By Elina Xu
HELSINKI, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 was published on Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The scores of Finland, the former leader in the assessments, have dropped dramatically, setting off a heated discussion in the country.
Since 2000, the OECD has been evaluating the knowledge and skills of the world's 15-year-olds every three years through PISA test. More than 510,000 students in 65 countries and economies took part in the latest test in 2012, which covered mathematics, reading and science, with the main focus on mathematics.
A total of 10,157 15-year-old Finnish students from 311 schools participated in PISA 2012. Finland ranked the 12th in mathematics, and was placed the 6th in reading and 5th in science.
Shanghai-China took the first place, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong-China and Chinese Taibei. In Europe, Finland was outperformed by Liechtenstein, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Estonia.
Finland had achieved top ranking continuously in mean scores of PISA tests in 2000, 2003 and 2006. Because of the country's steady performance in the PISA assessments, Finland has been lauded as an educational leader in the world for more than a decade.
The latest results gained by the Finnish students disappointed Finnish educators,policy makers and the media, causing wide concerns on the Nordic country's education.
Finnish educational minister Krista Kiuru commented "the general downturn in learning outcomes shows that we must take strong action to develop Finnish education."
According to Kiuru, the ministry is "setting up a broad-based forum without delay" to work on safeguarding the future of the Finnish system of basic education.
Experts began to explore the reasons behind the downturn.
Director of Finland's Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) and policy advisor Pasi Sahlberg suggested that the problem may lie at the bottom end of the educational spectrum, according to the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle.
Sahlberg pointed out that increasing income gap and lack of financial resources in some municipalities are two possible causes. However, the immediate effect is a widened gap between the best and worst schools and students.
He suggested Finnish education system should focus on the next big thing rather than dwelling on past success.
Kai Nyyssonen, a teacher from Kotka, attributed the downturn to the rapid development of digital entertainment. He said, "All kinds of entertainment draw young people's attention, and they do not want to focus on school works."
Nyyssonen criticized that the current education system fails to meet the digitized world. "Motivation oriented teaching methods and materials remain at lower level."
Lauri Halla, the principal of Kulosaari Secondary School in Helsinki told Xinhua, "it seems like Finland falls behind top Asian areas and countries because of many reasons. We are too satisfied with past results, we fail to develop our curriculum and we forget that in order to achieve results we need goals and motivation for hard work."
Another teacher from a comprehensive school in Helsinki said that Finland and its Asian counterparts are incomparable. "For example, the Finnish students taking part in the tests were from more than 300 different schools around the country, so that the their scores reflected the average level of nation-wide basic education. However, their Chinese counterparts are from the schools in the most developed city, which could not represent the average level of the whole country."
In addition, the teacher who would not disclose his name argued that the Chinese students are suffering much heavier pressure from their schools and parents than Finnish children.