According to comprehensive global school rankings released Wednesday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Singapore’s education system is at the top of the world.
Taking into consideration a combination of test scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the rankings reflect the average performance of 14- and 15- year olds in math and science. Data from 76 countries – more than a third of the world’s nations – was analysed in order to provide a sweeping account of the state of education systems across the globe.
Asian countries took all five top spots in the rankings. Singapore was first, followed by Hong Kong (2nd), South Korea (3rd), and Japan and Taiwan (sharing the 4th place).
While all five of these countries are considered “high-income” by the OECD, national affluence does not necessarily correlate to high performance in education. The U.K., for example, came in at the 20th position, while the United States placed 28th in the rankings.
Canada, meanwhile, barely squeezed into the top ten, placing in the tenth position just behind the Netherlands, which came in at number nine.
Interestingly, the rankings also represented an expansion of the number of countries typically encompassed by “global” comparisons of educational systems. Whereas the OECD’s PISA tests focus on more affluent, industrialised countries, the inclusion of similar data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science study allowed researchers to paint a more comprehensive picture. Most notably, the inclusion means better representation of Africa and Latin America, where possible. Unfortunately, there were still only a minority of African countries with sufficient test data to be included.
The five lowest-ranked countries are Oman (72nd), Morocco (73rd), Honduras (74th), South Africa (75th) and Ghana (76th).That said, it could be that these countries are still outperforming a number of populations without adequate data to report on or for which there are no comparable figures.
The OECD report also ranks countries according to the percentage of students without basic education skills. Unsurprisingly, those countries with poor test scores also tend to have the largest proportion of students lacking basic skills. Ghana came in at the top of this table, while Hong Kong is at the other end, having the fewest percentage of students without basic education skills. Almost 90 percent of Ghanaian students lack fundamental educational abilities.
In terms of high-income countries, the United States had the second-highest percentage of students lacking basic skills at 24 percent, while Luxembourg’s results were the worst according to this measure.
When plotted against annual economic data between 1960 and 2000, the researchers found that average test scores over the years correlated with economic growth. According to the report, this points to a relationship between cognitive skills and economic success. It states that, “Poor education policies and practices leave many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession”. Essentially, what this means is that the results of the educational rankings can serve as more than just a look at global scholarship levels. They provide countries with a vision of how they can improve their overall economic performance.
The authors stress, however, that having a strong educational system is about more than the number of mandatory years of schooling. Good education systems ensure that students acquire a solid foundation in key disciplines, that they develop critical thinking abilities, and that they cultivate meaningful character attributes, like curiosity.
The study’s findings and full details will be formally presented at next week’s UNESCO World Education Forum, taking place in South Korea from May 19-22nd. The conference will reflect on global progress toward the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for education, for which a target date of 2015 was set, and new goals will be developed for the next 15 years.
2. Hong Kong
3. South Korea