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Saudi schools ‘doing better at maths but still lagging behind’

Masked and socially distanced pupils at a Saudi school in 2021. The OECD's Pisa tests show the impact of the pandemic on education Reuters/Mohammed Benmansour
Masked and socially distanced pupils at a Riyadh school in 2021. The OECD's Pisa tests show the impact of the pandemic on education
  • OECD unveils education report
  • Reading, maths, science tested
  • Students in 81 countries took part

Saudi Arabia’s schools have improved in the past few years, but are still below the international average and a long way behind the best performers, according to the OECD.

Teenagers from 81 countries were tested for the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which published its 2022 report on Tuesday.

The tests measured the reading, maths and science skills of 690,000 15-year-olds. The students’ performance was blighted to varying degrees by school closures and disruptions during the Covid pandemic, the OECD found. The international average for reading and maths fell sharply, it said.

Teenagers from Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and Turkey also took part.

Saudi Arabia scored 389 in maths, an improvement of 16 points since the previous Pisa tests in 2018. Qatar was flat at 414 and the UAE was down four points at 431, the OECD said. 

The average across the 81 countries is 472 for maths.

Saudi students scored 383 in reading and 390 in science, below the averages of 476 and 485 respectively. 

The OECD pointed to Qatar’s improvement since it first took part in Pisa in 2006, although it said the progress had slowed. Qatari students scored 419 in reading, a rise of 12, and 432 in science, up 13 points. 

The quality of educational provision in Saudi Arabia varies dramatically according to location, previous research has found. The kingdom has a shortage of high-skilled teachers, especially in more sparsely populated areas.

Across the region there is a wider-than-average skills gap between girls and boys.

The OECD said, however, that students in the GCC were particularly confident about learning autonomously and using digital tools. 

Singapore tops the Pisa rankings with scores of 543 for reading, 575 for maths and 561 for science. Its students are at least three years ahead of the average, the OECD said. 

Only 18 of the 81 countries that took part beat the average for all three core skills.

The Pisa tests are usually conducted every three years and the 2022 assessment, which was delayed by one year, was the eighth. Each round focuses on one of the three core areas, although all three are assessed. In 2022 the tests concentrated on maths. 

Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya and Syria do not take part.  

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