The Netherlands among top countries in OECD’s global education survey

logooecd_enSome Asian countries as well as Switzerland and the Netherlands outperform the rest of the world in the OECD’s latest PISA survey, which evaluates the knowledge and skills of the world’s 15-year-olds. The OECD’s PISA 2012 tested more than 510,000 students in 65 countries and economies on maths, reading and science. The main focus was on maths. Math proficiency is a strong predictor of positive outcomes for young adults. It influences their ability to participate in post-secondary education and their expected future earnings.

Shanghai-China, and Singapore were top in maths, with students in Shanghai scoring the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above most OECD countries. Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macao-China, Japan, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the Netherlands were also in the group of top-performing countries.

 “With high levels of youth unemployment, rising inequality and a pressing need to boost growth in many countries, it’s more urgent than ever that young people learn the skills they need to succeed,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría during the launch in Washington D.C. “In a global economy, competitiveness and future job prospects will depend on what people can do with what they know. Young people are the future, so every country must do everything it can to improve its education system and the prospects of future generations.”

Of those 64 countries with trend data in maths up to 2012, 25 improved in maths, 25 showed no change and 14 did worse. Brazil, Germany, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Tunisia and Turkey have shown a consistent improvement over this period. Shanghai-China and Singapore improved on their already strong performance in 2009.

Italy, Poland and Portugal also increased their share of top performers and reduced their share of low performers. Germany, Mexico and Turkey also managed to improve the performance of their weakest students, many of whom came from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This shows that countries can simultaneously improve equity and raise performance.

The survey reveals several features of the best education systems. Top performers, notably in Asia, place great emphasis on selecting and training teachers, encourage them to work together and prioritise investment in teacher quality, not classroom sizes. They also set clear targets and give teachers autonomy in the classroom to achieve them. Children whose parents have high expectations perform better: they tend to try harder, have more confidence in their own ability and are more motivated to learn.

Giving every child the chance to succeed is essential, says the OECD. 23% of students in OECD countries, and 32% overall, failed to master the simplest maths problems. Without these basic skills, they are most likely to leave school early and face a difficult future. Some countries have succeeded in helping underperformers: Colombia, Finland, Ireland, Germany, Mexico and Poland have put in place systems to identify and support struggling students and schools early, and have seen the PISA scores of this group increase.

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