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Shanghai Tops List of Best Performing Students

A child wears toy glasses at the Shanghai World Expo site (File Photo)
A child wears toy glasses at the Shanghai World Expo site (File Photo)

Students from Shanghai, China outperform students worldwide in reading, mathematics and science. Schools in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong also ranked in the top ten in the world according to a new survey by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The study, called the Program for International Assessment, or PISA, studied the academic performance of 15 year olds in its 34 member nations and 41 partner economies.

The man who directs the survey, Andreas Schleicher, heads the OECD's Indicators and Analysis Division. He spoke with VOA after the release of the study.

Q: What has lead to the preeminence of the major Asian nations in this survey?

A: “Asian countries value education more than other countries. They have given education a priority. Every child, every teacher, every parent knows that education is the gateway to success. That’s one part of the story. They have put rigorous emphasis on quality. They have very little tolerance for failure. In the Western World, sometimes we believe that success has to do with heritage or with luck, whereas in Asia there is a belief that you can succeed in education if you work hard at it. Clearly, that is the ambition of many of the students and those are the results.”

Q: How much does parental and family pressure to excel play into this. How much of it is attributable to that and how much is attributable to the way the schools are run?

A: “It’s very difficult to distinguish those facts. One thing that is interesting is that not all East Asian systems do equally well. You can assume that they have similar parents and similar culture maybe, so it suggests that the way that schools are run do make a difference. I think parents really are an asset if you have parents that have high expectations, but you also need a good, functioning school system.”

Q: Shanghai seems to be the star of this report. What have they done that other school systems could copy?

A: “One of the lessons learned from Shanghai is that you can actually attract great principals into challenging schools. One of the ways you can build your career in Shanghai in education is that you actually take on tough challenges. It’s not that you become a great principal in a school with rich parents. If you want to make a career, they put you in a tough situation. You can take some of your best teachers with you. They are pairing great with poorer schools in a way that is very systematic and very much focused on improving results. I think those are lessons that are important not only is Asia, but across the world, the capacity to allocate resources where they can make a difference.”