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Essays on the quality of education using cross-country data from the Programme for International Student Assessment

posted on 24.02.2017, 01:32 authored by Perera, Liyanage Devangi Hanamika
Education is regarded as a powerful driver of economic development and a means of reducing poverty. Many governments, therefore, have devoted substantial resources to schooling, but whether there have been commensurate improvements in the quality of education remains questionable. The introduction of standardised international student assessments that measure the level of students’ cognitive skills has allowed for evaluations of the quality of education. Empirical evidence suggests that these cognitive skills play a much bigger role than years of schooling in explaining differences in economic growth between countries. This thesis is a collection of three empirical studies that examine the quality of education using data from one such international student assessment, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). First, employing data on more than 80,000 students from 15 countries, I investigate the extent to which parents’ attitudes towards science are linked to their children’s science achievement in Study 1. The results of the multilevel analysis reveal that parents’ attitudes towards science have a positive and statistically significant relationship with their children’s science test scores on PISA. In addition, students from poor family backgrounds would benefit from more positive parental attitudes as much as students from richer families. The findings have important policy implications regarding programmes to educate parents about the importance of science and the need for stronger parent-teacher relations, especially with low-income parents. Study 2 focuses on the quality of education in a few countries in East Asia – a region characterised by vast differences on PISA. Specifically, I examine the reasons behind Malaysia’s underperformance in comparison with two high-performing countries, South Korea and Singapore. I conduct an Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition analysis to determine how much of the test score gaps between Malaysia and the two high performers can be attributed to student, family background, school, teacher, and institutional structure characteristics. While socioeconomic and school-specific factors are important, most of the gap remains unexplained even after controlling for these factors. I conclude by pointing to some policy-, institution-, and culture-related explanations for this unexplained gap such as the strong parental commitment to children’s education in Korea and Singapore’s high-quality teacher training institute. Countries worldwide are devoting a great deal of attention to improving school performance on PISA, but whether students attending schools that perform well on academic metrics are also happier is unknown. Since parents are likely to evaluate schools on the basis of academic performance, their views of the school may not be aligned with those of their children. Study 3 provides evidence of the extent to which average school performance on PISA is linked to parents’ satisfaction with the school and students’ sense of belonging to school using data on over 80,000 students from 11 countries. I find that both parents’ and children’s attitudes towards the school are similar, in that higher average school performance is positively associated with both parents’ perception of school quality and students’ sense of belonging. Based on these findings, this study provides policy recommendations to improve student well-being, mainly through greater parental involvement at home and stronger teacher-student relations.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Eduard Jan Bomhoff

Additional supervisor 1

Grace Hooi Yean Lee

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Economics (Monash University Malaysia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics