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  • Oct 20, 2014
  • Updated: 1:11pm
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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This article is now closed to comments

Congratulations to all the schools and students for their high scores! Now, where do these brilliant people go after their studies? I seem unable to see them making an impact in Hong Kong in general, and definitely not in the HK Government (same applies for Singapore, by the way).
Don't know what random sampling means? Go to a college and audit a baby statistics course. If you don't understand something, why do you badmouth it? What has HK government to do with sample selection?
You really have to check your superciliousness. Reading means reading comprehension. Band 2 & 3 students in Chinese schools may comprehend more than you think. PISA tests them in their native language, not in English. Most SCMP readers are not particularly good at understanding what they read. Is English their problem?
There are many Chinese and Shanghai bashers here. Why can't they just accept that Asians took top spots because of their Confucian discipline and intestinal fortitude.
I don't believe group performance will produce super-intellects who are movers and shakers. On the other hand, if countries with high PISA score manage their development skillfully, they have more human resources to build a skilled workforce, which is a factor in the income production function.
For those critics with less than sterling math skills, they must have noticed that many professions are not in their menu of choices. They missed the boat long ago because they didn't do well in math at 15.
Eat your heart out. Bashing China and Shanghai won't change PISA results one iota. If HK obstructionists don't engage in political self flagellation and sabotage, we can work on guiding our youngsters to gainful employment. Their PISA shows they are eminently trainable.
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.
"Shanghai is the home of China's elite, and there are restrictions that keep migrant students out of municipal schools."
Yes, Shanghai as well as many other metropoles in the Mainland are the home of the elite's. So are other big cities around the world in different countries.
"The teachers there are paid more than double those in outlying provinces, and schools are significantly better funded."
The cost of living in Shanghai is also much higher than in outlying provinces. You can not pay a teacher in Shanghai only 2000RMB/month. The schools in Shanghai are better funded because Shanghai is a big city, like New York where schools as well are better funded than schools in "Smallville".
"and parents spend a lot on outside tutoring".
In the USA, if we want to have quality education you have to pay premiums for it. In Europe, parents as well spend a lot on outside tutoring if their offsprings performes bad in school. What is your point?
"About 84% of Shanghai high school graduates go to college, compared to 24% nationally."
I will pretend the figures are accurate.....And in other countries it's different?
They say the Indians are all top scorers & the prominent group of engineers/CEOs in Silicon Valley. How come Indian students are not listed in this survey? If not, that means the results are not accurate. It's like deleting Usain Bolt in running & naming the next guy as the best.
sudo rm -f cy
"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.
Are HK students *ever* allowed to relax?
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
A tale about how the Prussian Army selected it officers and soldiers holds a lesson for Asians.
Two tests were given to determine if a person was: Stupid or Clever; Lazy or Hardworking.
Those who were Clever and Lazy were made High officers.
Those who were Clever and Hardworking were made Low officers.
Those who were Stupid and Lazy were made regular soldiers.
Those who were Stupid and Hardworking were taken out and shot so they caused no more damage to the organization.
Clever and Lazy always have the Clever and Hardworking do all the work.
Clever and Lazy Americans have the Clever and Hardworking Asians doing all the work.
High test scores are not the only key to success.
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.




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