Students in East Asia, including parts of China, can differentiate between facts and opinions better than students in the UK, according to the latest findings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).
The reading test in Pisa includes an assessment of the ability to tell whether a source is credible, to recognise bias and identify authors’ intentions.
The ability to differentiate between fact and opinion is considered to be at level 5 or above on Pisa’s six levels of reading proficiency.
On average across all countries, 7.4 per cent of 15 year olds achieve a level five, and 1.3 per cent get up to level six – the UK is slightly above that, with 9.5 per cent at level 5 and 3 per cent at level 6.
But in the four provinces of China Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (B-S-J-Z), which topped every single ranking in Pisa, 22 per cent of students read at level five or above, and 4.2 per cent are at level six.
For Singapore, the percentage of top performers is triple that of OECD average – 26 per cent of students achieved a level five or above, with 7.3 per cent reaching level six.
Referring to high-performing countries in Asia and East Asia, Pisa coordinator Andreas Schleicher said: “The capacity of students in those regions to deal with ambiguous, complex information, to think creatively about solutions, to navigate fake news is actually a lot better than in the case of the UK.
“Those countries are now developing very sophisticated skill sets among their young people, that involve complex problem solving skills, creative skills, critical thinking skills".
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However, on average, only around 8.7 per cent of students across the OECD countries were at level 5 or above, meaning that less than one student in every 10 was skilled at distinguishing fact from opinion.
Joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union Kevin Courtney singled out the finding as a reason for concern and added that reading should be fostered as a habit for life.
He said: “The finding that globally fewer than 1 in 10 students was able to distinguish between fact and opinion is extremely worrying in an era of fake news.
“As the OECD points out, reading is no longer mainly about extracting information; it is about constructing knowledge, thinking critically and making well-founded judgements.
"We need to ensure that our education system focuses on developing these skills in our young people, not simply on cramming them with facts."
For the first time in 2018, the reading test was carried out in most countries with a computer-based, adaptive test.
The new assessment was developed in response to criticisms that the tests are “one-size fits all”.
Read more about the Pisa results 2018 here.