By Daniel Maxwell

Asian nations once again dominated the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings, with Singapore claiming first place, followed closely by Japan.

Taipei, Macao, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and mainland China joined Singapore and Japan, to total seven Asian economies in the Pisa Top 10, while Estonia, Finland and Canada are the highest ranking Western nations, registering in 3rd, 5th, and 7th place, respectively.

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessments (Pisa) are the closest thing there is to an international standarised test, and despite what the critics of this programme say, it is generally agreed that this educational ranking is the most reliable, and influential, global indicator of student achievement.

By focusing on 15-year-old students and assessing their skills and knowledge in literacy, numeracy and science, the Pisa tests evaluate learners as they complete compulsory education to gain valuable insights to the efficiency of national education systems.

To ensure the Pisa results provide a realistic and accurate portrait of student achievement in each region, the OECD randomly selects thousands of 15-year-old students from schools across the participating economies. The assessments are held every three years, and this set of latest results are based on the 2015 round of testing, which assessed over 500,000 students from 72 economies, representing over 30 million 15-year-olds worldwide.

The PISA tests cover 184 items in science, 103 items in reading, 81 in mathematics, 117 in collaborative problem-solving and 43 in financial literacy. Each participating student sits for a two-hour test which covers these five areas of assessment.

In the 2012 Pisa report, Singapore was ranked 2nd behind Shanghai. This year, the city state replaced Shanghai as the highest-ranked education system, although it is worth noting that Shanghai no longer appears as a separate entry. In this latest round of assessments, China is now represented through four distinct regions, with students from Shanghai merged with learners from Beijing, Jiangsu and Guangdong.

Singapore, the top-performing country in each subject area, scored 564 in Mathematics, 556 in Science and 530 in literacy, well above the average result for each subject, which is around 490 points.

It has been estimated that 30 points in the ranking equate to about one year’s worth of schooling, which suggests that students in Singapore are as much as two years ahead of students in the UK and three years ahead of their American peers in Mathematics.

Singapore’s success in this year’s Pisa ranking reinforces the findings from other education rankings such as, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which ranked the city state’s students 1st in Mathematics and Science, and supports the growing argument that Singapore is now a global leader in education.

This year’s Pisa results also indicate that the United States, and much of Europe is falling behind East Asia, as the results from the Science tests display. France, with a score of 495, and the United States, with 496, achieved scores in Science of just over average while, the UK, Germany and Netherlands each reaching a score of 509. In contrast Japan (538), Taiwan (532), Macao (529), Vietnam (525) and Hong Kong (523) have scores which suggest their students are an entire year ahead of the OECD average.

While the education systems in East Asian economies, and economies which adhere to East Asian ethics, such as Singapore and Vietnam, ranked highly in the Pisa tests, Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia and Thailand have continued to struggle. Thailand ranked 54th in Science with a score of 421 points, while Indonesia came among the lowest ten economies with a score of 403 points, indicating that 15-year-olds in these countries are a couple of years behind the OECD average.

Following the release of these latest results, educators and policy makers around the world are expected to once again focus their attention on East Asia, in a bid to raise standards and become more competitive in future rankings.

However, the success of East Asian nations is not easily replicated, and while pedagogies, such as the ‘Mastery Method’ and policies such as stringent teacher training could benefit most education systems, the cultural dimension within which East Asian students grow up cannot be easily transferred.

Across East Asia, diligence in study is celebrated, extra tuition is common, families have high expectations and education is revered. These factors are fertile ground for the successful development of literacy, numeracy and scientific understanding, and until Western nations discover an approach which will encourage similar attitudes to study, East Asia is expected to continue its dominance of the Pisa rankings.

This article first appeared on Asian Correspondent.

Image via Shutterstock

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