Singapore leads way as Asia topsc

December 06, 2023

PARIS: Asian countries led by Singapore dominated the top spots in a keenly watched survey of education capabilities published on Tuesday, while levels in Europe slipped at a record pace -- and not just because of Covid.

However, the report also showed that students in top-performing countries were not necessarily happier. The PISA survey is carried out every three years by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to assess the ability of 15-year-olds to meet real-life challenges.

“The Pisa 2022 results show a fall in student performance that is unprecedented in Pisa´s history,” OECD education analyst Irene Hu told reporters. Singapore took the top ranking in the latest assessment, which was carried out in 2022 and involved 690,000 students in 81 participating countries and economies.

Students wearing face masks as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus attend a class at Dajia Elementary School in Taipei on April 29, 2020. — AFP

The southeast Asian island city-state scored highest in all three of the survey´s areas: mathematics, reading and science. “These results suggest that, on average, Singaporean students are the equivalent of almost three to five years of schooling ahead of their peers,” the report said.

Five other Asian education systems -- in Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea -- came next in mathematics and also scored near the top in reading and science. But while Asia did well, other parts of the world declined, sparking an overall “unprecedented drop in performance”, the report said.

Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland, for example, all saw notably lower achievements in mathematics, it said. Covid-19 shutdowns hurt education standards, the report said, but there were also other factors behind the downturn.

Students in Finland, Iceland, and Sweden -- once star performers -- have been scoring lower marks for years. “This indicates that long-term issues in education systems are also to blame for the drop in performance,” it said. “It is not just about Covid.”

A key factor is “the level of support pupils received from teachers and school staff”, the OECD´s Hu said. Some education systems have not given sufficient resources for supporting students, said Eric Charbonnier, another OECD education analyst.