Hong Kong ranks third in global study of cognitive skills

International survey shows city's youngsters are doing well, but experts warn about rote learning

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2012, 12:14pm

Hong Kong ranked third in an international survey of students' cognitive skills and educational attainment, behind South Korea and Finland.

Japan and Singapore trailed behind the city, despite being among the top five in the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment study by the Economist Intelligence Unit released yesterday.

The survey compared the performances of grade 8 and grade 4 pupils in 40 countries in mathematics, reading and science, based on their results in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, and the international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study assessments.

The measurement of educational attainment is based on the countries' latest literacy rate and graduation rates at the upper secondary and tertiary level.

Despite Hong Kong pupils' superior academic performance, local experts warned rote learning remained an issue here.

The report attributes the success of Finland and South Korea to some common qualities: high-quality teachers, value accountability and a moral mission that underlies education efforts.

The index is in The Learning Curve, a research report published by educational company Pearson, which has information on education inputs and outputs in more than 50 countries.

While factors like government spending on education, school entrance age, teacher salaries and degree of school choice are believed to affect educational quality, the report points out that simply pouring resources into a system is not enough: far more important are the processes which use these resources.

Cultural change towards education and ambition are equally, if not more, important than income in promoting better educational outcomes. But there is no doubt about the importance of good teachers.

"The impact of good teachers extends beyond positive educational outcomes and can be linked to positive societal factors, such as lower levels of teenage pregnancy," the report says.

"The best performing countries attract top talent, train teachers throughout their careers and allow them freedom."

The report also highlights the difficulty parents - even in the developed world - have in making the right choice of schools for their children. Extensive studies of voucher programmes and charter schools in the United States indicate that, while both can be beneficial, neither offers a magic formula, it says.