FT : Chinese Schools Top Of Table In OECD Rankings

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

China has some of the world’s best schools, according to the latest sweeping study of global education systems, with Shanghai taking first place and Hong Kong fourth.
Korea took the second spot and Finland the third in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, published on Tuesday.  The tests, which were taken in 2009, assessed the reading, science and maths skills of 15-year-olds from state schools in all 34 OECD member states, as well as in a host of other nations and regions.

Shanghai and Hong Kong were not representative of the whole of China, but Andreas Schleicher, special adviser on education to the OECD, said the country should not be underestimated. “They have agile, mobile schools and a lot of parental pressure,” he said.  Citing further, as yet unpublished OECD research, Mr Schleicher added: “We have actually done Pisa in 12 of the provinces in China, [and] even in some of the very poor areas you get performance close to the OECD average.”  Among the OECD countries, Korea moved into top place. Finland took second place, with Canada and New Zealand taking third and fourth slots respectively. Crowded around the OECD average sat Germany (16), France (18) and the UK (20).  The US came in at 14th among the OECD countries, but its localised school system was extremely variable. Schools in the north-east US are equal to those in the seventh-placed Netherlands. In the Midwest, they are equivalent to 12th-placed Poland, in the west, they are as good as those in Italy (23rd). Schools in the south are as effective as those in Greece (25th).

The OECD reports corroborate other research that finds the solution to problems in schooling are rarely solely about money. “You only explain about 10 per cent of the performance variability with resources alone,” Mr Schleicher said.  The best school systems enjoyed a “combination of accountability and autonomy”, he added, where the government collected data and had the “capacity to intervene . . . but at the same time they leave schools considerable discretion”.  He was also critical of selective school systems, which are not used by the top performers. “Many European countries still believe that students have different destinations that should be met with different expectations,” he said.  Rising heterogeneity within school systems, caused by inequality, was a growing problem for schools. Mr Schleicher said: “If you just keep the status quo, you are at high risk … because the challenges for schooling are increasing.”

Reference : The Financial Times, Dec 8th 2010

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