Rather than join in with the accusations and recriminations about the PISA results announced today, I would instead like to look at the sort of questions that were asked.
Apparently there are six levels in the mathematics section, and a sample question from each level is here. The first four levels are so easy that they're not worth bothering with, so I'll concentrate on the sample questions for Levels 5 and 6.
Level 5 Question
The Gotemba walking trail up Mount Fuji is about 9 kilometres (km) long. Walkers need to return from the 18 km walk by 8 pm.
Toshi estimates that he can walk up the mountain at 1.5 kilometres per hour on average, and down at twice that speed. These speeds take into account meal breaks and rest times.
Using Toshi's estimated speeds, what is the latest time he can begin his walk so that he can return by 8 pm?
Level 6 Question
Helen rode her bike from home to the river, which is 4 km away. It took her 9 minutes. She rode home using a shorter route of 3 km. This only took her 6 minutes.
What was Helen's average speed, in km/h, for the trip to the river and back?
Assuming that these sample questions reflect the actual degree of difficulty of the test itself, my problem is that I can't see how people could fail to answer them correctly. Yet the OCED average getting the Level 5 question right was only 13%, and the UK average 12%. For the Level 6 question the average for both the OECD and UK was only 3%.
So I would like to ask a genuine question. Are there people reading this who weren't able to work out the answers? Please don't be reticent, because according to PISA you'll be in good company. 7 out of 8 got the first one wrong and 32 out of 33 got the second one wrong; and I'd imagine the maths ability of the average 15 year old isn't too far removed from that of the average adult.
If these figures are even remotely accurate, it points to the whole of the so-called developed world being in a mess. And therefore it seems rather pointless to argue the toss about whether Wales would be doing OK if our figures suddenly rose to 1 in 6 and 1 in 25.
Update - 17:20, 10 December 2013
The full set of PISA maths questions for 2012 is here.
Unfortunately, it isn't clear from the paper what the time limit is, or whether calculators are allowed. However, as some square root calculations are required, I would guess they are.