according to the difference in distance (you need to calculate the difference between the data in the table – simple decimals)
find out the distance in km, if it is given in AE (which is equal to about 150 million km, that is, multiply 150 by 30)
indicate the percentage of blue triangles in the sample (calculate the proportion of 6 triangles out of 16).
use the table to calculate according to the instructions. Answer the questions using the table (find out which country has increased its forest area the most, which has decreased it, etc.).

The wording makes it difficult to understand. I think a lot of the negative results are due to the wording, as it is often a text task rather than an example. In addition, some answers must be freely formulated and are counted only if the wording expresses certain positions, which is easy to fail if you do not have sufficient knowledge of the language. However, these are tasks at a higher level, so this problem does not explain the failures of basic tasks. In any case, the tasks are not difficult. True, I don’t know how limited time is.

There is a very large difference in results between Germans and first generation immigrants and between the poor and the rich.

In the natural sciences, the results are relatively good, but there are still 17 countries ahead.
9.7 percent of strong students and 22.9 percent of unsuccessful students. In gymnasiums, 3 percent of schoolchildren fail, in other schools almost 32 percent.

Many tasks from the sample relate not so much to existing knowledge, but to the ability to understand a scientific text, draw conclusions, correlate the text with a diagram, and obtain data from a table. Of the first five questions, only two are related to existing knowledge (why do birds also die if bees die? How was it determined that a virus was involved in the death of bees?).
Questions revolve around ecology and energy, as well as topics from biology and geography.

In reading, there are again 17 countries (out of 37) ahead of Germany, that is, slightly above average. 25.5 percent failed. In gymnasiums, 3.8 percent failed, in other schools 35.5 percent. Strong students 8.2 percent. This is very bad for reading!

A popular science text is provided for analysis in the samples. You need to find information in the text (this is easy), name facts and opinions, correlate theories with their authors, and at the end express your point of view, supporting them with arguments from the texts. This is exactly what they hardly do in German schools and about which I am so indignant in my reviews of school life.

Who is guilty

The causers were found quite quickly: the lack of teachers, the Corona and migrants. However, all countries had the Corona, and migrants would not surprise anyone. These reasons are, of course, important, but the problem lies deeper.

Of course, the epidemic had a significant impact on the results of all countries, but it also exposed basic problems: lack of real digitalization, bad textbooks, chaos in programs and the deplorable state of integration of foreigners.

In mathematics, the epidemic has nothing to do with it at all, since the level of tasks in the sample refers to the classes that the ninth-graders of 2022 had before the Corona.

Digitalization was slightly improved during the second coronavirus home-sitting, but in different ways in different schools. Basically it came down to issuing tablets to those who don’t have them. Meanwhile, true digitalization is free and quick access to the necessary information, when children know where to get it and how to use it all. The information in schools remained as it was on a pile of pieces of paper and scribbled in notes. To my request to post abstracts in school Internet, as they do it in universities, they answered, “We’ll think about it.”

By my children did best the speech therapy school, oddly enough, because it had more difficult task with these kids. Perhaps precisely because it mostly uses various textbooks, printed notebooks and aids and is generally very structured.

The teacher shortage is caused by the government itself, at least here in Ba-Wü. After the second grade of my eldest (that is, six years ago), two elementary schools were merged into one, and at the same time they said that so many teachers were not needed – both were explained by the fact that there would be few children. The teachers’ bewilderment, as always, was ignored. Now they are forced to place the second class in a kindergarten that was supposed to be demolished, and with a shortage of teachers, the situation has only been getting worse for several years.

As for migration, then these 15-year-old migrants born in 2006 are still just only child’s play to what is on the way. In fact, there were still not so many first-generation foreigners aged 15 in 2022 – only 9 percent. But these 9 percent are mostly refugees who were barely adapted and simply shoved into schools one grade lower.

16 percent are already born in Germany, that is, theoretically having the same chances as German children. These are either the children of highly qualified specialists or the children of migrant workers from Eastern Europe. They didn’t take a lot of migrants at that time; then getting into Germany was generally difficult. Since we arrived and gave birth to our eldest in 2008, that is, we almost got into this PISA-2022, I can say that the chances of this generation depend solely on the parents, their education and money. The state was not involved in our adaptation or the adaptation of the child at all (we were not entitled to free language courses and took care of child’s German ourselves).

The next generations will be more massive migrations, which have also been little dealt with.

PISA-shock – what they will (not) do

The second PISA shock was unleashed in the form of numerous memes on social networks. Senior officials said a few words, but I did not see any serious discussion. The ruling elite has now no time for schoolchildren; their budget has gone haywire.

They proposed once again to reform the primary school, and also to transfer education to the federation, and not to the federal lands, and to rewrite the constitution to accommodate this.

They chose, as always, the innocent. It is the primary school that needs reform the least, in my opinion. It receives completely untrained children and in general manages to transform them into some kind of decent semi-finished product. The downside of primary school is the loss of time for long learning to read (because children come who know absolutely nothing) and the loss of mathematics in the second half of the fourth grade. Fractions or arithmetic laws are clearly asked for there.

After the primary school, no one takes care of children at all. The gymnasium considers itself an institute and does not care about basic knowledge. Children get it themselves (key words “money” and “parents”: tutors and parental knowledge) or they don’t get it enough (see PISA results).
As I was told, in real school, more or less strong students have the impression that they are not taught anything at all. The merger with the Hauptschule did not raise the latter to the level of a real school, but lowered level of a real school.

One politician, following the results of PISA, said that there is no point in focusing only on basic education; they must educate a harmonious person. How can a child live without reading Ovid without a dictionary and knowing music triplets without playing an instrument? So I think that the mess and unnecessary things in the programs will accompany us for a long time – these people continue to drive a Benz car.

Not only secondary schools, but especially kindergartens are in great need of reform.

Kindergartens are just a waste of time. Most of them are little more than supervising children for a few hours a day. Since 2011, when my children got into this system, I have not seen any change in this regard. Sometimes (very rarely) there are very good kindergarten directors who use the ideas of early learning, study language and recruit good edicators for this, but this is an exception to the rule.

A commission that studied the situation with German in schools pointed to a problem with kindergartens. But I haven’t seen any concrete proposals, that will work in next years. Teaching foreigners the language falls on the same unfortunate primary school, which is forced to hold out the migration preparatory classes.

But many children who went through German kindergarten and do not formally end up in migration classes do not actually know German. What should a third-grade teacher whose two-thirds of children don’t know the names of the most common flowers and seasons in German do? This is no longer provided for in her program; she must do completely different things. And this cannot be cured by the reform of primary school; it should have been treated BEFORE it.

Now I have three pre-school children I know with problems with speech and German – absolutely nothing is being done in kindergarten. And they perfectly passed the pre-school examination, which is actually intended to do something about such problems. So the primary school will receive another three children with problems that their parents will have to overcome. Since these are adequate parents with education, they raise their children to the required level. But most parents can’t do this.

Even before the PISA results were published, it was decided to give money to schools to help socially vulnerable students. Previous help to overcome the consequences of corona was expressed in an offer to pay for 10 tutoring sessions in a weak subject. Apparently, there will be something similar here, another patch. There is no visible systemic solution to the problems, and I don’t see the political will for this either.

In fact, the lack of social elevators lies in the basic attitude “cobbler stick to your last.” This, unfortunately, continues to happen very often. Germany is a very conservative, hierarchically built country in which the weak must know their place (“I’m the boss – you’re a fool”). New migrants of any quality fall entirely into this category, as do all previous migrants in Germany.
The same applies to any health problems.
Typically: “Your child may never speak (why does he need a speech therapist)” “This disease has no cure anyway, so we won’t diagnose it”
That is, live with what you are given and don’t rock the boat.

Let’s see what the new generations will bring us when today’s fourth grade with 80 percent of children whose native language is not German reaches the 9th grade.

German Gymnasium school. Profile choice, marks and inclusion
German Gymnasium. Grade 7
4th grade. Gymnasium or Realschule?
Gymnasium. First year
School system in Saxony
Secondary schools in Schleswig Holstein
Secondary schools in Bavaria
Rheinland Pfalz education system
Education system in Baden-Württemberg
Secondary school in Berlin – Brandenburg

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