Back to school? Some worldwide education stats to make you think

It’s September, which means back to school for the kids.  While some of them will probably have just received exam results and don’t want to think about turning their papers over again just yet, we thought it would be a good opportunity to look at some international statistics on educational success.

Since 1997, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has carried out a survey called the Programme for International Student Assessment, better known as the PISA tests.  Pupils from around the world sit exams to assess their skills in reading, maths and science, and then countries are graded on a 1,000 point scale to see how well they perform alongside one another.  The last set of PISA tests results were released in 2012, so are a little behind the times now.  That said, they still offer a fascinating glimpse into contrasting education systems and little is likely to have changed drastically since the last set of exams.

In at number one across all three areas of testing was Shanghai, China, scoring 613 for maths, 580 for science and 570 for reading.  Hong Kong came second for science and reading, but was just pipped to silver by Singapore in the science tests.  Here are the top ten countries for maths, science and reading by their PISA scores…

There was much soul-searching and self-criticism in the United Kingdom and United States when the PISA results were released. The UK only managed to reach 26th place for maths, joint 20th for science and 23rd place for reading, while the USA came in 26th for maths, 28th for science and 24th for reading.

There was even more soul-searching when the PISA results were compared to self-reported happiness levels among school children around the world. Many of the countries riding high in the charts for PISA scores were languishing down the bottom of the scale for childhood happiness, with Korean, Slovakian, Estonian, and Finnish students apparently the most miserable. Children in Indonesia (64th for maths and science and 60th for reading) were amongst the happiest, as were children in Colombia (62nd for maths, 60th for science and 57th for reading).

So as children up and down the country unenthusiastically pack their school bags for the start of another term, spare a thought for the children in Shanghai - once their regular lessons have finished for the day, upwards of 80% of them attend 'cram schools' with tutors well into the evening. Not much fun...