The PISA global education test, which evaluates the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems, tested around 600,000 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economies on reading, science and mathematics.
“Without the right education, young people will languish on the margins of society”
It revealed that most countries – particularly in the developed world – have seen little improvement in their performances over the past decade, even though spending on schooling increased by 15% over the same period.
This means that “they are likely to struggle to find their way through life in an increasingly volatile, digital world,” read the PISA report.
In reading, four Chinese provinces with a combined population of more than 180 million– Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang – scored significantly higher than other countries.
Singapore, also a non-OECD country, bagged the second spot while Macao and Hong Kong ranked third and fourth, respectively.
The top OECD countries were Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland.
Additionally, about one in six students (16.5%) in the four Chinese provinces and one in seven in Singapore (13.8%) perform at the highest level in maths, compared to just 2.4% in OECD countries.
“Without the right education, young people will languish on the margins of society, unable to deal with the challenges of the future world of work, and inequality will continue to rise,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría in a statement.
“Every dollar spent on education generates a huge return in terms of social and economic progress and is the foundation of an inclusive, prosperous future for all.”
Student well-being is also an increasing issue, according to the PISA results.
Around two out of three students in OECD countries reported being happy with their lives, although the share of satisfied students fell by five percentage points between 2015 and 2018.
Alarmingly, however, one in four students also reported being bullied “at least a few times a month” across OECD countries.
Another issue highlighted by the results is the stark gap between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged students, as the reading level of the wealthiest 10% of students in OECD countries is around three years ahead of the poorest 10%.
In France, Germany, Hungary and Israel, the gap is four years.
Yet some countries have shown an impressive improvement, the report explained. Portugal was revealed to have advanced to the level of most OECD countries, despite being struck by the financial crisis.
Additionally, Sweden has improved across all three subjects since 2012, reversing earlier declines.
“Turkey has also progressed while at the same time doubling the share of 15-year-olds in school,” read the report.
Students performed better than the OECD average in 11 countries and economies, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom, while the relationship between reading performance and socio-economic status was weakest.
“This means that these countries have the most equitable systems where students can flourish, regardless of their background,” it read.
Previously, PISA has been called into question by academics for creating over-reliance on testing and a tendency to recommend simple solutions for complex problems.
“The aim with PISA was not to create another layer of top-down accountability”
However, the OECD said the point of PISA is to help education systems improve by offering data and transparency.
“The aim with PISA was not to create another layer of top-down accountability, but to help schools and policymakers shift from looking upwards… looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school, the next country,” wrote OECD directorate for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, in his report.
“It is also a powerful tool that countries and economies can use to fine-tune their education policies,” added Gurría.
“That is why the OECD produces this triennial report… to share evidence of the best policies and practices and to offer our timely and targeted support to help countries provide the best education possible for all of their students.”