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PISA 2015: Estonia's basic education is the best in Europe

7. December 2016 - 9:30

According to the results of the OECD PISA 2015 international survey of learning outcomes that were published today, the scores achieved by 15-year-olds in Estonia are the highest in Europe and rank among the top scorers worldwide. Likewise, the share of top performers ranks Estonia as one of the top countries in the world.

PISA 2015 focused on natural sciences with further tests covering math and functional reading skills. The knowledge and competency of Estonia's 15-year-olds in the field of natural sciences, i.e. biology, geography, physics and chemistry, are top class worldwide - raking first in Europe and third globally. We have increased the number of top performers in natural sciences who are capable of solving very complicated tasks - a total of 13.5 percent - whereas the OECD average is 8 percent. Estonia has the smallest share of low-performing students in Europe - more than two times less than the average for other countries.

"Such excellent results on an international scale indicate the quality of work of Estonian teachers and schools. This means that we have employed the correct principles for developing our education system, given that the effects of changes are manifested 10-15 years later," said Minister Mailis Reps. "I am delighted that, despite our modest financial means as compared to other highly ranked countries, we have continuously managed to establish ourselves as a leading country in the sphere of education."

In terms of math skills, Estonia's youth are joint second with Switzerland in Europe, and ranked ninth worldwide. Almost 90% of Estonia's youth possess basic knowledge of math - this puts us among the top five countries.

In terms of functional reading skills, Estonian students rank third in Europe and sixth worldwide. The share of top performers is over 11.1 percent which exceeds the target value for 2018. It is notable that compared to the previous PISA test the difference in reading skills between boys and girls was reduced by more than one-third.

PISA assesses competency

According to Gunda Tire, the PISA coordinator in Estonia, PISA assesses the students' ability to use their knowledge. "The survey rates the youth's ability to use their acquired knowledge in daily life. Therefore, its results are more comprehensive than those of a mere examination. We want to find out whether the youth are ready to face the future challenges and how the Estonian education system supports them in their endeavours," noted Gunda Tire.

According to the PISA survey, Estonia affords equal access to high-quality and supportive education, and that could be one of the reasons behind our success. Although the effect of socio-economic background on the learning outcomes is one of the lowest worldwide, even a large share of Estonia's youth from families with a poor socio-economic background perform well in schools.

The work done by Estonian schools is effective as our youth achieve high end results worldwide despite having less school lessons per week than three quarters of students in OECD countries.

Some aspects need improvement

The results of PISA 2015 reveal that, although the difference between the scores of boys and girls has shrunk, boys feature a larger share of low-performing students. Further, there is still a notable difference between the scores of Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking schools.

Summary on Estonia

Press conference slides

OECD PISA 2015 page


  • The PISA 2015 survey involved more than half a million youngsters from 72 countries, incl. all the developed industrial countries. In Estonia, 5,587 young people or one half of 15-year-old students took part in the survey. This time, the main focus was on natural sciences with further tests covering numeracy and functional reading skills. Furthermore, the students' ability to solve problems in teams was tested. All students and heads of school completed a background questionnaire addressing the students' socio-economic background, school satisfaction, management, evaluation, etc.
  • The PISA survey conducted by OECD every three years assesses the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in the fields of reading, math and natural sciences. The survey focuses on 15-year-olds because, in most OECD countries, that is the age when the youth are about to complete their compulsory education and make choices about further education.
  • The PISA survey examines how the youth manage to implement their acquired skills and knowledge in routine real life settings, and generalise and associate what they have learned. The survey gives an idea about the youth's preparedness to face future challenges across different countries. In addition, the survey indicates whether the youth are capable of analysing, identifying the reasons and presenting their ideas. 
  • In Estonia, the Ministry of Research and Education and the Innove Foundation are responsible for conducting the PISA survey.

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