Global education rankings highlight academic strengths of international students

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have seen the UK rise in international school rankings, with countries in East Asia still dominating as the top performers and some surprising results from underdogs.

Relocate Magazine January 2020
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Conducted every three years and involving half-a-million students around the world, PISA assesses the performance of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science across 79 countries. As education in the UK is devolved, PISA publishes separate rankings for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.In the latest rankings, which were released at the beginning of December 2019, teenagers in England trumped their peers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland by moving up to 18th for maths – a significant improvement on 27th in 2015 and well above the OECD average. Pupils in England also outperformed the OECD average in reading and science, moving up to 14th from 22nd in 2015 and 14th from 15th in 2015 respectively.For the first time, the performance of pupils in Wales was similar to the OECD average in reading, maths and science.John Cope, Confederation of British Industry (CBI) head of education & skills policy, says, “This year’s results confirm the UK is outperforming the PISA average, but there are some clear areas where improvement must happen. Young people’s ability and potential is evenly spread across the country, yet the opportunity for them to succeed is not.“UK firms rightly want a world-class education system focusing on young people’s academic ability, as well as developing their character and emotional intelligence. Companies will, therefore, be concerned that the UK is
below average on student’s life
satisfaction scores.”

Pupil wellbeing in the UK

While the results for students in the UK have improved, the OECD research found that 53% of 15-year-olds across the UK reported being less satisfied with their lives than in other developed countries. The results warrant further investigation, warns the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER).NFER chief executive, Carole Willis says, “PISA provides a valuable and rigorous way for nations to benchmark their pupils’ performance and learn from policies and practices in other countries. What requires further analysis and consideration is pupils’ perception of their wellbeing. While most pupils were happy, pupils in England were more likely to have negative feelings than pupils across the OECD countries.”

Asia is top of the charts

The highest performer in the PISA rankings was China, which achieved the top score for all subjects. Chinese students outperformed their peers in all of the other 78 participating education systems – in maths and science by a wide margin, and in reading, only Singapore came close.Samuel Fraser, head of Asia research at ISC Research, explains the growing popularity of international education in Asia, “Just 20 years ago, the international schools that existed, mostly served expatriate children. They were few and far between, and not many local families had the opportunity or the means to get their child admitted to their local international school.

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“However, as more international schools have opened, so they have become accessible to many more families, both expatriate and local. Today there are almost 11,000 international schools around the world, including 31 countries with over 100 international schools. They include China with 884 schools, India with 708, and the UAE with 664. A growing number of countries in South East Asia have seen dramatic growth in international schools in recent years too. Malaysia now has 283 international schools, Thailand has 216 and Vietnam has 126.”

European success stories

While global trends between 2009 and 2018 reveal that Asian school systems are consistently getting the best results, Estonia and Finland are among the highest achieving European countries.Estonia has advanced steadily to the top of the rankings, despite the fact that its expenditure per student remains about 30 per cent lower than the OECD average. In addition, Portugal advanced to the OECD average level even though the country was severely hit by the financial crisis. The Czech Republic and Ireland saw recent improvements in reading; Denmark, Ireland and
Slovenia in maths; and Montenegro in science.
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