South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong are also among the top ten. But academic peformance of a select group in select subjects may not yield the complete picture.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conducted the survey among the OECD's 34 member nations as well as in 41 partner economies in 2009. The results show Asians did exceptionally well. The 15-year-old students were evaluated in reading, mathematics and science.
Improved school curricula and teachers' training are being cited as the reasons for the top peformer's success. China's boomtown Shanghai's success in topping the list is the result of recent changes in the school curriculum, the OECD claims. Students are given more choice in what they study. In Shanghai, teachers from the high-achieving schools are regularyly sent to schools with lower scores to improve the latter's performance. Apparently, the city has even reformed college entrance examinations to put more emphasis on the handling of information rather than on learning things by rote.
Factors still to be examined
The true picture may be less rosy. Shanghai is a single city, whereas other countries are judged as a whole. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) claims that the study proves that low national income "is not incompatible" with good educational performance. Whether within the country or in comparison with other countries, it is the relative income that usually makes the difference. And as the OECD itself has announced, the more specific social, economic and cultural factors behind Asia's success are still to be examined.
Goals, ways and means
Tao Hongkai, an education expert from Wuhan, China, told the AFP news agency in Beijing that grades still remained the sole criteria for judging the performance of a child or student in China - obedience and high grades.
Seoul students compete during a Korean Olympiad in Informatics
South Korea spends more than any other OECD country on private education, but spends relatively little on public education, which widens the gap between high and low achievers. And Korean students participate in the PISA test in the spirit of the Olympics: they must get the gold for their country.
It might well be that academic performance should and cannot be the most important criterion if the ultimate goal of education is to shape a complete human being and a responsible citizen.
Author: Arun Chowdhury
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein