The Disparity in Asia’s Education Systems Will Limit Regional Development

While East Asia countries top education performance, Southeast Asia is struggling to catch up. An aging population and gap with Southeast Asia might mark down the whole region.

The News Lens
Date: 2019/12/11
By: John West

Photo Credit: CNA

Many countries see it as an Olympic Games for education. Every three years, a competition, of a sort, ranks scholastic performance across nations for mathematics, science, and reading on a variety of measures. Who will win gold? (This time it was China!) Some countries interpret any low score as a national slight, and can even withdraw from the exercise.

The OECD's triennial Program for International Student Assessment report, widely known as PISA, was released this week. The hypersensitivity surrounding this much-anticipated international event is in large part because the highest-ranking nations have consistently been from East Asia, including China, whereas Western countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany have landed further down the list. The PISA study has fed into the great-power competition between the U.S. and China, with some Americans such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman despairing that the U.S. is being beaten by China in the classroom.

PISA measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics, and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. But each PISA test also focuses on one of these subjects and provides a summary assessment of the other two. In the latest results, the focus was on reading in a digital environment.

The top four ranking economies for reading were from China, Singapore, Macau, and Hong Kong, with South Korea also featuring in the top 10. Not far behind was Japan, and Taiwan also made it into the top 20. The U.S. placed 13th, Britain 14th, Australia 16th, and Germany 20th.

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