Asia takes top spots in OECD global education survey

PARIS - Asian nations cemented their top positions in an eagerly awaited report on global education Tuesday, with students from Shanghai again ranking first in maths, science and reading.

The three-yearly report by the Paris-based OECD, based on surveys of more than half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries, saw Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea take the top five top places for maths skills.

The so-called PISA report (Programme for International Student Assessment) is the single largest study of global schooling and has been dubbed the World Cup of education.

It is highly influential among education officials, with participating countries representing more than 80 per cent of the global economy.

Shanghai's top rankings means its students are the equivalent of three years of schooling ahead of their counterparts with average scores, including those of many wealthy Western countries like Britain and France.

This year's survey focused on math skills, with Macao-China, Japan, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and The Netherlands rounding out the top 10.

Lacking a truly national sample in China, the report only includes some of the country's most economically advanced regions, which the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) acknowledges are not representative of the entire country.

The report highlighted Italy, Poland and Portugal for showing improvements in maths skills since the last survey, but noted drops in Sweden and Finland.

Students in Britain scored the exact average of OECD nations in maths, with their counterparts in France only slightly ahead. The United States was further down, wedged between Slovakia and Lithuania.

Peru ranked at the bottom of the list in all three categories, with its students the equivalent of six years of schooling behind students in Shanghai.

Only one European country, Finland, made it into the top five in any category, scoring as the fifth top performer in science.

The report noted that gender differences remain strong, with girls continuing to outperform in reading skills and boys showing better results in maths.

Australia, Canada, Estonia and Finland were noted for having high levels of "equity in education", where students can succeed regardless of their socio-economic background.