Shanghai has taken the lead in the latest OECD global education rankings – the culmination of results from standardised tests administered in 34 different countries across 64 regions to 500,000 15-year-old students.
Together with four other East Asian countries: Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea they made the top five countries in maths, quickly followed by the Chinese island of Macau.
Many believe the results are a reflection of the region’s rising economic success.
Elsewhere in the world there was much disappointment amongst western countries, the US, for example, received it’s worse score since 2009 – falling to 36th place overall for maths, 24th overall for reading and, 28th for science.
Australia and New Zealand, whose students perform better than the OECD average, also saw significant drops in educational rankings, specifically in areas of maths and reading.
Australia’s rankings fell from 15th place to 19th in maths, with the greatest disparity in achievement for Australian girls since 2009. On average, Australian students perform at a level equivalent to three years behind Shanghai students in maths, and almost 2 years behind in reading.
”We’re being outperformed by a much larger number of countries now,” Sue Thomson, director of educational monitoring and research at the Australian Council for Educational Research, told reporters.
‘We were quite proud that we had no gender gap in mathematics, but that’s back, and girls’ attitudes are really quite a concern in terms of their level of ‘maths anxiety’ and belief about whether they can succeed in maths,” Dr Thomson added.
Australian students also fell from 10th to 16th overall place in science and 9th to 14th in reading as students in countries like Poland and Vietnam overtook them in the OECD table ranking. Huge gaps between Australian students persisted based on wealth, location, gender and indigenous background.
The results are expected to fuel debate surrounding education funding this week, as the current Australian government continues to shift position on the ”needs-based” funding model championed by David Gonski’s recent review of school funding which highlighted serious inequality within the education system in Australia
The data showed that New Zealand education levels also slumped, falling from 7th overall to 18th in science, from 12th place to 23rd in maths and from 7th place to 13th in reading.
“It’s a wake-up call to the whole education system but also to the Government that their education approach isn’t improving things and under National the decline of our education system is accelerating,” New Zealand’s education minister Hekia Parata told reporters.
“The fact that is it such a significant decline is something that we should really wake up and pay attention to,” she added.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director for education and skills believes the success of education systems like that of Shanghai’s was the results of factors such as: selecting teachers as well as prioritising investment in teacher training and development.
In fact they pointed to Shangahi’s three additional years of schooling as the reason behind the area’s clearly superior results.
Interestingly the OECD also found no evidence to suggest that competition – between state run and private schools – had any impact on raising standards in education.
You would expect that systems with greater choice would come out better because you expect competition to raise performance of the high performers and lower performers, and put out of the market schools and systems that do not succeed. But in fact, you don’t see a correlation,” Schleicher said.
“Competition alone is not a predictor for better outcomes. And the UK is a good example: a highly competitive school system but still only an average performer.”