Every three years, the Pisa tests result in red faces or beaming smiles. The Programme for International Student Assessment conducts standardised tests in reading comprehension, maths and science to half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries.
The beaming smiles this year belong to the students of Shanghai, who scored top honours across the board. The red faces appeared in the UK and the US, whose students were badly outclassed by Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong. The mediocre American scores prompted one education official to utter that hoary phrase "a wake-up call". The British schools minister lamented that 40 per cent of British students never read for enjoyment.
As reported yesterday, the Pisa scores racked up by 5,620 students in 134 public and private schools in Dubai were nothing to boast about: 43rd in reading, 41st in science and maths.
Local educational officials complained about the lack of a reading culture. Teenagers feel that reading a book is a boring chore rather than a joy in its own right. But a campaign two years ago, The Million Book Challenge, showed that students can be motivated to read. The philanthropic group Dubai Cares promised to donate one book to poor students in Africa and Asia for every book the Dubai students read in one month. Final score? 1,323,218.