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UK and U.S. slip in global education achievement rankings

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The newest comprehensive global education rankings are out – and, unsurprisingly, Asian countries are on top yet again, with the UK trailing behind many of its Asian and European counterparts.

The rankings, released yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which also administers the global PISA (Programme for Internatioanl Student Assessment) tests, compare standards in math and science between 76 different countries. The report includes an assessment of the levels of basic skills among 15-year-old students in the two subjects as well as measures of national economic performance, and concludes that increasing skill levels would significantly contribute to improving economic growth in every country surveyed.

Following a familiar pattern, Singapore snagged the top spot on the rankings, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Finland was the highest-ranked European country at 6,

The UK came in 20th on the rankings, below other European countries like Poland and Slovenia, while the US slid in below at 28.

The report found that about one fifth of UK 15-year-olds lack the basic skills to make them functionally literate in math and science and capable of performing relatively easy tasks like calculating exchange rates.

According to the authors, ensuring that all students in the UK reached this basic skill level by 2030 would contribute a total of £2.33 trillion to the national economy by 2095, or over the lifetime of those students.

The economic growth potential was even greater for developing countries, which ranked lower on the overall list but had much greater possibility of increasing their economic performance by investing in education.

Ghana had the greatest growth potential, with a 3881 percent possible increase in GDP if all 15-year-olds in the country achieved this basic level of education.  It was followed by South Africa, at a potential 2624 percent growth, then Honduras, Morocco and Oman. These countries, in reverse order, were the lowest countries on the achievement rankings, hence why they also have the greatest potential for growth.

The report posits that the standard of education is a “powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run”.

“Poor education policies and practices leave many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession,” write the authors.

These new rankings are seen as a more comprehensive alternative to the PISA tests, which tend to focus primarily on wealthy industrialised countries and don’t incorporate an economic analysis. In contrast, these comparisons are the “first true global metric of the quality of education,” according to Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s education director.

“The idea is to give more countries, rich and poor, access to comparing themselves against the world’s education leaders, to discover their relative strengths and weaknesses, and to see what the long-term economic gains from improved quality in schooling could be for them,” he said.

The report will be formally presented next week at the World Education Forum in South Korea, during a United Nations conference on targets for raising global education standards by 2030.

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