Asian Nations Top School Rankings


The biggest-ever global school rankings have been published, with Asian countries in the top five places. (BBC)

The ranking was based on science and math tests—help build your own knowledge with our collection of STEM resources.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including a PowerPoint presentation and today’s MapMaker Interactive map, in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

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Customize this map and experiment with layers to study influences shared by the top-performing school systems.

Discussion Ideas


  • How did the OECD rank school systems?
    • According to the BBC, “The rankings are based on an amalgamation of international assessments, including the OECD’s PISA tests, the TIMSS tests run by US-based academics and TERCE tests in Latin America, putting developed and developing countries on a single scale.”
      • FYI: The PISA and TIMSS tests were created in partnership with GED and Common Core powerhouse Pearson.
    • The tests rank basic skills as well as more advanced achievement. Basic skills provide a new definition of literacy: “In today’s interconnected world, the required basic skills are not just being able to identify information and carry out routine procedures according to direct instructions. They also include such skills as locating needed information and making basic inferences of various types.”
      • The top nations for students acquiring basic skills (page 38 here) are: Hong Kong, Estonia, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan.


  • Did the OECD factor in enrollment rates when ranking school systems?
    • Yes, and enrollment doesn’t necessarily correlate to higher test scores. (See page 44 here.) In the words of a professor quoted in a New York Times article on the study, “We’ve made substantial progress around the globe in sending people to school, but a large number of people who have gone to school haven’t learned anything.”


  • What mitigating factors or limitations are there to the OECD rankings?
    • The OECD rankings are based on a limited number of standardized tests, whose development and implementation are controversial. According to one educator quoted by the BBC, such tests “are skewing schools and national education systems away from real learning towards repetitive rote learning.”
    • The OECD ranked 74 school systems. That’s quite a sampling, but leaves out data—not ranking—the systems of major economies such as China, India, and Venezuela.
    • The OECD rankings evaluated math and science scores only. Achievements in subjects such as reading, social science, business, foreign languages, and art are not taken into account in this set of rankings.
    • The report itself admits “There are some caveats” (page 11 here):
      • “The first is that a better-educated workforce leads to a larger stream of new ideas that continues to produce technological progress at a higher rate . . . [T]he report provides an alternative scenario in which productivity is frozen, and every new worker will simply expand the pool of existing workers with similar skills and continue to work with the same productivity until the end of their working life. This rather pessimistic scenario, in which people just keep doing what they have been doing, leads to smaller but still impressive economic rewards for improved schooling.”
      • “The second assumption is that the improved skills will actually be used in the economy . . . The survey shows that even the best skills can atrophy if they are not used effectively.”


  • The BBC article says the OECD report “will provide evidence for next week’s World Education Forum of how achieving education targets can deliver economic gains.” What are some education targets that will be discussed at the forum?
    • The education targets are part of “Education for All,” itself a part of the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals are a set of eight goals agreed to by all members of the United Nations, concerning improving the quality of life in the developing world.
    • Education for All includes six goals aimed to meet the learning needs of all children, youth, and adults:
      • Goal 1: Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
      • Goal 2: Ensuring that . . . all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
      • Goal 3: Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programs.
      • Goal 4: Achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy . . . especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.
      • Goal 5: Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by [a new date to be targeted at the forum], and achieving gender equality in education by [a new date to be targeted at the forum], with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.
      • Goal 6: Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.



BBC: Asia tops biggest global school rankings

Nat Geo: STEM Education

Nat Geo: What Nations Rank Highest in Students’ Science and Math Scores? map

(extra credit!) OECD: Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain

OECD: PISA: Try the test

World Education Forum 2015

OECD: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

National Center for Education Statistics: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

UNESCO: Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE)

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