Investigating Students’ Difficulties in Completing Mathematical Literacy Processes: A Case of Indonesian 15-Year-Old Students on PISA-like Math Problems


Magister of Mathematics Education, Sriwijaya University, Palembang,



Mathematical literacy, the ability which describes a person’s capacity to formulate, employ, and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts, has been becoming an important discussion in the international PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey that compares the achievement of students in all country participants in using math in everyday life. In the period 2000-2012, Indonesian students have not shown a good performance when participating this survey. This fact give rise to this study which aims to investigate Indonesian students’ difficulties in completing a set of mathematical processes mentioned in mathematical literacy components, i.e. formulate, employ, interpret/evaluate, when solving PISA-like tasks  composed through a developmental study. A sample of 50 students aged 15 years worked the written examinations, and 8 of them were interviewed. Using ‘source of errors in mathematical literacy examination’ as a framework of analyzing students’ difficulties, data analysis revealed that mathematical process:‘formulate’, i.e. the process of identifying opportunities to use mathematics and then provide mathematical structure to a problem presented in some contextualised form, constituted the most frequently observed errors in students’ works. In term of Fundamental Mathematical Capabilities, a set of mathematical competencies mentioned in PISA framework 2012, the students found difficulties in all competencies, i.e. communication, reasoning and argumentation, mathematising, representation, problem solving, and the use of formal/symbolic language. The implications of this study motivate a further research on analyzing students’ performance on similar tasks as well as using the results of this study as tools to improve mathematical literacy based learning in every mathematics teaching program.

Key Words: mathematical literacy, student’s difficulties, pisa-like math problems, fundamental mathematical capabilities, mathematical process

This paper has been presented at Sriwijaya University Learning and Education- International Conference 2014. Faculty of Teacher Training and Educational, Sriwijaya University, Palembang, May 16-18 2014

  1. Introduction

Indonesia has a special case during participated PISA mathematics survey over the years 2000-2012. From the first participation, Indonesian students’ performance have not shown satisfactory results. In the period 2003-2009 almost 80 % of students were only able to reach below level 2 out of 6 levels of questions examined (Widjaja, 2011). Moreover, on PISA survey 2009 almost all Indonesian students only reached level 3, whereas only 0.1 % of Indonesian students reaching level 5 and 6 (Kemdikbud 2013; Stacey, 2011). These results is reinforced by the results of the latest PISA survey in 2012 which puts Indonesia ranks 64 out of 65 countries with the level of attainment is relatively low where almost all Indonesian participating students, i.e. 98.5 % were only able to achieve level 3 (OECD 2013; National Center for Education Statistics 2013). These facts indicate that Indonesian students have not been able to succesfully activate fundamental mathematical capabilities, a set of mathematical competencies mentioned in PISA framework 2012, into each of mathematical process (formulate, employ, interpret) performed when solving PISA problems. In fact, these competencies are important to underly their ability to well execute those processes (OECD, 2013).

This fact gives rise to the questions of why Indonesian students have such low mathematical literacy scores on the task like in PISA survey and why they seem to experience more difficulties in performing their mathematical literacy than students in other countries. Therefore, this present study aims to describe the Indonesian students’ difficulties in solving mathematical literacy problems qualitatively which analyzes (1) level of students’ errors in term of mathematical process proceeded and (2) difficulties in term of activating fundamental mathematical capabilities mentioned in PISA framework 2012, i.e. communication, reasoning and argumentation, mathematising, representation, problem solving, and the use of formal/symbolic language.

To see more detail about this paper, download the full paper here.


About Bang Qohar

I'm Wachid. I'm Indonesian. I'm interested in educating children, especially in mathematics learning. I believe that mathematics could be well built to children for better life. I graduated from Mathematics Education of State University of Surabaya. I am studying Mathematics Education for my magister degree focusing on Realistics Mathematics Education.

Posted on July 13, 2014, in Articles, Assessment in Math Education, For Teachers, Research in Mathematics Education and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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