Wealth Blog

Shanghai schools top global education league

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 6:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 6:50pm

Shanghai school kids head the international league table of over-achieving 15-year-olds. Meanwhile United Kingdom pupils failed to make the world’s top 20 in maths, reading and science. In common with most east and southeast Asian countries, Hong Kong kids did very well, coming second globally in most subjects. In maths, it was Shanghai first, Hong Kong second, Singapore third, Taiwan fourth, South Korea fifth, Macau sixth, Japan seventh, little Lichtenstein eighth, neighbour Switzerland ninth, and Netherlands tenth. Germany came in at 16, Vietnam 17. France 25, the UK 26 and USA 36. Bottom were several South American countries, such as Brazil at 58 and Peru at 65.

Shanghai emerges as the top education system in the PISA tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. These are international tests in maths, reading and science, taken by 500,000 15-year-old pupils in 65 countries and local administrations. Apparently these are the most influential rankings in international education. They measure education in Europe, North and South America, Australasia, parts of the Middle East and Asia and one African country, Tunisia.

So far China has not been judged as a whole country, but is expected to do so when the OECD holds tests again in three years time. In scores for reading, Shanghai comes first, with Hong Kong second, Singapore third, Japan fourth, South Korea fifth, Finland sixth and I’m glad to say, my own home country Ireland at seventh. Taiwan is eighth, Canada ninth and Poland tenth.

Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore top the science league, followed by Japan, Finland, Estonia, South Korea, Vietnam, Poland and Canada in tenth place. Asia does extremely well, with Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan among the highest ranked across all subjects. Meanwhile the UK has slipped in science from 16th to 21st place since the last tests three years ago. It comes 23rd for reading, broadly similar to three years ago. So you have to ask, why do so many Asian and especially Chinese parents mortgage their souls to send their children to school in Britain? Why not send them to Shanghai or stick with Hong Kong? Kids from China remain the biggest nationality of overseas pupils attending British schools. 

Food for thought

Parents might do well to study these PISA results and note that Vietnam has overtaken the US and UK in education rankings. Vietnam is an awful lot closer than the UK and probably a lot cheaper.  And if you look carefully, individual states can outperform countries. If viewed alone, and not as part of America as a whole, the state of Massachusetts comes sixth globally, ahead of any European country. 

Evading responsibility

The great and the good in the British education system are beating their breasts about their pathetic performance in these latest tests. The current Tory government is blaming the previous Labour government’s policies. Graham Stuart, chair of Britain’s education select committee, said yesterday the results were "extremely sobering" and showed that "we went nowhere" despite massive investment in schools. Teachers squirmed, saying the PISA results should not be used to "talk down our public education system", or so said Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers' union, who argued that high performing countries were those which promoted the professionalism of teachers. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Britain needs to catch up

Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser for education company Pearson and former Downing Street adviser said the test result "focuses minds in education ministries around the world like nothing else.”

There was a telling comment from a teacher on the BBC’s website. “We have politicians interfering in education and insisting teachers spend more time writing reports and maintaining excel spreadsheets so they can throw statistics at each other on BBC Question Time, the real issue goes on being ignored. I walked out of a school yesterday as I could not teach due to interference, abuse and refusal to work from students. I plan to open a carpet shop with my father.” 

Choose: happy or academic?

Indonesia, which ranks lowest of the Asian countries also appears as the country where the highest proportion of kids say they are happy at school. Least happy pupils are in South Korea, where it’s common to study 13 hours a day. There must be some middle ground, surely.