Estonian 15-year-olds rank second behind only Finland and 12th of 44 countries worldwide in problem-solving skills, according to Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test scores released by the OECD today.
PISA tests measure student aptitude in three major categories; math, reading and science. In math and reading, in results released late last year, Estonians were 11th in 2012. In science, they were sixth.
Similar to the overall results, Asian countries took the top seven places in problem solving (pdf here). Canada, Australia, Finland and England also outdid Estonia. Estonia's score, which was 515. Singapore's 562 led all countries. The world's lowest score was around 400.
Estonia's scores overall were comparable to those for Great Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Netherlands, Italy and the US.
In Estonia, differences between students whose language of instruction is Estonian and Russian are large. In particular, girls studying in Russian score much lower than their peers. PISA's Estonian national project manager Gunda Tire said the difference between girls at Estonian-language and Russian-language schools - 49 points - comes down to about 1.5 years of classroom advancement.
Estonian schoolchildren are stronger at solving static problems - where all of the information needed to solve the problem is provided - than interactive ones. Tire said the study environment at Estonian schools was the reason. If teachers were better trained in using technological devices in school, she said, Estonian scores would improve in regard to interactive problems, where more creativity and enterprising approaches are required.
Location of the school was also significant. Students in larger towns and cities were the better problem solvers, with a 5 percent edge over the overall figure for all schools.
But although averages in some departments could be better, Estonia has very few students with low problem-solving skills. With 85 percent of students at least at basic level (level two of six), Estonia is second in Europe only to Finland in this regard.
The Education Ministry's external evaluation department adviser Maie Kitsing said that while problem-solving skills are good among 15-year-olds, PIAAC study results show that problem-solving skills among adults are not as high.
* PISA measures 15-year-olds' skills and knowledge in math, functional literacy and science.
* Estonia has been taking part in the PISA study since 2006, with around 4,700-4,800 students each year.
* Estonian pupils were 11th in the world in math and reading and 6th in science this year.
* A sample PISA problem solving test is available here.