Secondary school students being taught in a classroom. TODAY FILE PHOTO
SINGAPORE — The Republic has emerged top in mathematics and science scores among 76 countries, in what is being touted as the “most comprehensive picture possible” of countries’ current skill levels.
And analysis of 40 years of data in this Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development study has highlighted the correlation between cognitive skills and economic growth.
The ranking pulls together the latest test scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment for 15-year-olds and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study for 14-year-olds, in 2012 and 2011 respectively.
“Combining data from the two tests is justified since results for the two tend to be very similar,” said the report’s authors, Stanford University professor Erick Hanushek and Munich University professor Ludger Woessmann.
The end result put Asia on top. Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan’s Taipei city ranked right after Singapore. Finland was sixth, while African nations Ghana and South Africa took the last two spots.
The authors also plotted countries’ annual economic data between 1960 and 2000 against their average test scores.
“The quality of schooling ... is a powerful predictor of the wealth that countries will produce in the long run,” stated the report’s editorial from OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation director-general for education Qian Tang.
They cautioned, however, that it is not about adding more years of schooling but ensuring that “individuals acquire a solid foundation of knowledge in key disciplines, that they develop creative, critical thinking and collaborative skills, and that they build character attributes, such as mindfulness, curiosity, courage and resilience”.
Dr Schleicher also told TODAY: “Ensuring that every student in the industrialised world obtains very basic skills would generate more wealth than the total amount we currently spend on education.”
In other findings, countries that had poor test scores had the largest share of students without basic skills. Hong Kong had the smallest share, while Singapore had the fourth smallest (10 per cent of pupils without basic skills).
Being a high-income country, however, does not mean having zero underperformance in education. The United States, for example, was placed 28th for its test scores, and close to a quarter of its students failed to attain basic skills.
Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who commented on the report’s findings, agreed on the need to build on Singapore’s strong showing.
He urged parents and employers to work together with schools: “We have to continue to think about the skills in the future (that) will matter greatly to our young people.”