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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 8:56am
NewsHong Kong

Shanghai teens still world's best at reading, maths, science in Pisa survey

Mainland city's 15-year-olds the best at reading, maths and science, global survey finds, but HK youngsters are snapping at their heels

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 7:58pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 12:25pm

Shanghai's 15-year-olds are still the best in the world at reading, maths and science, according to the latest global survey.

Hong Kong's youngsters ranked second in science and reading - up from third and fourth in 2009 - and held their third place for maths.

But compared with their counterparts in Singapore - second in maths, and third in science and reading - Hong Kong pupils improved less, gaining only 11 points more in reading and six in maths and in science from the 2009 assessment. The Singaporeans gained 16 points in reading, 11 in maths and nine in science. Shanghai students also showed more improvement, gaining 14 points in reading and 13 in maths compared with 2009.

The assessments also showed that just 12 per cent of pupils in Hong Kong were top achievers in maths, well below the 30.8 per cent for Shanghai and 19 per cent in Singapore.

The latest report by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) was based on surveys of more than half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries and regions.

Professor Esther Ho Sui-chu, director of the Centre for International Student Assessment in Hong Kong, said: "I think the differences in improvement are not very important."

She attributed those differences to the way cities treated the assessment.

"I don't know how Shanghai and Singapore did the assessment, but Hong Kong students did not prepare for the assessment and took it in a relaxed way," she said.

In April and May last year, 5,000 Hong Kong pupils from 148 government, aided and independent schools were randomly selected to take the assessments.

"We need to work on how to nurture more bright students, as our exam-orientated system tends to focus on high achievers' performance in exams but does not help them learn more than that," Ho said.

The difference in performance among pupils from the same school also increased, suggesting that the abilities of children within the same school vary more. And there were significant differences between the sexes in maths and reading, with boys outperforming girls by 15 points in maths and girls outscoring boys by 25 points in reading.

Ho said the government had to provide teachers with more resources to develop different teaching methods or materials for students of various ability levels.

An Education Bureau spokesman said the results showed that Hong Kong's curriculum reform, with its emphasis on "reading to learn", mathematics development and scientific thinking, had been a success.

"The outstanding performance of Hong Kong pupils in Pisa once again proves that our education is heading in the right direction," the spokesman said.

He said pupils' socio-economic status seemed to have less effect on their performance than in other regions, and that differences in performance among schools was smaller, suggesting they are provided with equal opportunities to receive high- quality education.

Hong Kong joined the ranking in 2000, when the three-yearly study, which began as a comparison between OECD member countries, was opened up to other school systems.



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Dai Muff
"Don't know what random sampling means?" Yes. It means NOT choosing students who are in your top percentile by location and claiming they reflect the country's education standards or intellect.
Shanghai is the home of China's elite, and there are restrictions that keep migrant students out of municipal schools. It makes up less than 2% of the country's population. The teachers there are paid more than double those in outlying provinces, and schools are significantly better funded. Shanghai's per capita GDP is more than double the national average, and parents spend a lot on outside tutoring. About 84% of Shanghai high school graduates go to college, compared to 24% nationally.
contact me when one of the high test individuals land on the moon or invent the next iPhone
in the mean time just keep making them, thank you
The top PISA score countries are all in the Confucian Belt.
Is Confucian tradition at least as good as any monotheistic Abrahamic faith in raising children? Why do dumb HKers think West is best in everything, including their middle school education, fundamentalist Judeo-Christianity and dysfunctional democracies? When will the yellow people purge themselves of their inferiority complex?
Deep down inside, I am not sure if this kind of test superiority will result in producing the crème de la crème.

Based on how these Asian countries including Japan had come from way behind and are now among the world’s developed nations, I suspect their Confucian educational philosophy correlates strongly with economic development.
My guess is other Asian nations with Confucian practices in their minority cultures will do better than those without. Using PISA scores as a predictor, Vietnam will beat out Cambodia, Thailand and India.

Western wealth today is a yesterday’s story. Western share of global wealth has no way to go but down, down, down.

Singapore with a living standard (GDP per capita adjusted for PPP) of 20% above the US is an outstanding example. It is a blatantly Confucian society. Five decades ago, it was probably as poor as Ceylon.
With India’s democracy and free elections, how well would it score had it been invited to participate in PISA?
Dai Muff
Three of the "top PISA score countries" are not countries. That is how the books get cooked.
The fact that Asians rank higher is not just because of generally stricter parenting, but also because the fact that most Asians (both in Shanghai and Hong Kong), are forced into tutoring camps where they are providing with test questions constantly are told to memorize how to respond. That combination makes it quite hard to actually do poorly in exams, but also produce students to build their critic, application, and also understanding skills for themselves.
The right balance must be struck when educating our youths, since that you end up with students who comes out of the system with the inability to do anything apart from what they are told, and when they are confronted with a problem that is outside the norm, they aren't able to apply their knowledge to solve issues.
Without a focus on understanding and application, Asia will continue to be unable to innovate, and continue to only follow the steps of our Western counterparts, since that although test scores in Western society may not as superior, the smart few also think of new ways to get out of their predicament.
Having interviewed a lot of locally educated students, it often disheartens me that so many candidates possess great scores, but are unable to hold up an interesting and interactive conversation, and when thrown a curve-ball during an interview, they just aren't able to adapt and think outside the box; whereas, Western educated Asians are more often able to answer the curve-balls, but worst scores.
Kudos to excellent students from Shanghai. It's unfortunate that so many more of their compatriots living in migrant work camps in the least desirable areas of great cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou as well as hundreds of millions of children struggling in impoverished rural regions can not share in the same opportunities as our esteemed Shanghai-students. Most of them are privileged to attend private schools charging upward of US$10,000 or $60K RMB annually with additional expenses for tutors. Such is the new reality in today's China where the top 2% (28 millions) consume 35% of all the world's luxury goods and services (Gucci, Prada, Mercedes, BMW, private jets and yachts) with another 20% (280 millions) reaching developed world- consumption standards (US$15K to $20K annually) but a staggering 75% (1.1 billion+) living at the subsistence level - according to the World Bank. The fact that children of the privileged-elites score exceedingly well in academic evaluations is not surprising, but the sad truth remains where hundreds of millions of children struggling in migrant work camps and rural regions can not even qualify to be evaluated is beyond shameful. For China, the world's largest socialist country, to extol achievements of its well-connected elites (2%) while hiding the dire plight of its overwhelmingly-vast majority (75%) is criminal. This reflects a corrupt and tyrannical regime focused on exclusive-gains through exploitation of its people.
N I suppose HK is much better with many living in pigeon holes, or subdivided homes, or caged homes. At least China can claim to be still a developing country with a GDP per capita of US$10,000, and they do acknowledge that. HK likes to boast that it is Asia's World City, a world class advanced economy, but unfortunately a sizeable group live in appalling Third World conditions

Usual false sense of superiority promoted by the likes of SCMP. My son goes to the same school I went to 40 years ago; I constantly worry that the school tries to squeeze the last bit of magic out of him...
Can't agree more. And I quote ""I don't know how Shanghai and Singapore did the assessment, but Hong Kong students did not prepare for the assessment and took it in a relaxed way,".
In other words, if HK had "prepared" for it, it will trump the whole world!
Why can't some HK people just learn to be gracious in defeat?
I for one, can't believe that HK could be relaxed about the whole thing, given the hyper competitive nature of many of its residents, such as constantly comparing themselves to Singapore for instance, as SCMP has shown over the years
While it is not politically correct to say so perhaps the reason why Asian students do better on these type assessment is based upon a higher overall iq than other races. In the US, for example, Asian students out perform students from other racial groups in almost every category.
Not a fact that anyone is willing to discuss..



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