Hong Kong frets about unfavourable declines in all sorts of global rankings, the latest being students’ competence . Even though we are still well placed than most of the 79 places in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey, our students slipped from second to fourth in reading and maths, and maintained ninth place in science, albeit with the lowest score in nearly two decades. For a city that puts competition and development ahead of everything, the results are alarming. There is certainly more to education than just reading, maths and science. The triennial Pisa study is a well recognised assessment of students’ performance worldwide, but it is not meant to be a report card on which places or education systems produce smarter students. If anything, it should prompt individual countries or cities to reflect on whether there are any inadequacies and, if so, whether they are related to any institutional problems. One issue worthy of attention is the continuous gap between reality and perception. Even when our students consistently outperform many others on a global scale, critics, parents, educators and employers believe something is seriously wrong with our school systems; and the quality of our students has been on the decline. That raises questions whether the good scores are just the result of rote learning. There seems to be a tendency for Asian students to perform better in the study. For instance, mainland students have edged out those from Singapore to top all three aspects in the latest study. Asian cultures are often said to prioritise achieving good scores more than Western cultures. Hong Kong is notorious for its exam-oriented approach towards education. Behind the glowing results are spoon-fed learning, forced memorisation and mechanical drilling. The study found that just 52 per cent of students said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to the global average of 67 per cent. That probably explains the divide between the good rankings and the negative feedback from local stakeholders. The city’s desire to stay ahead is unlikely to change. While nurturing the right talent for development and growth is essential, there is more to education than just emerging with flying colours.