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How are Ireland's 15-year-olds doing in school compared with the rest of the world?

Ireland’s students among top performers in reading, science and maths, but are more dissatisfied with their lives.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

IRISH TEENAGERS ARE out-performing our OECD counterparts when it comes to reading, science and maths, a new study of over 500,000 15-year-olds in 79 countries has found.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which takes place every three years, shows that Ireland ranks fourth out of 36 OECD countries and third out of 27 EU countries for reading literacy. Only students in China, Singapore, Estonia, Canada and Finland come in ahead of Ireland.

Meanwhile, there is an average proportion of high achievers in science and a significantly lower proportion of high-performing students in mathematics, compared to the average across OECD countries.

In science, Irish students ranked 17th out of 37 OECD countries, 11th out of 28 EU countries and 22nd out of 78 participating countries, while in maths, they came 16th out of 37 OECD countries and 21st out of 78 participating countries.

Ireland also has a lower percentage of low-performing students in all three subjects than on average across OECD countries.

Girls and Boys

When it comes to gender differences, girls significantly outperform boys in reading. However, in science and mathematics there were no significant differences in 2018, whereas males had significantly higher mean scores in 2015.

The study also explored the use of digital technology for learning both within and outside the classroom. It has found that Irish teens are less likely to use computers or tablets in class and outside class for learning compared to the OECD average.

In regards to the students’ wellbeing, three-fifths of teens said they were satisfied with their lives, which is significantly lower than the overall average across OECD countries. Significantly fewer girls reported that they were satisfied with their life (55%) compared to male students (67%). 

Students in Ireland who are low internet users were more likely to report positive feelings in general and less likely to report negative feelings than heavy internet users.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, said the overall results were “heartening”.

“It is an envious position to be in and credit must go to the education initiatives being promoted by the department like the National Strategy on Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life (2011-2020) and how these are adopted by our schools, thanks to the dedication of our teachers,” he said.

“Overall in maths and science results are relatively stable and our students are performing at an above average level, yet we can improve further. I am confident that the changes which the junior cycle is bringing will help the development of our students’ critical thinking.

It is no longer just about the facts and knowledge that we teach our young people but helping them see how they can put that into use.

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PISA is based on a random sample of 15 year-old students in each of the participating countries. In 2018, 5,577 Irish students in 157 schools took part.

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