They’ll say that they’re better at most things but one thing is official; girls are much better than boys at working together to solve problems.
The first OECD PISA assessment of collaborative problem solving involved some 125,000 15-year-olds in 52 countries and economies. The test analyses for the first time how well students work together as a group, their attitudes towards collaboration and the influence of factors such as gender, after-school activities and social background.
“In a world that places a growing premium on social skills, education systems need to do much better at fostering those skills systematically across the school curriculum,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “Parents and society at large must play their part too. It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives.”
Students who have stronger reading or maths skills tend to be better at collaborative problem-solving because managing and interpreting information, and the ability to reason, are required to solve problems. The same is true across countries: top-performing countries in PISA, like Japan, Korea and Singapore in Asia, Estonia and Finland in Europe, and Canada in North America, also come out top in the collaborative problem-solving test.
However, students in Australia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States perform better in collaborative problem solving than would be expected based on their scores in science, reading and mathematics. But students in the four Chinese provinces that took part in PISA (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong) do less well compared to their results in mathematics and science.
On average across OECD countries, 28% of students are able to solve only straightforward collaborative problems, if any at all. By contrast, fewer than one in six students in Estonia, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea, Macao (China) and Singapore is a low achiever in collaborative problem solving.
Girls do better than boys in every country and economy that took the test, by the equivalent of half a year’s schooling on average (29 points). On average across OECD countries, girls are 1.6 times more likely than boys to be top performers in collaborative problem solving, while boys are 1.6 times more likely than girls to be low achievers. This is in sharp contrast to the findings of the 2012 individual problem-solving test which found that boys performed better than girls.
The test revealed no significant difference in the performance of advantaged or disadvantaged students, or between immigrant and non-immigrant students. But exposure to diversity in the classroom tends to be associated with better collaboration skills. For example, in some countries students without an immigrant background perform better in the collaboration-specific aspects of the test when they attend schools with a larger proportion of immigrant students.
Students who attend physical education lessons or play sports generally have a more positive attitude towards collaboration. However, students who play video games outside of school score slightly lower in collaborative problem solving than students who do not play video games, on average across OECD countries. On the other hand, students who access the Internet or social networks outside of school score slightly higher than other students.
Fostering positive relationships at school can benefit students’ collaborative problem solving skills, especially when involving students directly. Schools could organise more social activities to encourage this, as well as provide teacher training on classroom management and tackle bullying.
Pisa 2015 Results (Volume V) Collaborative Problem Solving, together with country analysis, summaries and data, is available at www.oecd.org/pisa. Country notes are available for France, Japan, Germany, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
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