Australian students are relatively well-equipped to face the modern world, with new international test results showing they’re better problem solvers than expected.
Australia came ninth out of the 44 countries examined in the Programme for International Student Assessment’s 2012 problem solving tests.
The tests, conducted by the OECD, look at how well 15-year-olds can solve problems they have never encountered before, where there isn’t a learned, routine solution.
Questions included working out how to use a virtual MP3 player they’d never seen before, buying train tickets from a machine and using GPS and traffic information to decide travel routes.
Students in Australia performed much better in problem solving than those in countries with similar average results for maths, science and reading.
The best students in maths also had excellent problem-solving skills, the results released on Tuesday showed.
It suggested this meant that in Australia top maths students have access to the kinds of learning opportunities that are also useful for improving their problem-solving skills.
Particular strengths for Australian students were exploring, understanding and representing problems and formulating hypotheses about them.
But their weaknesses lay in planning and executing solutions.
In general, Australian students performed better than expected on problems where all the information needed is given at the start and doesn’t change, known as static tasks.
About one in six got top level results while a similar number were at or below the bottom level.
Singapore, Korea and Japan topped the countries tested.
In Singapore, nearly one in three students achieved top results – twice as many as in Australia.
Some 85,000 students around the world took part in the problem-solving tests.
PISA says testing students’ skills in tackling real-life problems helps them and their teachers and schools identify better ways to give young people the skills they’ll need to be employable in the 21st century.