IN AN exercise highlighting the rise of Asia and the decline of traditional powerhouses, Singapore has come out tops in the world's most comprehensive education rankings. Among the 76 regions and countries surveyed, Asia took the top five spots, with Singapore leading the pack, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The economic think-tank, which released its findings yesterday, pulled together results from several surveys, including the "gold-standard" Programme for International Student Assessment done in 2012 on 510,000 15-year-olds.
Hong Kong and South Korea followed Singapore in the rankings, and even Vietnam - at No. 12 - performed better than Germany (13), Britain (20) and the United States (28).
The study, which looked at how academic scores were linked to economic growth, noted that Singapore's emphasis on education had propelled it from Third World to First, while places such as the US and Britain were losing billions of dollars each year because many of their students left school without basic reading, mathematics and science skills.
When contacted, OECD education director Andreas Schleicher said Singapore is an example of a country that has placed education first and has been able to "advance from a very poor country to one of the most prosperous nations in the world".
The report, written by economists Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann, showed that the quality of schooling is "a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run".
Poor education policies leave many countries in what amounts to a permanent state of economic recession, it added.
For instance, if Ghana, the lowest-ranked country, achieved basic education skills for all its 15-year-olds, its current gross domestic product would grow by 38 times over the students' lifetime, the report estimated. And if the US were to equip all its students with basic skills, its economy could gain more than US$27 trillion (S$36.1 trillion) over the students' working lives.
In Singapore, about nine in 10 students make the grade.
Mr Schleicher told BBC that Asian countries were very good at attracting good teachers in challenging classrooms.
"If you go to an Asian classroom, you'll find teachers who expect every student to succeed. There's a lot of rigour, a lot of focus and coherence," he said.
Mr Schleicher also told The Straits Times via e-mail: "In a world where the kind of things that are easy to teach and easy to test are also easy to digitise, automate and outsource, countries like Singapore may need to put greater emphasis on students developing creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and build character attributes such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience."
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat agreed, saying it is important to "build skills of the future", which include creativity, teamwork and communication. "So this gives us a good solid base to continue that work.
"And also we have to continue to think about the skills that, in the future, will matter to our young people," he said.
2. Hong Kong
3. South Korea
4. Taiwan (tied with Japan)
9. The Netherlands
This article was first published on May 14, 2015.
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